Shortly after terrorist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris earlier this month, conservative commentator Steve Emerson went on Fox News and claimed that Europe was being taken over by “no-go zones” controlled by Islamic law to such an extent that non-Muslims were not allowed to enter Birmingham, England’s second-largest city.
Emerson’s claim was met with ridicule, including by British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Emerson and Fox quickly retracted the claim.
But at the same time, the “no-go zone” myth gained traction among conservative activists and Republican leaders, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who mentioned it in a speech in London despite refusing to offer the names or locations of the purported no-go zones, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who claimed last week that France has “like 700 no-go zones where authorities have allowed Sharia law to be imposed,” something that he claimed is also beginning to happen in the United States.
The “no-go zone” myth didn’t spring out of nowhere two weeks ago. Instead, it has been percolating for years in fringe media, perpetuated by anti-Muslim activists warning that Europe was being overtaken by Sharia law, soon to be followed by the United States.
Bloomberg pinpoints the beginning of the myth at a 2006 article by conservative pundit Daniel Pipes, who gave the name “no-go zones” to a list of French “sensitive urban zones,” some with large populations of Muslim immigrants, that were, in reality, nothing more than areas hit by high crime and poverty that were actually targeted by the government for urban renewal projects. A few years later, Pipes had the opportunity to visit a few of these “no-go zones” and reported that they were “very mild, even dull” compared to high-crime neighborhoods in the U.S. and that “immigrant areas are hardly beautiful, but buildings are intact, greenery abounds, and order prevails.” He wrote, “Having this first-hand experience, I regret having called these areas no-go zones.”
But Pipes’ retraction came too late to stop the “no-go zone” story from becoming an established fact in fringe right-wing media.
The far-right outlet WorldNetDaily mentions “no-go zones” frequently, often warning that the United States will soon face the same fate. Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller told WND last year:
The Muslim population, for example, in France is over 10 percent,” she said. “You see outside of Paris … it can be very frightening. The no-go zones, the Shariah zones, where firefighters and police cannot go. They are many times lured by particular criminal activity into these zones, only to be ambushed. We see it in the U.K., increasingly, the imposition of Shariah law. And people think it can’t happen here, but it is happening here.
A search for the term “no-go zones” in Geller’s blog before the Charlie Hebdo attack produces 10 pages of results. Prominent anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney has also perpetuated the myth, warning repeatedly on his website and radio program of such zones “where authorities dare not enter” and “Shariah rules instead of the laws of the host government.”
Last year, the Clarion Project’s Ryan Mauro similarly warned in a FrontPageMag article that European “no-go zones” would provide “precedent” for such “Muslim enclaves” in the U.S. The publication has been another prominent generator of the myth, frequently citing Pipes since-rejected claim about French “no-go” neighborhood.
The myth percolated to the top of the news cycle briefly in 2010 when Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle claimed that Dearborn, Michigan, and the made-up town of Frankford, Texas, were ruled by “Sharia law.” She didn’t use the term “no-go zone,” but was clearly influenced by the myth that had by then become established fact in fringe media.
As recently as last month, Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt was citing the myth to warn that U.S. protests against police brutality would create “no-go zones.”
“It’s like in England and Scandinavia and I guess in Paris and a lot of Europe, perhaps in a lot of their metropolitan areas, the Muslims have come to a preponderant population in those areas that the police do not dare go into the urban areas controlled by Muslims,” he said.
The myth, propagated by a few voices in fringe media, is too wild for Fox News. But it is now apparently perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party.