Islamophobia threatens religious pluralism and our country’s foundational values. This article looks briefly at several key challenges in two parts. Last week, we discussed countering violent extremism, the media and politics. Now, we turn to the anti-Muslim hate network, studying while Muslim, religious land use zoning wars and hate violence.
More recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has highlighted a new trend in anti-Muslim hate: the emergence of women. In its report, Women Against Islam, it profiles female bloggers, politicos, authors, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts, and leaders who believe all Muslims as suspect.
Here’s a sampling:
Coloradan Ann Barnhardt urges that Islam should be “exterminated” while characterizing the Muslim community as “mentally and physically devolving.” Virginian Brigitte Gabriel, who heads ACT! For America, claims “[t]ens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America, operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities.” She also believes that any practicing Muslim is a “radical Muslim.”
Tennessean Cathy Hinners warns about American Muslim “training compounds” while Washingtonian Laura Ingraham has written, “When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people?—?Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists.” And, Chicagoan Sandy Rios, a radio talk show host, claims, “Muslim Americans do not have First Amendment rights.”
Last year, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) hosted a summit at The White House honoring American Muslim women’s contributions to our nation in honor of Women’s History Month. More recently, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) launched a national billboard campaign asserting Islam’s support for women’s rights.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) recently reaffirmed its national commitment to ensuring the inclusion of women at mosques – not just in terms of physical access but in the mosque’s leadership and decision-making process as well.
SPLC’s report, Women Against Islam, highlights the continued necessity of empowered women to counteract diverse proponents of anti-Muslim hate.
A hostile learning environment represents the greatest challenge confronting American Muslim children – not radicalization as some might argue. That hostility manifests in a number of different ways.
Consider the following recent examples.
According to a CAIR report released last month, half of Muslim students surveyed in California have experienced at least one incident of bias-based bullying. As that report was released, in New Jersey, an incident of bias-based bullying hit local media. Students photo-shopped a picture of a Muslim teen observing hijab, captioning it “ISIS.” And, in September, friends continually harassed a Muslim Kansas teen forcing his absence from class.
Notably, bias-based bullying is not the only difficulty facing our schools. Increasingly, the academic study of Islam in social studies classes has erupted in controversy even where other world religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, are taught.
In Tennessee and Georgia, for instance, some concerned parents are organizing against a curriculum that incorporates academic instruction about Islam. They have organized petition drives, lobbied state legislators for changes to the curriculum and participated in protests.
The textbooks in question typically include a chapter on Islamic civilization from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1629, the spread of Islam and life in the Islamic world. There is no mention of 9/11, ISIS or terrorism – the lens through which we have grown accustom to viewing Islam.
According to the DOJ, opposition to mosque construction projects has intensified in recent years. Since 2000, the DOJ has initiated more than three dozen cases involving discrimination and arbitrary action by local zoning boards against mosques, more than two dozen of which have just been opened in the past several years.
This continues to represent a key challenge to domestic religious freedom. Consider the following recent cases:
Last month, in Georgia, the local community in Gwinnett County mobilized to oppose a zoning permit for a Muslim cemetery. Around that time, the DOJ sued a Michigan town that denied a zoning permit to an Islamic school. And, in September, a Michigan planning commission voted unanimously to reject a mosque construction project.
The loss of Our Three Winners shocked the world earlier this year. Still, anti-Muslim hate violence persists unabated and at alarming levels.
Earlier this week, a woman physically attacked an American Muslim woman in hijab while she was dining with her family – including four children – at an Applebees restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just last week, mosques in Nebraska and Massachusetts were vandalized. Last month, two brothers physically assaulted an American Muslim man, who was walking with his wife and 8-year-old child, in New York. Prior to stabbing him in the stomach, one of the perpetrators explained, “I’m going to stab you because you’re Arabic and deserve it.”
In Indiana, a college student assaulted a Muslim woman while she was dining in a restaurant with her 9-year-old daughter. The young man yelled racial epithets, “white power,” and “kill them all” while violently slamming the victim’s head into the table. He also attempted to remove her headscarf.
Also in October, a building that housed a local Seattle mosque was intentionally set ablaze, according to law enforcement officials. Around that time, vandals shattered the glass door of a Texan mosque. The mosque is also home to a private school for children. It is currently in the process of installing a surveillance camera as an enhanced security measure.
In September, during Eid-ul-Adha, worshippers at a Florida mosque came across myriad suspicious objects including a ceramic skull, wooden cross and a Bible. The incident is under investigation by the FBI, local police and prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office.
Around that same time, a man threatened worshippers at an Ohio mosque, reportedly calling them “terrorists.” Officials later seized a hatchet from his car.
A Kansas mosque was also vandalized in September. And, three young men burned crosses in front of a New York mosque.
Alas, this is only a smattering of recent anti-Muslim hate violence. According to The Bridge Initiative, a research project focused on Islamophobia at Georgetown University, between November 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015, there were 52 such attacks including murders, shootings, vandalisms, arsons, physical and verbal assaults and threats. A recent CAIR report, Toxic Hate, also depicts a violent spike in Islamophobia.
These findings are shored up by law enforcement data. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crimes Report program, for instance, anti-Muslim hate crimes remain 5 times higher than pre-9/11.
Americans stood by Ahmed Mohamed after his ordeal, even prompting President Obama to tweet, “Cool clock, Ahmed.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently reminded employers that religious faith practices couldn’t factor into hiring decisions. And, our country has strong anti-discrimination laws, legal system and political processes through which to achieve social justice and positive change.
No, the news is not all bad. But, to protect religious pluralism, there is still much work to be done to end Islamophobia.
Editor’s note: Part 1 of Engy Abdelkader appeared in last week’s Muslim Observer here. Her views are his own.