2017: Another difficult & hard year for American Muslims

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The seven-million American Muslims remained under siege since 9/11/2001 through reconfiguration of US laws, policies and priorities but their plight has taken a new twist under President Donald Trump whose anti-Muslim policies alarmingly fomented hate crimes against them.

The xenophobic rhetoric and anti-Muslim fear-mongering enjoys unprecedented influence with Donald Trump’s most vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric as typified by his election campaign declaration: “I think Islam hates us.”

Heidi Beirich, advocacy director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says that thanks to the xenophobic rhetoric of the 2016 election and its aftermath, the country has witnessed an undeniable increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and activity. “We know that when mainstream political officials or public figures engage in defaming populations or propagandizing against them it impacts how those populations are viewed by the public and we know it can lead to violence,” she noted.

President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is best reflected by his three video tweets in November last when he retweeted three videos supposedly depicting Muslims committing acts of violence, each captioned in a manner linking the actions with the perpetrators’ racial or religious identity. The videos originated from the Twitter feed of Jayda Fransen, an anti-Muslim activist in the UK who was recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment. The tweets were sent to Trump’s more than 43 million followers. Jayda Fransen is the deputy leader of a British anti-immigrant fringe group, Britain First.  The group’s name was shouted by an extremist who gunned down and stabbed a member of Parliament earlier this year. Britain First is a fringe political party condemned as ultranationalist and previously accused of sharing anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. The office of British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Trump was wrong to share material from a group that promotes “hateful narratives.”

The early days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been an anxious time for many Muslim Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in July 2017. Overall, Muslims in the United States perceive a lot of discrimination against their religious group, are leery of Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see Islam as part of mainstream U.S. society.

Consequently, nearly two-thirds of Muslim Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. today. And about three-quarters say Donald Trump is unfriendly toward Muslims in America.

Tellingly, half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years. And 48% say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months.

At the same time, many Muslims say they face a variety of significant challenges in making their way in American society.

Muslims who say it has become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years were asked to describe, in their own words, the main reasons for this. The most common responses include statements about Muslim extremists in other countries, misconceptions and stereotyping about Islam among the U.S. public, and Trump’s attitudes and policies toward Muslims.

According to another PEW Research survey of 2017, Americans view Muslims less warmer than atheists while they view more warmly the seven other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons).

Even cancer has a better public image than Muslim-Americans. How did it get this bad? A study released last year by consulting firm 416Labs showed that over 25 years of coverage and headlines, the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the New York Times was more negative than cancer, alcohol, and cocaine. The study found there are no positive words in the top 25 associations with Islam and Muslims, and only 8 percent of headlines about those subjects carried a positive connotation. Cancer fared better at 17 percent. [Foreign Policy]

Anti-Muslim industry

To borrow journalist Reed Richardson, fueled by the President’s nativist agenda and a new alliance with the alt-right, the professional anti-Muslim industry has never been stronger—or more dangerous.

Richardson argues that like the US military industrial complex, there is also anti-Islam industrial complex:

Much like our country has a military-industrial complex comprised of various-sized defense firms competing side-by-side or, very often, working directly with and for each other to wield influence and make money under the banner of “national security,” so too is there an anti-Islam industrial complex. This Islamophobia industry likewise exhibits interwoven subsidiaries, joint ventures and lobbying groups, which enrich themselves while ostensibly promoting ideals like freedom of expression, women’s rights and, yes, national security.”

The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim industry has grown because politicians have begun to market its wares. “You and I aren’t having this conversation 10 years ago, not because these folks didn’t exist back then, they did,” said Todd Green, religion professor at Luther College and author of “The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West.” What’s changed, Luther added, is this industry’s ability to influence and dominate the mainstream narrative about Islam in the country. And aiding and abetting this is a Republican Party that has tightened its embrace of Islamophobia as a political strategy. “Politicians instrumentalize Islamophobia now because they know it works, not because of deep-rooted convictions about Islam,” he said, adding “the 2015-16 campaign really magnified that.”

For all of the Islamophobia industry’s recent successes, none can compare to Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. “He has welcomed known members of organized anti-Muslim movement into his administration in a way that is unprecedented,” said Lindsay Schubiner, advocacy director for the Chicago-based watchdog group Center for New Community. Referring to the long list of Trump’s cabinet, staff, and unofficial advisors that harbor anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiments, Schubiner says Trump “is incorporating their policy ideas, wholesale, into his platform, as we’ve seen with his attempts at making the Muslim ban a policy reality.”

Encouraged by President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, on June 11, far-right activists held anti-Muslim demonstrations in least 28 cities across the United States. The demonstrators, spurred by the ACT for America – one of the largest grass-roots anti-Muslim group – were met in many cases by larger crowds of counter protesters. Clashes reportedly broke out between anti-fascists – known colloquially as Antifa – and march participants in a handful of cities, including Seattle, Washington.

Buoyant by the June 11 demonstrations, the ACT for America, announced to hold anti-Muslim and pro-Trump rallies at around 37 locations across the country on Sept. 9 to mark the 16thanniversary of 9/11. However, the group cancelled the planned rallies apparently because of poor response from the public. The ACT for America has been labeled an extremist anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups.

Anti-Sharia Law Bills in the United States

Playing fear-mongering, hate groups and the American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) have campaigned to demonize Islam across the nation through legislation and rhetoric.

One hundred twenty anti-Sharia law bills have been introduced in 42 states since 2010. This year alone, 13 states have introduced an anti-Sharia law bill, with Texas and Arkansas enacting the legislation.

One of the most successful far-right conspiracies to achieve mainstream viability, the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America (ACT), an SPLC-designated hate group. In June, so-called anti-Sharia rallies organized by ACT were held across the country and attracted white nationalists, armed right-wing militias and even neo-Nazis.

David Yerushalmi, the father of the anti-Sharia movement, serves as co-founder of the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) and General Counsel of the Center for Security Policy. AFLC has pushed its initiative, American Laws for American Courts (ALAC), principally authored by Yerushalmi, since 2010. Politicians in just eight states have not joined this concerted project of stoking fear of Islam. Guy Rogers, the former executive director of ACT for America, the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in the country, concedes that there is no real influence of Islam in courts but says, “Before the train gets too far down the tracks it’s time to put up the block.”

The rise in legislation and anti-Muslim rhetoric within state legislatures is not without consequence for Muslim communities. In fact, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 67% according to FBI statistics released in 2015. In March, three Muslim students attempted to visit Rep. John Bennett in the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Before meeting with them, Bennett insisted they fill out a questionnaire about Islam which included questions like, “The Koran, the sunna of Mohammed and Sharia Law of all schools say that the husband can beat his wife. Do you agree with him?”

Experts including professors, attorneys, politicians, and the American Bar Association (ABA) have been quick to denounce anti-Sharia law bills. In response to an uptick in anti-Sharia law bills introduced in 2010 and 2011, the ABA published a formal letter of dissent, saying in part:

“The American Bar Association opposes federal or state laws that impose blanket prohibitions on consideration or use by courts or arbitral tribunals of the entire body of law or doctrine of a particular religion,” adding, “… American courts will not apply Sharia or other rules (real or perceived) that are contrary to our public policy, including, for instance, rules that are incompatible with our notions of gender equality.”

The ABA further discussed the concerns of highly publicizing this type of legislation. The mass hysteria created by these organizations and further perpetuated by politicians at state and federal levels, is alarming. The misconstrued understanding of both Sharia and the United States constitution by these groups has sought to create an actionable goal of exterminating Islam. Some states, including v have explicitly named ‘Sharia organizations’ and Muslims, the enemy.

It may be recalled that pro-Israeli, Hasidic Jew Islamophobist, David Yerushalmi, in 2006 established an anti-Islam group known with the acronym SANE: the Society of Americans for National Existence. The sole objective of the group is banishing Islam from the US by making “adherence to Islam” punishable by 20 years in prison.

In February 2007, SANE released a policy paper that in part stated: “Whereas, adherence to Islam as a Muslim is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the US. Government through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the US Constitution and the imposition of Shari’a on the American People. . .It shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Islam.”

Echoing Yerushalmi’s anti-Islam legislations in several states to ban the non-existent Sharia law,an anti-Islam question was included in the Republican Party survey titled as “Listening to America.” The question No. 27 of the 32 question survey asks: “Are you concerned by the potential spread of Sharia Law?”

Hate Crimes 

The divisive rhetoric of US President Donald Trump has fomented hate crimes against the Muslims. According to a quarterly civil rights report released in October by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest civil rights and advocacy group, 354 incidents of anti-Islam religious bias were reported during the third quarter of 2017. Hate crimes were the most frequently documented type of bias incident, with 61 cases in the third quarter of 2017. Bias incidents rose 9 percent in the first nine months of 2017 as compared to the same period in 2016.

According to Brian Levin, Director of Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino,  hate crimes in nine US metropolitan areas increased over 20 percent last year, fueled by the divisive rhetoric of US President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign and more willingness for victims to report such crimes. Among US cities, Washington, DC, reported the largest increase in hate crimes at 107 incidents, a 62 percent rise from 2015. New York City reported the greatest number of hate crimes at 380, a 24 percent increase. Bias crimes against Muslims, Jews and Hispanics accounted for much of the growth in hate crimes that were reported following the election of Trump on November 8, said Levin.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that tracks hate crimes, said that the number of organized anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States nearly tripled last year. The SPLC report also found that there are now more than 900 active hate groups across the US, ranging from neo-Nazi groups to racist black separatist organizations. Jewish community centers and schools in the United States have also received several waves of hoax bomb threats since the beginning of this year, prompting fears of an increase in anti-Semitism.

On April 5, 2017, the US Senate passed a resolution condemning hate crime and any other form of racism, religious or ethnic bias, discrimination, incitement to violence, or animus targeting a minority in the United States. The resolution was introduced by Democratic Senator Kamla Harris from California. It was approved by Unanimous Consent.  The resolution calls on federal law enforcement officials, working with state and local officials, to: (1) expeditiously investigate all credible reports of hate crimes and incidents and threats against minorities in the United States, and (2) bring the perpetrators to justice.

Hijab (headscarf)

Anti-veil/hijab sentiments are on the rise in the US. No doubt veil/hijab is provoking animosity against Muslim women. This animosity some time becomes violent. Veil is rarely used by American Muslim women but simply using headscarf makes them target of hate attacks. In May last, a tragic incident occurred when two men were assassinated while trying to stop a white supremacist from abusing two young Muslim women on a train in Portland, Oregon. One of the Muslim women was wearing hijab. One of the men who intervened died on the train. The other died later in hospital.

There are incidents of scarf snatching across America. Here are chilling examples of anti-hijab (headscarf) incidents:

In April, a 14-year-old Muslim girl’s headscarf was ripped off by an unidentified man yelling “terrorist” in the state of Georgia. The victim was walking with a group in the parking lot of Perimeter Mall in Atlanta when the man approached and fled after snatching the hijab.

In May, a teacher at a New York school was fired after he ripped the hijab off an 8-year-old girl’s head for “misbehaving” in class.

In Aug, the city of Long Beach, CA, agreed to pay $85,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Kirsty Powell, an African American Muslim woman, whose hijab was pulled off by a male officer while she was in police custody. Her lawsuit, filed in 2016, prompted the Long Beach Police Department to reverse its policy barring inmates from wearing religious head coverings.

In Nov, a Nashville (Tennessee) charter school suspended a teacher after video emerged showing a student’s hijab being pulled off during class. In two videos posted to Snapchat, the student was seen covering her face as her head covering is removed in the classroom. 

Also in Nov, another incident of headscarf pulling happened in Virginia when a Muslim student, Yasmin Yahye  reported that her teacher removed her headscarf without her consent and has since then she has experienced cyberbullying.

Not surprisingly, on December 9, interfaith groups held a rally outside Dillard’s in Garland, Texas, to protest Dillard’s “no-hijab” policy. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and law firm Tremain Artaza PLLC filed a Complaint of Discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission against Dillard’s on behalf of a young Muslim woman who was refused employment due to her hijab.

In March, this year a decision by the European Union Court of Justice allowed employers to ban headscarf using Muslim women from work. It was denounced by many American Muslims who see this biased decision as an attack on their faith.

On March 14, the European Union Court of Justice said private businesses in Europe can forbid Muslim women in their employ from wearing headscarves if the ban is part of a policy of neutrality within the company and not a sign of prejudice against a particular religion. Such a ban doesn’t constitute what the court calls “direct discrimination.”

The verdict by the highest court in the 28-nation European Union was in response to two cases brought by a Belgian and a French woman, both fired for refusing to remove their headscarves. France already bans headscarves and other religious symbols in classrooms as well as face-covering veils in streets. 

Some non-Muslim communities may justify this biased court order as a way of helping Muslim women better integrate into western societies. However, many American Muslims don’t agree. To borrow Khalid Saeed, President of American Muslim Voice, a leading American Muslim organization, the EU court’s decision was biased because attacks on headscarf in the US and Europe happen as attack on what is considered as an Islamic symbol.

When terrorism is not terrorism

Apparently, the United States has a double standard when it comes to talking about terrorism. To borrow Moustafa Bayoumi of the Guardian, the label is reserved almost exclusively for when we’re talking about Muslims. Consider Stephen Craig Paddock, the shooter in October 1 massacre in Las Vegas. Is he a terrorist? Well, the authorities didn’t call him one. This is all the more remarkable because Paddock’s actions clearly fit the statutory definition of terrorism in Nevada. That state’s law defines terrorism as “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.” Paddock shot and killed at least 59 people and injured more than 500 others. If that doesn’t qualify as a textbook definition of Nevada’s terrorism law, we don’t know what does.

Yet, when asked at a press conference in Las Vegas if the shooting was an act of terrorism, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo replied: “No. Not at this point. We believe it’s a local individual. He resides here locally,” suggesting that all terrorism is foreign in nature.

Lombardo didn’t call Paddock a terrorist, but he did label him a “lone wolf,” which in our lexicon is the special name we use for “white-guy terrorist.” Nor is this oversight limited to Lombardo. Las Vegas’ mayor, Carolyn Goodman, also described Paddock not as a terrorist but as “a crazed lunatic, full of hate.”

Also President Donald Trump, who craves every opportunity to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” avoided any mention of the word “terrorist” when discussing the tragic events of October 1 night.  [By Moustafa Bayoumi – The Guardian]

On November 5, Devin Patrick Kelley, a former member of the Air Force, shot dead at least 26 people and injured 19 in an attack on worshippers at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Alluding to the church shooting, MSNBC Moring Joe Host, Joe Scarboroug said ‘If a guy named Mohammad blew up that church. O my God, O my God, Washington would be on fire.” Just last week after New York attack (when Sayfullo Saipov allegedly struck and killed eight people with a rented truck in lower Manhattan on Halloween) president immediately talked about terrorism, talked about death penalty, attacked political opponent, Chuck Schumer, and called for radical vetting, Joe said adding:  He attacked America’s judiciary after these gun incidents that happened more often than the acts of terrorism, and killed so many  more people … all we get is pray. You cannot talk about gun…this is a mental issue.” President Trump said that the South Texas shooting that killed at least 26 people wasn’t “a guns situation,” and blamed it instead on the gunman’s mental health.

Conclusion

It will not be too much to say that the post-911 America has become less friendly to Muslims to the extent that they have probably replaced other minorities – Hispanics, Native Americans and Afro Americans – as targets of discrimination, hate and prejudice. Many American Muslims have a story of discriminative treatment ranging from physical attacks, a nasty gaze, casual comments to work place harassment, burning mosques and the Quran. Muslims have witnessed the ever-growing marginalization of their communities.

More than sixteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims are profiled, harassed, reviled, attacked, peeped at by the CIA and the FBI, interrogated and permanently controlled at airports. There’s no sign that the pressure on the Muslim community is lifting. It remains victim of guilt by association.

Defending civil rights became the single most important challenge before the American Muslims in the post-9/11 America. Arabs and Muslims were the prime targets of the post 9/11 reconfiguration of American laws, policies, and priorities. Their constitutional rights to free exercise of religion and assembly, due process and security from unreasonable searches and seizures had been violated. The erosion of civil rights came in the form of various programs and legislations such as the USA Patriot Act, which effectively nullifies Constitutional Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8 directly and indirectly amendments 1 and 9. The fallout impacted the daily life of Muslims at schools, in the workplace, in general public encounters and mistreatment at the hand of federal officials.

American Muslims have responded to these challenges by making bridges with other faith and ethnic groups. About 200 people gathered in March in front of City Hall in San Jose, CA, to express the solidarity with Muslims. Masao Suzuki of Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, the architect of the rally, explained: “In the lessons learned from 75 years of resistance from 1942-2017, we say No to Concentration Camps and Islamophobia. President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, banning travel from 7 Muslim-majority countries, has brought back painful memories of internment, among the darkest chapters in American history. We will not let Muslim-Americans stand alone. We will stand by them. We will not allow history to repeat. Never again!”

The County of Santa Clara on August 14, 2017 proclaimed the month of August as the month of Muslim Appreciation. The proclamation said Muslims have been part of U.S. history from the beginning, have contributed to the production of wealth and construction of the nation, and have served in defending our nation; they are also part of the rich history of the civil rights movement; and over 67,000 Muslims live in Santa Clara County and make innumerable contributions to the cultural, political, and economic fabric and well-being of California and the United States.

The Council of Woodland City (CA) on June 20 recognized the Islamic month of Ramadan which is a month of spiritual consciousness and higher sense of social responsibility for the less fortunate. The proclamation said that 1.7 billion Muslims of the world celebrate their holiest month of Ramadan every year. The proclamation was issued in the wake of what has been a nationwide anti-Muslim attitude on the part of some Americans as well as President Donald Trump, Jim Smith Editor of the Woodland Daily Democrat pointed out.

 

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.

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