Now I may not do a serious post very often but I think a post on anti-Muslim bias and Islamophobia in the United States is long overdue. I know this post will anger some people and possibly cause controversy. But as a practicing Catholic, liberal, and American, I think whatever I put on this post needs to be addressed even if results in a lot of trolling and angry comments. Sure I know very well that Muslim terrorists orchestrated 9/11 and killed Americans in the Middle East and you all have a right to be upset about it. After all, we all were. It’s all right to condemn Islamic radicalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism as well as the injustice wreaked upon by Muslim nations in the name of Allah. And I see absolutely no problem with condemning Islamic terrorist attacks on anyone whether they be American, Israeli, French, Japanese, or anything else. Neither do I see anything wrong with criticizing dictatorships and corruption, whether they be theocratic like Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia or not like Egypt or Syria (as far as I know). In fact, I encourage people to condemn terrorism and injustice anywhere and I have not qualms against any outrage over people mistreating one another in the name of God, Allah, profit, patriotism, politics, or whatever.
However, just keep in mind that any Islamic violence or injustice in the Middle East and abroad gives you absolutely no excuse to stereotype all Muslims as terrorists, irrational, anti-American, anti-western, fanatical, sexist, bigoted, anti-democratic, homophobic, Anti-Semitic, culturally backward or what not. Whenever you equate Islam with all these wretched things, you not only insult and unfairly discriminate 1.6 billion people or 23% of the world’s population as well as make up the majority in 57 countries around the world, you also do the same to 2-7 million of your fellow Americans, whether you see them as such or not. Despite what we all see in the news media, we need to acknowledge that despite the public knowledge of Muslim leaders and terrorists committing crimes against humanity, they don’t represent the majority of the Muslim population, which is made up of different denominations as well as consists of followers as diverse in culture, opinion, and religious practice. Yes, there are a few violent extremists out there but they aren’t representative of the Islamic faith in any way, shape, or form. Sure Islam might have some alien elements in it than we’re used to, but in many ways it’s no so different than the religions we practice or the ideas we hold. And while Muslims themselves may dress differently, talk differently, look differently, or whatever, when you actually get to know some of them, you realize that they’re not so different from ourselves, even in places like Iran.
Unfortunately, thanks to sensationalist media and Fox News, many Americans don’t see Muslims or Islam this way and this is a problem, especially if they’re Arab or live in the Middle East and North Africa. Since 9/11, Islamophobia in America has been on the rise and it doesn’t help that the Boston Marathon bombers were Muslim and so were the groups ISIS and Boko Haram. What’s even worse is that Anti-Islamic bigotry isn’t just limited to those on the Christian and political right but has been systematically nurtured in America for quite some time, especially during the last 14 years. Yes, you get a lot of Anti-Islamic sentiment from the hate filled Fox News, Republican politicians, and the megachurch Evangelical preachers in the Bible Belt. But you also see a lot of Anti-Islamic bigotry (implied and otherwise) from new age atheists movements on the far left, on TV shows and programs like Live with Bill Maher, Hollywood movies, and even in the news where acts of Islamic violence and injustice are regularly reported. But incidences of nonviolent Muslims living ordinary lives within their local communities are not. And while there are films that portray Muslims as human beings like The Devil’s Double, Slumdog Millionaire, Syriana, Babel, The Kite Runner, Crash, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, and A Most Wanted Man but these films are quickly overshadowed in the US box office by movies like 300, Zero Dark Thirty, the Taken Trilogy, and American Sniper. These 4 successful box office franchises make the stereotyped Arab caricatures you see on Lawrence of Arabia seem respectable in comparison. As for TV, you have shows like 24 and Homeland casting Muslims as Islamic terrorist villains.
Today Islamophobia operates on a network including funders, organizations, media outlets, propagandists, activists, and political players busy on creating a climate of fear, hate, and suspicion of Muslims in America and abroad. Now I understand that we Americans value our First Amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of religion and expression. We cherish or right to practice our faith however we please and express our opinions. But American Muslims continue to attract anger from all sides of the political spectrum whether it pertains to a student reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance” in Arabic as part of a Foreign Languages Week, taking the oath of office on a Koran, praying to Allah for scoring a touchdown, a university allowing Muslim students to sound their call of prayer from their facilities, or expressing a desire to build a Mosque or an Islamic center in their local municipality whether it be 2 miles from Ground Zero or Murfeesboro, Tennessee. Such actions are only those of a people who only wish to express and worship freely just like their fellow Americans who came before them. They desire to commit no violence against the United States, only to be recognized as American as their fellow countrymen. But too many Americans see Islam at odds with American values and erroneously portray extremism of the Muslim world as representative of the Muslim faith.
Islamophobia has become so socially acceptable that many see little qualms about being public of the fact. Too many believe that American Muslims are working to subvert the US Constitution. Many go so far as to believe that Muslims shouldn’t be eligible to run for high electoral office, sit as judges, be eligible for citizenship, or be required to swear loyalty oaths. Many Muslim Americans have also been discriminated on their jobs and consist of a fifth of religion charges as reported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011. Across the country, Muslims have to put up with hate speech linking their religious identity to terrorism, whether it be flyers threatening mass murder, angry protests, anti-Muslim ads on buses, anti-Islamic jabs by the media and powers that be, Koran burnings, or being viewed with suspicion by non-Muslim members in their communities. Many American Muslims have been chastised for not being sorry for the 9/11 attacks or sensitive enough for the victims’ families, as if they’re guilty by association. And when some Muslim community wants to build a mosque, you can bet there will be considerable opposition. Sometimes when Islamophobia is brought up, many people will go out of their way to deny it exists citing how the Koran advocates violence, slavery, intolerance of unbelievers, mistreatment of women, etc. But they are just trying to rationalize their hatred about something they don’t completely understand. However, denying Islamophobia exists just makes things worse. Sure I’m with people criticizing religion and how it’s practiced in some parts of the world, but I’m staunchly against it when people criticize a faith in a way that it’s disrespectful to those who observe it as well as outright religious hate speech. And sometimes anti-Muslim sentiment can turn into action.
Sometimes Islamophobia can result in discriminatory legislation and social policy. Since 9/11, the federal government has implemented policies targeting Muslim communities as well as reinforcing the notion they’re worthy of suspicion. Sure the government should be concerned about national security but it seems that during the Bush and Obama administrations, Muslim radicalization seems like the main concern. Under George W. Bush, people from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries were required to register with immigration authorities resulting in detaining and deporting 13,000 of them. Under Barack Obama, the FBI continues engaging in pointed surveillance and information gathering in Muslim communities, which the Department of Justice tried to justify. But Muslim profiling doesn’t stop at the federal level for the New York Police Department does the same thing. A few years ago, Oklahoma enacted a constitutional amendment that banned state judges from considering Islamic Sharia Law which would in practice prohibit a judge from probating an Islamic will. And Oklahoma’s situation isn’t unique for there have been 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices introduced in legislatures in 29 states. As of 2013, Anti-Islam bills have become law in 7 states.
And sometimes Islamophobia can descend into all out violence. Since 2001, anti-Muslim violence has skyrocketed in the United States with Muslim establishments being vandalized and desecrated. It has also resulted in people committing hate crimes against Muslim individuals that range from property destruction, robbery, assault, stalking, intimidation, and even murder. Last month, a new atheist militant shot 3 young Muslims over a “parking dispute” near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which we all know was definitely a hate crime). Later this was followed by an arson attack against a Houston Islamic community center which led to a fireman post on his social media page, “Let it burn…block the fire hydrant.” In Austin, a man was arrested for making a bomb threat against a Muslim community center. In Rhode Island, a Muslim day school was vandalized with the words, “Now this is a hate crime” and “pigs,” as well as expletives referring to the Islamic faith. And in December at Kansas City, Missouri, a 15 year old Muslim boy was killed when a driver plowed into him, almost severing his legs outside the Somali Center. All this is just part of a long list of crimes directed against American Muslims since September 11, which I can’t list on them for there’s so many. But whenever someone voices anti-Islamic views in the mass media, it only takes one lunatic hearing them to act on them.
Islamophobia doesn’t affect just Muslims either. Groups also affected are non-Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, South Asians, Hindus, and Sikhs. These people may not be Muslims but since many people tend to link Islam with certain aspects like turbans, Asian architecture, veils, Middle Eastern and South Asian features, etc. This leads many to suspect those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent as being from Muslim communities making them targets of violence as well. In 2012, a white supremacist killed 6 Sikhs at their place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. How do I know it was probably motivated by Islamlophobia? Because a lot of Americans have no idea what a Sikh is and that male Sikhs are religiously mandated to wear turbans. That December, a Hindu businessman was shoved into the path of a train at a New York subway station by a 31 year old Hispanic woman named Erika Menendez, which resulted in him getting struck and killed. When asked by police why she did it, she said, “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims… Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers, I’ve been beating them up.” And recently a Hindu temple and a nearby school in Washington State were spray painted with a swastika and the words, “Muslims, Get Out.” So even though Islamophobia may chiefly target Muslims, this doesn’t mean that individuals other faiths are exempt from injustice, especially if they fit a person’s perception of one.
Still, the sad irony is that many immigrant Muslims seek refuge in America just to flee violence or political repression from their homes. Sometimes they have been driven off and tend to have nowhere else to go. Sure Islamic extremists may pose a threat to national security. But no matter how we see it, the biggest victims of Islamic extremism in the Middle East and abroad are Muslims themselves. Hundreds of thousands of them had died in the hands of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. To identify their faith with those of their killers isn’t just insulting but like defining other other religions with their worst members. And it makes things worse that these people have to be viewed with suspicion and fear by their new neighbors as they go through the most difficult transition of their lives. Most of these Muslims came to the US just to spend the rest of their lives in peace and without fear of persecution. They may have lost everything they had back in their home country or possibly lost someone they knew to the very extremists that some Americans view them in cahoots with. Making these terror victims guilty by association instead of reaching out to them in compassion does us no favors and may possibly compromise national security since Islamophobia might just give Islamic terrorists more excuses to hate the West as well as make many immigrant Muslim Americans more prone to radicalization by terror groups.
Perhaps the root of Islamophobia in the United States is that most Americans have no idea about Islam and its culture and don’t know any Muslims firsthand (I’ve known two who were both Pakistani immigrants). Not to mention, they learn about Islam from non-Muslim sources like news outlets such as Fox News, which has hardly reliable information about anything. And what they do know is that Islamic culture is different from ours and that a few members are prone to commit acts of terror and violence against their own people in the Middle East. Thus, many see them as “the Other” and tend to fear them. These people my think they know everything they need about Islam being a violent religion that oppresses anyone who doesn’t subscribe to 100% of its doctrine. But what they don’t know is that Islam is no monolith and that it has been responsive to change since its founding in the 7th century. They also don’t know how a lot of Muslims ignore the bad stuff in the Islamic texts or Sharia Law just like Christians do when it comes to the Bible (as well as come from the same Abrahamic tradition as Judaism and that a lot of Islam’s values are not much different from ours). Not to mention, they don’t have any idea that Islamic practices vary among Muslims as a whole. And while Islamophobes claim that Islam is a violent and intolerant religion, many forget that most Muslims don’t see it that way and would feel that concepts like violent Jihad, apostasy laws, theocratic rule, and honor killings as abhorrent.
Now I’m not a Muslim and I may not understand Islam as well as I should. But I know well enough that terrorists can be of any religion and that they aren’t at all representative of their faith and every religion harbors extremist fringe of some sort. Islam is no different. But while it’s perfectly fine to fear Islamic extremists terrorists attacking our country, it’s not okay to associate all Muslims as guilty of association or view them with suspicion and disgust when you have no reason to. Muslims are human beings who deserve a chance of fair judgement based on individual communication, just like everyone else. Throughout our history, Muslim Americans have contributed a great deal to this country socially and economically. Some of them have even served in our Armed Forces and even died for this country fighting for our freedom. And like the rest of us, most American Muslims are well integrated in our society, support our values, and are very concerned about extremist violence in the United States. To associate them as guilty of terrorist activity because they have the same religion as the Islamic terrorists you see in the media is simply Un-American and goes against everything our country stands for. It also ignores history, too. Not only does it exclude and marginalize Muslim Americans from mainstream society and politics, but also makes them more vulnerable to hate crimes.
I know there may be those viewing this who’d decry that Islamophobia is a myth and that I’m full of shit. But I tell you that a key symptom of any widespread prejudice or hatred is denying that it exists. So those denying the very existence of Islamophobia are Islamophobes themselves and thus, not to be trusted in Islamic affairs. It’s not Islamophobic to hate Muslim terrorists for being the dangerous criminals and extremists they are. But it’s Islamophobic to use Islamic terrorism to hate Islam and Muslims in general, especially when they have absolutely no inclination for terrorism in the first place. Whether it be by negative media portrayals, discrimination, or hate crime, Islamophobia is real, it’s happening, and it’s a problem for all of us. Yes, there are bad Muslims out there as well as Muslim nations that do very terrible things, sometimes in the name of their religion and sometimes not. But none of that proves that Islam is an evil faith or that all Muslims are terrorists, which is simply not true. Those who say Islamophobia is bogus not only makes it acceptable to scapegoat Muslims but also puts people’s lives at risk, especially when it pertains to hate crime. As a nation, we can’t tolerate such denial which leads to hatred of a people and culture many of us know nothing about and can’t fully understand, even if they just happen to practice the faith of our enemies. Call me a coward trying to manipulate morons, but to me Islamophobia has existed for a very long time in our history which has arisen from the forces of hate, fear, and ignorance toward Muslims. And I see no reason why it should continue.
Still not convinced? Here are some links:
From The American Muslim: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/islamophobia_incidents/0013129
From Council of American Islamic Relations: http://www.islamophobia.org/
From Islamophobia Today: http://www.islamophobiatoday.com/
From IAM: Islamophobia Awareness Month: http://iamonth.org/
Really couldn’t agree more. A popular phrase in Britain at the moment is “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims” completely ignoring the 20 years of terrorist attacks on the UK by the catholic IRA.
Good post. If all (1.5 billion) Muslims actually were terrorists, then humanity would be pretty screwed.
Well said, Megan. There is so much diversity in the all the major religions, why do we assume that all Muslims are the same? When are we going to give up trying to fight hate with hate? It never works.
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