Photo 2007 gathering of Eagles, Washington, D.C., credit RaphaelI.
I am a Christian of Arab descent who resides in a quiet American town in South Carolina. Many of my neighbors are Republicans, and many of them are Tea Party supporters. Many of these same people think I am a Muslim—why else would I write and speak about the dangers of Islamophobia?
They fail to understand that I want to crush the terrorists responsible for the recent attacks in Paris, Mali, and other places every bit as much as they do. But I refuse to tar 1.6 billion Muslims—the vast majority of whom are peaceful folk—with the same discriminatory brush.
Recent actions in the public sphere trouble me. More than half of our state governors have issued public statements suggesting that Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States could possibly be collaborating with ISIS to stage a terror attack on U.S. soil. The House of Representatives voted to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettlement in the United States.
This intolerance virus is advancing, and anti-Muslim sentiment is frighteningly high. Not so long ago a lawyer in my town said that Syrian refugees “don’t plan to assimilate [or] to take on our culture. They plan to change the way of American life.” One of her supporters said Syrians should be sent home on “troop ships.” Another asked: “Do we shoot them?” When pollsters asked a group of South Carolina conservatives if a Muslim be allowed to be president, 72 percent said a Muslim should not be allowed to take up residence in the White House.
Some Republican candidates for President are advancing anti-Muslim bigotry. My state’s Congressman, Lindsey Graham, called the Arabic call to prayer a “war chant,” and compared the horrific shooting in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, with "Mideast hate.”
Mike Huckabee has said Muslims will “go to the mosque . . . and they come out of there like uncorked animals.”
Ben Carson has said: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree to that.”
Donald Trump claims—sans any evidence—that "thousands of [Muslim] people" in New Jersey celebrated as the World Trade Center towers came down. He also said that the government should create a database to track America's Muslims. "I do want surveillance," he said, [especially] "on the people coming in from Syria." And he believes closing mosques is acceptable “if the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear.”
Such rhetoric helps incite violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, including Sikhs and Arab-Americans.
Here are just a few examples of bias and violence being perpetrated against innocent Muslim people:
- In California, 55 percent of Muslim students, ages eleven to eighteen, have been subjected to at least one form of religious-based bullying.
- In Texas, a fourteen-year old student named Ahmed Mohamed brought a homemade clock to school. Instead of the teacher applauding his initiative, Ahmed’s school called the police and suspended him for three days for making a “bomb.”
- In New York, Miru Kim, an artist, was harassed by two police officers for wearing a shirt with Arabic writing on it. They took all her information, address, phone number, right in front of her home. A few months ago, the sports network, ESPN, suspended former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling after he posted a photo of Hitler on Twitter to accompany the following tweet: “It’s said only 5-10 percent of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7 percent of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?” But the suspension was brief and Mr Schilling is back with the network.
I believe we can push back against this anti-Muslim virus.
President Barack Obama could hold a press conference to discuss the misguided and dangerous nature of this rising wave of Islamophobia. During televised debates of presidential candidates panelists should challenge candidates’ Islamophobic remarks. When I was in high school in the early 1950s, I remember how journalist Edward R. Murrow exposed Joseph McCarthy on CBS-TV’s "See It Now." At the time, McCarthy was using the “communist threat” for political gain. The Senator’s disregard for human decency came to an end, in large part because of a journalist’s courage to investigate and publicly question McCarthy’s actions.
And, of course not all presidential candidates are bashing Muslims for political gain. Recently, Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, pledged that he will fight Islamophobia. At a town hall meeting, he talked about his Jewish religious background and compared anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. “Our job is to build a nation in which we all stand together as one people. And . . . there is a lot of anger and hatred being generated against Muslims in this country,” Sanders said. “If you stand for anything, we have got to stand together and end all forms of racism, and I will lead that effort as President of the United States.”
Are you listening Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson? If not, you should be.
Jack G Shaheen is the author of Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.