Islamophobia is defined as the fear and intense hatred of Muslims and the Islamic religion and is often associated with terrorism, usually leading to indiscriminate negative attitudes. (Bleich). Islamophobia is present in western civilizations all over the world, whether in pop cultures like movies and television shows or in political circumstances, like speeches and elections. Take our president, for example, who won the election of 2016 by tapping into the underlying racism, not just towards Muslims but towards many other non-European groups, present in enough people to give him the votes to win the presidential election. Recently, Donald Trump used his position of power to launch strikes in Syria, claiming that he did it to stop ISIS and achieve peace. As in this case, ending terrorism is often the justification behind targeting Muslims, whether it be by a missile, political remark, or racist comment or action. I wasn’t alive during the attacks on 9/11 that killed 3,000 Americans, but that act of terrorism changed popular opinion of Muslims from bad to worse. 9/11 prompted a decade’s worth of revenge-fueled racism, with people always saying that their violence towards Muslims was working towards the end goal of peace.
The idea emerged in the subconscious of the common person that, “although every Muslim is not a terrorist, every terrorist is a Muslim” (Gul), and so Muslim communities should be closely watched. This idea was acted upon after the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 when politicians demanded more police in Muslim communities to prevent future terrorist attacks (Beydoun). This police focus flies in the face of the statistical reality: the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has reported that only “5% of domestic terrorist attacks involve a Muslim culprit“ (Beydoun). This goes to show that the Media only reports terrorist attacks by Muslims, rather than the other 95% of domestic attacks, which feeds fuel to the ever-growing Islamophobic fire. When a Muslim commits a terrorist act, the government is quick to respond with “security” reform, such as Trump’s Muslim ban, which indefinitely blocked refugees from Syria, Iran, Yemen, Lybia, Somalia, and Sudan from entering the U.S., compared to when a white person commits mass violence, such as Stephen Paddock in the Las Vegas shooting in October of 2017, when no reform such as gun control is enacted. I think what the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart argues, that “the American right’s Islamophobia fuels its obsession with terrorism,” is outrageous and needs to be stopped (Beinart).
The history of the prejudice against Muslims began with the creation of the Islamic religion. When Islam was created in the 7th century, it took Christianity’s title as the last Abrahamic religion, and thus it was an immediate enemy of the Christian church, just for existing. Christian leaders started excluding Islam as the “other”, when, in the 8th and 9th century, Islam unified the eastern world when Christianity hadn’t yet. Once the church unified Europe, the Crusades were launched under the uniting power of the time, the Papacy, as a way to deal with the “Islam problem”(Sunar). The crusades backfired because instead of getting rid of Islam, Europe integrated it, and Islam became “one of the major factors shaping European culture in almost every aspect” (Sunar). The Roman Catholic Church, though, wanted Europe to be united under Christianity, so it painted the Muslims as savages and reckless beasts, to make themselves seem better in comparison.
At the start of the 16th century and the age of expedition, the Church started to lose its grasp over Europe, making some consider Islam a better “model” for society to follow (Sunar). Viewed as a “worldly religion”, it became a good alternative for people wanting to escape the church. Although Islam was doing well, its success didn’t last. In the 1750’s, progressive thinkers like David Hume had made a vision for a “modern society” that took Islam’s place as the potential replacement for the Church, forcing Islam back to the position as the outsider. Thus, in the 19th century, Islam became the “ghost of the west”(Sunar). While they should have disappeared when they “died off” in the 18th century, they keep visiting the present but never staying for long.
Islam stayed in the shadows until the end of the 20th century when the stereotype that Muslims are terrorists emerged. The term “Islamophobia” was first used in a newspaper article in 1991 (Sunar), but the term did not have any impact on society until 1997 when a British race relations organization named the Runnymede Trust released a report called “Islamophobia: A challenge for us all”(Bleich). The report outlined how Islamophobia came to be in the decades prior and argued that the prejudice of white people would not disappear without outside help. The term gained political weight after the attacks on 9/11 because those Saudi Arabian Wahaabi terrorists only fueled the stereotype that Muslims want to end western civilization at all costs. At that point, all Muslims morphed into one type in the imagination of many Americans.
PRESENT DAY BACKGROUND
In 2016, The Huffington Post started “the Islamophobia Project” as a way to track anti-Muslim violence. After collecting data for a year, they identified 6 trends for Islamophobia in America. These trends are similarities in the data that the Huffington Post observed, and act as an articulation of the mindset, ideas, and practices found in many Islamophobes.
The first mindset that hate groups propagate is the idea that Muslims living in the U.S. aren’t American: this is designed to alienate Muslims and unify people who fear Muslims. By convincing the general population that Muslims aren’t American, it makes them less likely to help or harbor Muslims. Secondly, Alt-Right people hold the idea that terror is a part of Islamic teachings, and that it is a hateful ideology, not a religion. By spreading the idea that Muslims love violence, it strikes fear into the minds of the common folk. The third fiction propagated by people who fear Muslims is that the abstention from pork among Muslims has been elevated to paranoia, like the fictional fear of a crucifix or garlic to vampires. As in Judaism, pork is usually prohibited as food for Muslims, but hate groups tend to think that they can frighten Muslims off by scaring them with pork, and have dropped pig carcasses at mosques as a way to “discourage them from staying in the U.S”. Fourth, astonishingly and incredibly, among a small group of Islamophobes, race, religion and terrorist tendencies are all conflated into a confusing and terrifying whole. To these Islamophobes, “All brown people are viewed as Muslims, and are therefore probably terrorists”. This causes prejudice to anyone of brown skin tone, just because it is associated with Islam. The “racialization of Islam” makes it harder for people of color, Muslims, and non-Muslims alike, to live in the United States. Another important trend is that Muslims are plotting to end Western Civilization to have World Domination. This ideal helps spread more fear among Americans, and encourages them to take action to “save their country”. Lastly, according to the Islamophobia Project, hate groups link Islam to terrorist groups, insinuating that all Muslims are terrorists, even though, as Mathias writes, mainstream Muslim groups publicly oppose terrorism, and often times help fight it (Mathias).
I am interested in this topic because I think that it is unfair to associate an entire religion with terrorism as an excuse to discriminate against them. As Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi and hate group leader turned reformer and peace advocate, said after the Charlottesville riots,
What people need to understand is that since Sept. 11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic group combined by a factor of two. Yet we don’t really talk about that, nor do we even call these instances, of the shooting at Charleston, S.C., or what happened at Oak Creek, Wis., at the Sikh temple or even what happened in Charlottesville this weekend — as terrorism (Davies).
Since Islamophobia is the fear and intense hatred of Muslims, usually leading to indiscriminate negative attitudes (Bleich), and because the stereotypes and ideas that have manifested as a result of hundreds of years of discrimination aren’t true, the first and most important step on the path to ending the fear is to show that these ideas don’t hold any resemblance to real-life Muslims. Research by Gallup has shown that the less any given person knows about Muslims, the more prejudice and negative ideas that person has (Sunar). It also concluded that having a personal connection with a Muslim is a major factor in reducing the level of prejudice against Muslims. Thus, a viable solution would be to elect more Muslims into positions of power, so those observing can get a good example of what a Muslim is really like. The more people see, observe, and interact with Muslims around them, the more those positive attitudes will outweigh the negative stereotypes. This solution, combined with educating the youth about the mistakes past generations have had, will help to lower levels of hate crimes against Muslims and Islamophobia as a whole.
The hate against Muslims is not justifiable at all, when in fact every stereotype about Islam and Muslims couldn’t be more wrong. Terrorism needs to be redefined and used to describe all acts of hate, so people can see that Muslims are no different than the rest of us, just trying to peacefully live our lives.
Beinart, Peter. “The Right’s Islamophobia Has Nothing to Do With National Security.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Nov. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/the-new-islamophobia/547130/.
Betus, Allison, et al. “Analysis | Yes, the Media Do Underreport Some Terrorist Attacks. Just Not the Ones Most People Think of.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 Mar. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/03/13/yes-the-media-do-underreport-some-terrorist-attacks-just-not-the-ones-most-people-think-of/?utm_term=.19e697b2985d.
Beydoun, Khaled. “Viewpoint: Islamophobia Has a Long History in the US.” BBC News, BBC, 29 Sept. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34385051.
Bleich, Erik. “Defining and Researching Islamophobia.” Vol. 46, no. 2, 2012, pp. 180–189., www.jstor.org/stable/41940895. Accessed 27 Feb. 2018.
CAIR. “Islamophobia Is a Closed-Minded Hatred, Fear or Prejudice toward Islam and Muslim.” Islamophobia Is a Closed-Minded Hatred, Fear or Prejudice toward Islam and Muslim, 16 Oct. 2017, www.islamophobia.org/.
Davies, Dave. “Fresh Air for Jan. 18, 2018: A Former Neo-Nazi Explains Why Hate Drew Him In – And How He Got Out.” NPR, NPR, 18 Jan. 2018, www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/2018/01/18/578822254/fresh-air-for-jan-18-2018-a-former-neo-nazi-explains-why-hate-drew-him-in-and-ho?showDate=2018-01-18.
GUL, A. Said. “History of Islamophobia and Anti-Islamism.” The Pen Magazine, 1 Feb. 2011, www.thepenmagazine.net/history-of-islamophobia-and-anti-islamism/.
Khan, Aina. “How Has Islamophobia Changed over the Past 20 Years?” UK News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 16 Nov. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/islamophobia-changed-20-years-171116120107753.html.
Mathias, Christopher. “The 6 Rules Of Islamophobia In America.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Jan. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/islamophobia-america_us_587cf491e4b0e58057ff98e0.
SUNAR, LÜTFİ SUNAR*. “The Long History of Islam as a Collective ‘Other’ of the West and the Rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. after Trump.” Proquest, 18 July 2017.