22 percent of Americans don’t want a Muslim neighbor; 31 percent feel fidgety if they see a Muslim man on their flight, and 18 percent if they see a Muslim woman on their flight.
About 4 in 10 Americans want Muslims who are US citizens to carry a special ID and go through comparatively more scrutiny than other US citizens, before boarding an airplane in the United States or even generally. Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is a disease in the Western world as well.
These were the findings of the USA Today-Gallup Poll done in 2006. In the post-9/11 world, these feelings of hatred against Islam and Muslims have only increased in the past 18 years. The contemporary Trump-era is seeing an even bigger explosion of Islamophobia, the hatred even much more than it was in 2001.
Three weeks after the 9/11 attack, 47% Americans had a favourable view of Islam as compared to 39% unfavorable views. In the last couple of years of Trump’s rise, of course everyone knows situation is much much much worse. However, it kept becoming worse in between all these years. In a 2011 poll, a whopping 61% Americans expressed unfavorable views of Islam.
Islamophobia is not a problem for Muslims alone, it is everyone’s problem- the governments, policymakers, media, educational institutions, religious leaders and corporate world. They all play a critical role in transforming our societies. They play an important role in influencing our citizens and policies, specially in triggering and containing the voices of hate.
Islamophobia- evolution in society
If we take only the case of United States of America, hatred against religious minorities, especially Islam, has been inflated to the extent that it is not confined just to major elections. There have been protests against the construction of mosques across the country. The construction of an Islamic Community center, few blocks from the World Trade Center became a national issue.
Despite Islam being the second largest religion in the world and the third largest in the United States, despite becoming an integral part of the American diversity in the twenty-first century, the propagation of hatred against muslims over the last three decades have fed the growth of Islamophobia.
The Center for American Progress report defines, Islamophobia as a sociological phenomenon: “it as an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims. This exaggerated fear is perpetuated by negative stereotypeswhich results in bias and discrimination, leading to marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life”.
Though there was a meteoric rise in violent incidents after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks by the hands of self-proclaimed Islamic terrorists, anti-Muslim hostility can be traced further back to the first Gulf war in 1991, the Rushdie affair in 1988, or even the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.
As we elaborated on the evolution of the term Islamophobia in the article on Indian context, a British non-government organisation Runnymede Trust in 1998 defined the term Islamophobia with perspective of the British Muslims. According to the commission, Islamophobia has 8 features prevailing in the perception of the public about the Islam.
1- Islam is monolithic- that is it believes in one God, one religion and one nation concept.
2-Islam is separate from the western culture
3- Islam is Inferior to the western culture
4-islam is an enemy to other political ideology
5- Islam is considered as manipulative in political ideologies
6- islam criticises the west -Therefore islam should be rejected as it criticises the west
7- Discrimination against muslim is justified
8- Islamophobia is natual phenomenon
The manifestation of Islamophobia can be seen in many ways and at many levels in India and the world, in bias and prejudices propagated through mob lynching in India, love jihad in India, wrongful arrest and detention, travel ban in USA by the Trump government, superimposing the political problems of Syria and middle-east in the whole community, projecting Israel as against the balancer, religious conservatism superimposed upon muslims.
These all lead to generation of more hatred again Muslims, their ghettoisation in a particular area, tribalisation of the whole muslim community, association of every act of terrorism with the Muslims, lack of representation in education and jobs. In these all, the media plays a vehicle to transmit the biased cultural outlook of the society. This way, it not only generates news but markets them by cartelling the news and making money. State machinery ingrains this bias through the analysis projected by media.
Most problematic among these is hate speech against a particular religious group. It’s true that any religion must grow by itself, but hate speech tries to create a deep and unfair bias against particular religion or sect in the name of critical criticism.
On critical criticism of the religion by so called experts in Europe especially on the occasion of satirical depictions of Prophet Mohammed, political cartoonist Garry Trudeau said in an essay in The Atlantic: “Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful … Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.”
Islamophobia is not an act of one day, rather, it must be seen by contextualizing the whole political world phenomena, as German philosophy of Gestalt says, “sum of the whole is always bigger than the mass”. Contemporary events like demise of the bipolar world, the Iranian revolution, problem in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, hijackings, hostage taking and other acts of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe all has played the role in conflagration of the hatred against Islam.
Islam as the culprit is a simple and easier answer projected in the minds of the innocent citizens of the world by the media and the world leaders to shroud their failure in uplifting the human civilisation.
Rather than considering these as core political issues and grievances that resonate in much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to the muslim governance and societal development, intervention and dominance policies of the USA and the west of supporting the authoritarian regimes of the muslim countries for energy or benefits, and in extreme condition when they are not working in favour, then invading and occupying them like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, or by supporting a buffer state to monitor them like they did with Israel’s wars in Gaza and Lebanon.
The Trump challenge
Mr Donald Trump’s unexpected rise to presidency has brought into sharper focus the inequalities and prejudices that were generally brushed under the carpet in the American society. Trump’s presidential campaign and now presidency rests on the foundation of white supremacy and islamophobia.
According to the Council on American-Islamic relations, the number of incidents of religious discrimination against muslims increased by 24 percent in 2017, as compared to the first half of 2016, from 986 incidents to 1302.
CAIR also recorded that 33 percent of bias incidents from January through March in 2017 were related to the muslims travel ban imposed by Trump’s administration.
Though Trump continuously kept berating muslims as the number one enemy during his presidential campaign, many pundits believe that it was the proposal of travel ban on muslims that soared his popularity and catapulted him as a serious Republican contender to run for presidency.
Mr Trump has stayed true to his word after becoming the president. In the early days of his presidency itself, in January 2017, the Trump administration banned refugees and people from seven muslim-majority countries, amidst widespread public outrage and protests.
Even though a series of federal courts blocked it on grounds of violation of the US constitution’s protection of religious freedom, Trump did not relent and passed another order for a second ban in March, 2017, that was partially upheld by the Supreme Court in June.
Not satisfied and before any more arguments could take place before the Supreme Court, the Trump administration passed the third travel ban order in September that bars travellers from muslim-majority Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iran; and also adds North Korea, Chad and Venezuela to the list of countries where ban will be fully or partially applicable.
The administration claimed that the department of homeland security officials carried out a review of security measures in almost 200 countries before coming out with this ban. It was a victory for the administration when Supreme Court gave the green signal to the ban in December.
However, in January this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide the legality of this third travel ban.
Critics have pointed out that this is just a rhetoric of hate being propagated. The ban only doubts the integrity of officials who scrutinize visa applications and figures suggest that they have done a good job.
Only 34 people convicted of or killed for terrorism offenses since 9/11 entered through the US immigration system since 2001. Only 17 were already radicalized prior to entry. That’s one potential terrorist per 41 million visa approvals or entries without visas since 2001.
For a fact, no refugee nor any national of the banned countries has successfully carried out a deadly terrorist attack in US in over four decades.
The Department of Homeland Security concluded in an internal report that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.
2017 also saw an increase in ‘Marches against Sharia’ and anti-sharia bills being introduced in many states, mostly Republican. The first anti-sharia bill of Oklahoma was deemed unconstitutional in 2012 and yet the hysteria keeps growing just to create distrust of islam, even though its logical sense that a code of religious practices like shariat can never replace the American constitution.
After the 9/11 attacks, incidents where commercial airlines have removed passengers from flights, who are or perceived to be Muslims or Middle-easterners, without reasonable explanation, have increased manifold. For example, people have got uneasy seeing their fellow humans in beard or saying ‘Inshallah’! A muslim woman was denied soda as the plane crew thought it could be used as a weapon.
The Council of American-Islamic relations has also analysed an increase in closure of personal and business bank accounts of American muslims, with banks citing unspecified risk or security concerns as an oblique reason. has witnessed a marked increase in the incidence of closure without genuine cause of personal and business banking accounts maintained by American Muslims with American banks.
Hate has been meandering in the building blocks of a society- the American schools- as well.
Discrimination and bullying targeting muslim students has increased the risk of depression, anxiety and led to a decrease in their academic achievements. Even more problematic is that the school structures are such that this islamophobic bias from students peers, teachers and officials is largely ignored.
According to a 2015 report published by CAIR, 55 percent of muslim students aged eleven to eighteen reported being subject to some form of bullying due to their faith. That is twice the national rate of all students who reported being bullied at school.
After former US President Barak Obama visited a mosque in 2016- the last year of his second tenure, quite late for a progressive president- a 17-year-old muslim student Aleena Khan wrote an open letter to him that got viral on social media. Born to an Indian-American mother and Pakistan-American father, Aleena has lived all her life in America and she wrote:
I am an American, I grew up here. I say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. And yet, I am a Muslim.” Which one, she asked, is she allowed to be?
She found a barrage of hate comments against muslims online, while researching a project on identity crisis among Muslim-American tenagers.
The whole community of 3.45 million Muslim Americans has to face so much hate, while only 456 incidents of violent extremism by Muslim Americans have taken place since 9/11 in 2001. The odds are almost 8000:1.
Paranoia of terror
The security paranoia of American security agencies has reached to such an extent that the Federal watch list which has names of people who can be a threat to national security, had a seven- month old toddler known as only “Baby Doe” and a third-grade student’s name appearing on the list.
Prepared by FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center through some secret process, the officials have always maintained that the list is error prone. On the other hand, what has even more tarnished it’s reputation is that even Nobel Prize winner and anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was on the list until 2008!
Three-quarters of Americans believe that terrorism is a critical issue and half of Americans are worried that they or their family member will be a victim of terrorism.
It’s not only Americans who are concerned about terror. According to a survey by Pew Research Centre, across 11 Muslim publics, from South Asia to the Middle East to sub-Saharan Africa, 67% say that they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism.
In five countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia – Muslim worries about extremism have increased in the past year.
Al-Qaeda, responsible for the 9/11 terror attack, garners little support with a median of 57% surveyed across these countries hating the organisation.
Hate crimes against Muslims always skyrocket after a terror attack takes place anywhere in the western world.
The number of Muslims attacked in London tripled after the 2015 Paris suicide bombing terror attack. Last year as well, there was a 500% increase in Islamophobic attacks after a terror attack in Manchester.
According to the latest FBI data, the total number of anti-Muslim hate incidents rose 67%, from 2014 to 2015. There was a 19% increase in incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2015 to 2016.
Muslims have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. Public shops declaring ‘Muslim-free zones’ have come up. Representative Andre Carson, a Muslim congressman, has received A Muslim congressman has received death threatsas well.
It’s almost like America has gone back to the times of civil war, when violent incidents took place due to issues of color and race.
Even a controversial ad was put up at the new york subway stations, linking Quran with the 9/11 attack, by Pamella Geller’s American Freedom Defence Initiative who is known for her habitual islamophobic jibes.
The federal court gave them the go-ahead taking it as freedom of speech under the first amendment.
The phobia has gone to such an extent that heavily armed men have protested outside mosques!
Americans and Trump might not want to get over their fear of all Muslims are terrorists, but they need to be told that Muslims have gelled in every sphere of American society and have been a part of the Great American dream from its very beginning.
- Muslims served under General George Washington in the war against British colonialism, way back in 18th century.
- Fazlur Rahman Khan revolutionised the building of skyscrapers like the current Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.
- Shahid Khan is the 360th richest person on the planet.
- Dr Ayub Ommaya has been a pioneer in neurosurgery.
- Hip-hop and muslims just always go together.
- They play sports too: Muhammad Ali; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Mike Tyson.
- Then there was the fiery Malcolm X who fought against racism.
- Ahmed Zewail, Nobel prize winner for Chemistry in 1999, joined Barack Obama’s presidential council of advisers on science and technology.
- And of course, Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj who make us laugh today.
Hate effects non-muslims too
The bias has increased so much into the subconscious of the white race, in European Union and United Kingdom as well, that even the non-muslims living there, face weird abhorrence in the form of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse, they be Indian, Pakistani, Bangaladeshi or from anywhere, they face hatred judged by their colour.
Studies say that hostility towards them has increases after every terrorist attack on the soil across European union. Victims describe how excrements of animals had been pushed through their shop windows and mail boxes.
In a research presented at UK’s House of Commons, it was found that the people of any other religion or from Asia have faced Islamophobic hatred because of biases and prejudices that have made anyone of brown skin or having a beard a suspicious entity in western society.
What is unfortunate is that the trauma of hate crimes experienced by non-muslims doesn’t come out and is hardly talked about in media or academic research, leading to a lack of any intervention measures for dealing with the effect on mental health of victims of such violence.
The media continues to play it’s game of bad Muslim and good Muslim, holding the millions of Muslims worldwide responsible for any terror attack by one or a group of Muslim. Same is never true for Christians and Jews. Orthodoxy in Islam should be criticized, but not brushing every Muslim with same colour.
Disproportionate coverage is also another problem. More coverage is given to attacks by Islamist extremists and less mention of terror attack by any white privileged person.
There is a lot of pressure put on moderate Muslims to criticize the orthodox and the extremists. Again same pressure is never on elite Christians.
Not just TV, radio and newspapers, Islamophobic books have been recognized in highest literary circles as well.
Non-profit organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has compiled a list of 12 leading media professional Islamophobes in the US:
- David Horowitz – organised Islamofascism awareness week in colleges.
- Robert Spencer- Running Islamophobic website- Jihad Watch- and writing islamophobic books.
- Daniel Pipes- defender of racial profiling of Arab-Americans; misleading public by ‘Stop madrassa’ campaign.
- Michael Savage- Using hateful language on radio show ‘Savage Nation’.
- Pat Robertson- does the same through Christian Broadcasting Network.
- Sean Hannity- same on Fox News
- Bill O’reilly- Always wants to bomb Muslims on Fox News
- Mark Steyn- Newspaper columnist and writer- fears demographic increase of Muslims
- Steven Emerson- Expert on Islamic terror, keeps giving flawed information
- Michelle Malkin- Writer and blogger
- Glenn Beck- Radio show host on CNN
- Debbie Schlussel- Columnist and self-proclaimed expert on radical Islam
With the liberal TV show host Bill Maher now joining the Isamophobia bandwagon, the list should be complete now. The hypocricy of progressives has been broken.
Influenced by some of these writings, Anders Breivik bombed a building in Norway and shot tens of people, mostly teenagers. Termed as the greatest massacre in Norwegian history, even mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, speculated about an Al Qaeda connection and a “jihadist” motivation behind the attacks.
Later, it became clear he was not a muslim but rather a self-described Christian conservative. He left a 1500 page manifesto which contains references to American bloggers and pundits, quoting them as experts on Islam’s “war against the West”.
Report on terror in all fairness, but media organisations must also see normal Muslims in everyday life, as professionals, educators, parents, community leaders and participants. This is because many a times a perception of link between terror and Islam is created just by this media coverage and not necessarily by any actual terrorist activity.
The biggest fear from terror for the west in the past few years has been from ISIS. It’s important to eliminate ISIS, who have targeted religious minorities, beheaded journalists and sold woman into sex slavery.
It’s also important to note that much of the ISIS threat has been habitually overstated online through fake news: Church-burning;
ISIS recruiting emo British teen; ISIS expansion plan; ISIS beheads Christian children; Over 100 Americans have joined ISIS, instead the figure was 12.
It’s essential that fighting islamophobia should not be a task only of Muslims. The privileged white have a duty to fight it, to become more aware citizens, to get to know their Muslim folks in schools, colleges and offices and to raise their voices against any kind of hate crimes that they witness.
For this purpose, just after the Manchester attacks, UK’s Channel 4 made a documentary in which a white woman wears make-up and traditional muslim clothes to go around in a Muslim neighbourhood to “experience” Islamophobia. A task which she believes will make her more aware of how Muslims live and what they go through.
Katie Freeman, the actor who wore a fake nose and teeth as well as had her skin darkened to portray a Pakistani Muslim, did say that bonding with several members of the community did help her get out of her earlier prejudices against muslims.
The criticism, however, has been that it mocks the Muslims and the brown-skinned people to just sensationalise and garner viewers.
The question is also of appropriation of experiences of Muslims. Why not believe and trust Muslims when they tell you their experiences instead of having a white woman dress as one? Why are the experiences of minorities only valid when seen through eyes of white people?
The documentary could have been simply of Muslims of various backgrounds telling their experiences; they talking about themselves. Is Islamophobia legitimate only if told from a white person’s privileged mouth?
Five strategies to counter Islamophobia has been given by the Council of American Islamic relations:
- Find local and national groups, such as CAIR, whose work you support and join them. Working together in an organized way amplifies individual efforts and advances the movement against prejudice.
- Work on practical community projects with people of various backgrounds to build interpersonal relationships and develop solutions to shared problems.
- Organize coalitions of community leaders representing different cultural/ethnic/religious groups and community sectors (such as schools, businesses, etc.) to examine existing policies and determine what needs to change.
- Keep your cool. When confronted by hate, be assertive and polite. Rudeness hurts the cause and can be used against you.
- Turn a negative into a positive. For example, if a place of worship is vandalized, bring communities together to repair and clean it up in a demonstration of solidarity.
Mark Stroman was given death punishment for a shooting attack he committed post-9/11, that left 2 South Asian store workers dead and 1 seriously injured. The hate and fear manufactured after 9/11 led him to do so. By the time he was to be sent to the gallows, his views had changed. Fear of death does make us self-introspect.
What changed his hate and point of view was the effort made by the alive victim of his attack to get him out of the death punisment.
He left the world with this message:
“In the free world, I was free but I was locked in a prison inside myself because of the hate I carried in my heart. Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain.”
Something for us to ponder upon in these tough times of hate.