With lingering prejudice from the Sept. 11 attacks compounded by the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, politicians in the U.S. and beyond are horribly eager to scapegoat the Muslim community.
In the days after the Brussels attack, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz—who built his presidential campaign around protecting Christians’ religious freedoms—called for a "patrol" of Muslim neighborhoods.
Presumed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump notoriously called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” During his presidential campaign, the billionaire said the U.S. had “absolutely no choice” but to close mosques, and falsely claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the World Trade Center’s destruction.
While these statements are often dismissed as political grandstanding, anti-Muslim attitudes are reflected in federal policies. Once Islamophobia is both culturally legitimized and state-sanctioned, it can cause staggering damage.
The Syrian refugee crisis is perhaps the most visible example, with 30 U.S. governors refusing entry to people fleeing extremist violence often committed by ISIS. If you think it’s a question of resources, think again. Some Republican officials said the U.S. should only accept Christian refugees. A Michigan city voted 9-0 to stop a mosque from being built, and video shows a crowd reacting to the decision by chanting, “No more mosques.”
Institutional Islamophobia isn’t limited to the U.S., either. France courted international controversy when it enacted a complete ban on burqas in 2010. Six years later, experts believe the law fueled both Islamophobia and Islamic terrorism throughout the country. This ideological separation fuels a physical one, as well.
A 2016 Politico article points out that European Muslims are much more likely to be poor and live in segregated communities on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas. Europe is now awash with Islamic extremism not from refugees, but from its own citizens, who have been marginalized by anti-Muslim policies.
Once Islamophobia is both culturally legitimized and state-sanctioned, it can cause staggering damage.
If the U.S. becomes more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, it’ll likely result from our similar mistreatment of Muslims.
The FBI’s 2014 hate crime report indicated that hate crimes against Muslims rose 14 percent in one year, despite a drop in hate crimes against nearly every other marginalized group. Experts expect a similar increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes when 2015 data is released. These incidents now occur five times more often than they did before 9/11.
A 2010 Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Muslim Americans reported personally facing discrimination, a significantly higher percentage than any other religion. According to a 2011 Pew poll, six percent of Muslims said they had been threatened or attacked in the past year.
The Southern Poverty Law Center surveyed 2,000 teachers and found that more than two-thirds said their Muslim students and those with immigrant parents were concerned about the presidential election's consequences for their families. Additionally, more than one-third had seen an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students.
When confronted with these statistics, some will insist that we’re just “doing what we must” to keep our country safe, but these views are—at best—misguided.
For many Americans, 9/11 cemented a connection between Islam and terrorism, but the fact remains that the majority of terrorist attacks in the U.S. are committed by non-Muslims. These incidents include Dylann Roof’s racially-motivated murderous rampage in South Carolina and Robert Lewis Dear’s shootout at a Colorado Planned Parenthood. A 2015 report from The New York Times found that Americans are seven times more likely to be killed in a terrorist attack related to right-wing extremism than one related to radical Islam.
And while Muslim Americans are constantly called on to do their part to combat extremist, no other population is asked to do the same.
Furthermore, Muslims already fighting extremism in their own communities are largely being ignored in these conversations.
According to 2012 study from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, two out of every five Al Qaeda-planned terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been stopped not by federal surveillance, but by information from Muslims. By ostracizing Muslims, non-Muslim Americans run the risk of losing a vital ally in combating domestic terrorism.
Inflammatory rhetoric and discriminatory legislation against a religious minority are both unhelpful and dangerous.
There’s ample evidence to suggest that rejecting Muslim communities would lead to a country divided: A rise in Islamophobia is often accompanied by an uptick in extremism. We’d see a decrease in community-policing reports and an increase in hate crimes and racism. Furthermore, we’d lose out on allies, neighbors, friends, teachers, doctors, and other invaluable contributions.
It’s on us to approach all Americans with respect and compassion. If the country relegates Muslim Americans to a permanent underclass, this gives extremists justification for acts of terror. Worst of all, we lose sight of our humanity.