What Do Terrorists and the Trump Administration Have In Common?

This article, by Bridge Initiative Director John L. Esposito, was originally published in Huffington Post.

Fear of Islam has become the new normal in American and European popular culture. Islamophobia, prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims, has grown exponentially as have hate crimes against Muslims and even Sikhs who are mistaken for Muslims and have been murdered.

 

The Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey found that: “no religious, social, or racial and ethnic group [is] perceived as facing greater discrimination in the U.S. than Muslims.”

 

Islam and the vast majority of Muslims have been brush-stroked by domestic & international terrorist attacks (Al Qaeda, ISIL). Reflecting and reinforcing this strong Islamophobic trend in America, candidate Donald Trump told Anderson Cooper of CNN, “Islam hates us.” The President believes, not ISIS or Muslim extremists, but Islam, the religion of 1.6 billion Muslims and the second largest religion in the world, hates America. Asked if he’s talking about radical Islam, he said “It’s very hard to separate, because you don’t know who’s who.” There are even recent reports that the Trump administration wants to change the name of the program “CVE”, Countering Violent Extremism to Countering Islamic Violence (CIV) even though the FBI and Department of Justice have identified US right wing extremists a bigger threat to America than ISIS.

 

Unlike Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, President Trump and Steve Bannon, the Counselor and Chief Strategist to the President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and, until recently National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, make no distinction between the religion of Islam and Muslim terrorist ideologies. Bannon, and other members of the administration like ISIS and Al Qaeda believe in an impending clash of civilizations, warns: “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.”

 

The recent Muslim ban, the Presidential Executive Order: Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States, halting the refugee resettlement process and barring all immigration from seven Muslim majority countries is the radical result of these unfounded fears. What are the facts about these countries? Uri Friedman calls this “a phantom menace, pointing out: “Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015…. Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s”.

 

This Executive Order seriously compromises American values and critics believe that it is unconstitutional. Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy warns: “The decision to turn our backs on millions of men, women, and children attempting to flee torture and terror shrinks us as a nation, and marks an unconscionable abandonment of our founding principles.”

 

How have we forgotten that America is a nation founded by religious refugees, that we are a nation of immigrants, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty? Donald Trump’s mantra stresses the need for extreme vetting even though, in fact, the US already has an extremely stringent two-year vetting process.

 

How Have We Gotten To This Point?

Mass and social media that focus on explosive, headline events (“If it bleeds, it leads,”) have made Islamophobia a global constant. For example, in America, FOX stopped positive comments about Muslims four years ago. In 2016, their coverage of Muslims was 100% negative. Globally, in 2016, about 2/3 of all news regarding Muslims was critical or unfavorable. Moderate voices, calling for mutual understanding, and representatives of the great majority of peaceful Muslims and their contribution to society are hardly heard.

 

Over the past decade, an explosion of an Organized Islamophobia Network (OIN has been feeding this negativity: a cottage industry of pundits, bloggers, authors, documentaries, lobbyists, elected officials, carefully cultivated by anti-Muslim polemicists, all supported by tremendous resources. According to the Center for American Progress $42.6 million flowed from seven foundations over 10 years to support Islamophobic authors and websites.

 

A 2016 CAIR report identified a total of $205,838,077 in total revenue between 2008 and 2013 supporting the inner core of the US based Islamophobia network.

 

After a bitter presidential election and with a divided nation, the first weeks of the Trump administration’s statements and policies are being watched and judged at home and abroad. They witness Steve Bannon and Muslim terrorists both proclaiming a “Clash of Civilizations” and “US at war with Islam,“ spreading more fear and hatred and risking an escalation of violence and terror.

 

No wonder then that The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2016 annual report on hate and extremism in America reported that the number of hate groups rose for a second year in a row. “As Donald Trump’s campaign electrified the radical right, the number of hate groups grew to 917 in 2016 – up from 892 in 2015…. The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.”


Muslim Ban Executive Order: Analyses and Reactions

To learn more about the recent Trump administration executive order,c heck out our latest episode of Between Two Lamps. We discuss the order’s impact on refugees and Muslims, and reactions across the country,

We’ve also compiled a series of Tweets on social media that help shed light on the order’s origins and consequences:


Ted Cruz’s Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Bill

On January 11, 2017, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz introduced a bill to designate the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). This is not Cruz’s first attempt to see the Muslim Brotherhood added to the U.S.’s list of FTOs. In November of 2015, he sponsored a similar document for review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on February 24 of 2016.

The basis for Cruz’s bills is one solitary document: a memo from the early 1990s supposedly written by a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, which details a plan to subvert Western civilization. Cruz’s guide on this matter, Frank Gaffney, is the leader of the Center for Security Policy — a recognized anti-Muslim hate group. Their claims about the memo have been debunked. 

The following is a paper written by the Director of the Bridge Initiative, Dr. John Esposito. It was originally submitted in 2016 to the House Judiciary Committee in response to a request for further information about the Muslim Brotherhood and the possible consequences of designating the group an FTO:  

On Wednesday, February 24 [2016], the Republican dominated House Judiciary Committee voted 17-10 along party lines to require the State Department to take action to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. The move would be welcomed by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sisi led a military backed coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013, and dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated and democratically elected parliament. The UAE, a staunch political and financial supporter of the coup, had designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in 2014.

The Congressional hearing was extraordinarily brief. As two members of the committee pointed out, it completely ignored the usual process of expert testimony from the State Department, intelligence agencies and Middle East and terrorism experts.

For more than 30 years, Muslim Brotherhood associated movements and parties have been a force for democratization and stability in the Middle East. Muslim Brotherhood associated parties promoted and contested elections in Muslim majority countries as far flung as Morocco and Indonesia.

The United States’ official policy has been to encourage democratization and reform. For reasons of realpolitik and national interests, the United States maintains friendly relations with several autocratic regimes.

If the US designates the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO, the signal sent to masses of Muslims is that the United States welcomes autocracy, but not democratization. A controversial review of the Muslim Brotherhood by the UK government, somewhat similar to a requirement under the Republican proposal, could not arrive at evidence of complicity in violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a strong opponent of oppressive dictatorships and radical Muslim extremists. It led the historic opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Asad’s father in Syria and was the only organized opposition to Qaddafi in Libya. Today, groups associated with the Brotherhood provide support for the Saudi-US supported campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis in the current conflict in Yemen, as well as opposing the branches of al-Qa’ida and ISIL in that country. Legislation claiming to identify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization would deny American policy makers access to an important resource in the war against ISIL.

Putting the Muslim Brotherhood in the same general category as the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) would be a victory for the extremists because it would take away from the United States an important resource in the battle against ISIL. The defeat of the so-called Islamic State is a high priority for the United States. Success in this effort must be multi-dimensional.

Direct military action is important in existing conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq, but the real defeat of ISIL requires the ability to stop the organization’s recruitment of people for their cause from around the world.

This broader effort, like the military effort, requires strong and credible Muslim voices that represent the full spectrum of the global Muslim community. Actions that compete effectively with the ISIL recruitment efforts go beyond the activities of old political establishments. The most effective refutations of ISIL propaganda come from activist groups with religious credibility, like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has long opposed extremist militancy and is itself a target of extremist attacks. Indeed, both Al Qaeda and ISIL have criticized and condemned the Brotherhood’s moderate approach and participation in mainstream and democratic electoral politics rather than advocating the violent revolutionary change in Egypt.

In the twenty-two months after Egypt’s July 2013 coup, there were more than 700 attacks across Egypt compared to 90 attacks in the previous twenty-two months. Human Rights Watch reported a figure of 41,000 political prisoners (mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood), were tortured. According to Amnesty International, Egypt issued 509 death sentences in 2014, the second highest number in the world.

Egypt’s Sisi regime has set records for state violence, repression, mass arrest, imprisonment and death sentences exceeding anything known in modern Egyptian history.

Consider the August 2013 massacre of 817 civilians at Rabaa Square. The military — according to a major Human Rights Watch investigation — “systematically and deliberately killed largely unarmed protesters on political grounds” in actions that “likely amounted to crimes against humanity”. The report recommended that “senior Egyptian security officials be held accountable” — including Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s then defense minister and new president who had overall responsibility for the army’s role at Rabaa.

The number of young people radicalized by these events is difficult to measure. To the extent that anecdotal evidence, media reports and trends on social media are a reflection of this tendency, it is accurate to state that Egypt has become a breeding ground for radical Islamism. Marc Lynch has argued that, notwithstanding the Muslim Brotherhood’s social conservatism and illiberalism, they performed an important role as a “firewall against extremism.” A politically active Egyptian with a religious identity could find expression in the public sphere by joining the Muslim Brotherhood and participating in electoral politics. Since the coup and the attempt to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood, this option no longer exists. The two choices that remain for Egyptian youth are: 1) to remain silent and accept the current neo-fascist order, or 2) to contemplate joining a utopian revolutionary political project such as ISIS. There is no third alternative. Tales from Egypt’s notorious prison system confirm this argument.

Mohammad Soltan, an Egyptian-American, was twenty-five years old when he was arrested in the summer of 2013. He spent twenty-one months in jail; during sixteen of these months, Soltan was on a hunger strike. He lost 160 pounds, risking organ failure. When he emerged from prison he could not walk. In a special New York Times profile, he discussed the torture and brutality he faced but also revealed details of the internal political debates among prisoners: several of his cellmates were ISIS supporters.

“They walked around with a victorious air,” he recalled. They would frequently point to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and state: “Look, you idiots, your model doesn’t work.” The ISIL supporters would then proceed to “make very simple arguments telling us that the world doesn’t care about [democratic] values and only understands violence.” He also noted that because “of the gravity of the situation [we] were all in, by the time the ISIL guys were finished speaking, everyone, the liberals, the Brotherhood people, would be left completely speechless. When you’re in that type of situation and don’t have many options left, for some people these kinds of ideas start to make sense.”

Relevance to US National Interest

  1. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO breaks ranks with all democratic allies and aligns the United States with Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
  2. The US would be perceived as supporting and propping up entrenched Arab regimes and an Egyptian government that came to power through a coup and has engaged in widespread repression, violence and the violation of human rights as documented by major human rights organizations.
  3. This would have a negative impact on the image of the US. It would reinforce the long-held belief in the Arab and Muslim world and, beyond that, that the US practices a double standard — “democratic exceptionalism” — when it comes to the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression. Indeed, President George W. Bush, and his representatives Colin Powell and Richard Hass, made that very point in legitimating the US invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein, acknowledging that US presidents, democrats and Republicans, had practiced democratic exceptionalism.
  4. Failure to encourage a process of democratization and human rights by supporting mainstream civil society organizations and non-violent Islamic movements and political parties in the Arab world would play into the hands of terrorists who would use it in their recruitment.

Tunisia represents the one shining prospect for democratization and stability in the Middle East and provides an alternative model to that of Egypt. Tunisia’s Ennahda, the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired movement, is currently the largest political party in the Tunisian parliament. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO may have the problematic consequence of limiting US officials’ interaction with arguably the most important prospect for democracy in the Middle East.

Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, has observed that the “only way to truly defeat ISIS is to offer a better product to the millions of young Muslims in the world.” It is called “Muslim democracy.” He noted that most “young people don’t like ISIL—see how many millions flee from it—but they won’t accept life under tyrants either.” This “better product” must be a political system that is democratic, that respects human rights and that gives Islamic values political space.

It is not a coincidence that ISIL emerged and attracted followers after the crushing of the Arab Spring, highlighting the relationship between democratization and violence. John F. Kennedy in 1962 articulated the simplest formulation of this insight in modern politics: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”


Factsheets: What You Need to Know About Islamophobia

In an era of fake news and contested claims, reliable information is hard to come by, especially about Islam, Muslims, and Islamophobia. Recognizing the need for dependable resources on these topics, the Bridge Initiative provides factsheets on a range of issues, individuals, and organizations that relate to our work on Islamophobia. We hope our growing repository of factsheets is a helpful resource for journalists, educators, politicians, students, and the general public, and contributes to a more educated citizenry.

We will release new factsheets periodically. If there is something you’d like us to address in a factsheet, let us know.

Click on each image to read and download the associated factsheet.

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Bridge Update: Amplifying American Muslim Narratives at the White House

The Bridge Initiative is committed to conveying information and research about Islamophobia to individuals at key institutions in the worlds of policy and news media. 
 
On Tuesday, October 18th, Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative faculty member, Engy Abdelkader, participated in a roundtable discussion, “Amplifying Muslim American Narratives”, at The White House together with several dozen Muslim American advocates, scholars, leaders, and activists.  engy_2016_cropped_for_web
 
The session connected members from the tech industry and government agencies to the Muslim community to explore ways to promote narratives — such as showcasing the community’s diversity, successful women, and those in service — to counter rising Islamophobia in the US today. During the session, a number of participants shared insightful observations.  
 
Abdelkader stressed the importance of also connecting to potential partners in broadcast media and mainstreaming Muslim American voices to counteract and combat anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination.  
 
Abdelkader previously participated in a White House roundtable discussion on bullying and was invited to its annual Eid celebration earlier this year. 

You can learn more about what we’re up to by signing up for our newsletter and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.  Many of our event videos are also available on our YouTube channel

Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam

What do American Catholics think about Islam, Muslims, and interreligious dialogue? And how do Catholic publications portray the faith of Muslims? These are some of the questions addressed in our latest report, “Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam.”

Download the full report below by clicking on the icon.

Download a summary of the report’s key findings.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bridge Initiative Releases Report on American Catholics Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam

Washington, DC, 9/12/2016 – The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University research project on Islamophobia, released today a report that sheds light on American Catholics’ views of Islam, and the way Islam is discussed in Catholic publications.

This report, “Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam,” finds that nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities.

The report, which includes survey data on Catholics views of Muslims and interreligious dialogue, also reveals that three in ten Catholics admit to having favorable views, while only 14% say they have a favorable impression of Muslims. The poll also shows that respondents who consume content from Catholic media have more unfavorable views of Muslims than those who don’t.

The report, authored by Jordan Denari Duffner, also analyzed nearly 800 articles about Islam in Catholic media outlets, finding that half of the time the word “Islamic” was used in nine prominent Catholic outlets, it was in reference to the Islamic State terrorist group. The headlines of Catholic articles on Islam had a negative sentiment overall, but the outlet that mentioned Pope Francis the most in its headlines on Islam had positive sentiment.

The report also explores the 100-plus books, audio programs, and DVDs sold by Catholic publishers about Islam. Interfaith dialogue is a prominent topic in these for-sale materials on Islam, but differences between Christians and Muslims are often stressed in introductory materials or those that attempt to compare Christianity and Islam. The most prolific authors on Islam for Catholics take varied approaches, with some focusing on dialogue and others on sharing the Christian faith with Muslims.

A number of individuals connected to the Islamophobia industry have impacted American Catholic discussions about Islam. In some cases, Catholic publishers, media outlets, Catholic bookstores, and prominent figures have promoted their views. Books and articles by Robert Spencer, who leads Jihad Watch and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-Muslim hate groups), have been distributed by some Catholic outlets and institutions.

Duffner says she hopes the report’s findings can inform the work of diverse Catholics, both lay people and clergy. “We hope the report gives Catholic leaders and educators insights into how ordinary Catholics view Islam and interfaith dialogue. The report also gives Catholic outlets, bookstores, and publishing companies a broad picture of how their content is representing Islam and potentially shaping Catholics’ views.”


The Bridge Initiative is a research project dedicated to educating the public about Islamophobia. Based in Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, the Bridge Initiative connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square.

Contact: Research Fellow Jordan Denari Duffner, bridge@georgetown.edu, 202-687-0290.

Sharing this report on social media? Use the hashtag #CatholicMuslimBridge.

Download and share this press release by clicking on the icon below.


“Terrorism” in the Republican and Democratic Platforms: What are the Implications?

Near the end of his speech at the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton stated, “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.”

Peter Beinart responded quickly and emphatically in The Atlantic, arguing, “Whether Clinton meant to or not, he lapsed into Trumpism: the implication that Muslims are a class apart, deserving of special scrutiny and surveillance, guilty of terrorist sympathies until proven innocent.”

But “Trumpism” as Beinart defines it is not exactly a new phenomenon. Politicians, pundits and policy wonks across the political spectrum link terrorism to Islam and its adherents. We analyzed the Democratic and Republican platforms’ uses of “terror” and found that it’s often linked to Islam.

The RNC & DNC Platforms: A Side-by-Side Analysis

A word search of the keyword “terror”[1] showed 25 results for the RNC and 22 for the DNC.

The descriptive adjectives that immediately preceded the word “terror” varied. The RNC platform tends to employ explicit, religiously coded adjectives like “Islamist,” “Islamic” and “radical Islamic” when describing terrorism and it unequivocally exemplifies terrorism using a specific community – Muslims. This is especially confusing, since they specifically reference three terrorist groups by name, not only Hezbollah and the Taliban, but also FARC, the Marxist-Leninist armed guerilla group that has waged war in Colombia for half a century. In addition, it also referenced “domestic terror,” but was unclear about which group or ideology they were referring to. Lack of clarity about America’s domestic threat is particularly ironic since in a 2015 report by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, 74% of the law enforcement agencies it surveyed reported domestic anti-government extremism as one of the top three perceived terrorist threats in their respective jurisdictions. (In contrast, 39% listed extremism connected with terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.) In addition, a 2015 Department of Homeland Security intelligence report, in conjunction with the FBI, warned of the threat of violent attacks perpetrated by “sovereign citizen extremists.” According to the report, there have been 24 such attacks across the U.S. since 2010 alone. These sorts of attacks, however, were not referenced explicitly in the platform.

The DNC platform emphasized “international” or “global” terrorism. In so doing, it appears to characterize “terror” internationally. Yet the examples of terror they identify cite only professedly Muslim groups – ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and AQIM. Since 16 out of 22 of these references were located in a subsection called “Confronting Global Threats,” one would expect that other non-Muslim extremist groups would be identified.

What are the implications?

While the messaging of both platforms on terrorism may appear markedly different, both link terrorism with Islam. And as some have argued, the word “terrorism,” even when unaccompanied by an Islamic adjective, implies that the source of terror is Islam and its perpetrators are Muslim. When Muslims are associated with violence and terrorism so frequently, it’s bound to have consequences.

The 2016 presidential election, of which the RNC and DNC platforms are part, has become notorious for its divisiveness and vitriol against Muslims, in addition to other minority groups. Particularly, from March 2015 – when the first candidate announced his presidential campaign – to March 2016, the Bridge Initiative observed an alarming increase in violence against Muslims in the United States. Notably, at least three separate incidents of violence were perpetrated by public supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The Southern Poverty Law Center has also observed a 42% increase in the number anti-Muslim hate groups since 2014.

As the election cycle continues, both parties would do well to revisit, and revise, their messaging to ensure that this ongoing couching of “terrorism” in explicitly “Islamic” language doesn’t further contribute to a climate that has already had violent repercussions for American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. For Democrats, the urgency for such a revision cannot be understated especially as political analysts argue that Democrats now carry the new mantle of the “national security party.” For Republicans, paying attention to a climate in which its policies and rhetoric on terrorism lapse into various shades and degrees of “Trumpism” is also a critical issue.


[1] “Terror” was used as the keyword to include variations of the word, such as “terrorism,” “terrorist,” “counterterrorism,” etc.


Islamophobia Rising: A Long Week for Muslims Everywhere

Islamophobia is more than just nasty insults or vague threats; Islamophobia can kill.

“He was a kind-hearted man, very humble, very down to earth.” These are the words of a member of the mosque in Queens, New York where an Imam and his assistant were shot on Saturday.

Imam Akorjee, age 55, an American Muslim clergyman, and his assistant, Thara Uddin, age 64, were shot and killed in a double murder as they were walking together outside of their mosque after midday prayers. New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, attended the joint funeral on Monday and addressed the public. He promised heightened police protection of Muslim New Yorkers and vowed to bring the perpetrator to justice and expressed the need to remain united against Islamophobia: “I look around at all my brothers and sisters here, I see proud Americans, I see proud New Yorkers and we’re not going to let them continue to encourage acts of hatred. We will stand up to them each and every time.” Shortly thereafter, the NYPD announced the capture of a suspect in the murder. Oscar Morel, age 35, is being charged with the killing of both men.

Members of the Queens mosque community expressed anger at Donald Trump for provoking Islamophobic sentiment throughout his campaign. One member told New York Daily News “We think it’s a hate crime. All this Donald Trump … we have been dealing with a lot of hatred lately.”

#QueensImam has been trending ever since. People of other faiths have also joined a #IllWalkWithYou campaign to voice their support of the Muslim community on social media but have also started accompanying Muslims as they walk to their places of worship. Jewish activists visited the mosque the day of the shooting to show their support and solidarity with the grieving community.

The killing of Imam Akorjee and Thara comes amid an environment of intensifying Islamophobia in the United States and post-Brexit Europe. Their murders also mark the beginning of a downward spiraling week for ordinary Muslims:

On Saturday, a court in Nice, France upheld a proposed law created by the mayor of Cannes to ban a modest form of swimwear for Muslim women (dubbed “burkini“). Three other cities in France have since instituted the ban. French Muslims have not taken it lying down. The Washington Post reports that “burkini brawls” are breaking out across the Riviera. In one such story, a French Muslim woman explains: “The mayor talks about protecting public order, which means he thinks the presence of a Muslim woman on a beach will cause trouble. He also invokes the fight against terrorism, so he is basically saying a Muslim woman who wears a burkini is a terrorist.”

On Sunday, a group of ten anti-Muslim protestors known as The Party for Freedom in Australia dressed up in stereotypical Middle Eastern garb to mock Muslims in front of the Gosford Anglican church. They accused the church of assisting and supporting the “Islamic invasion” and of promoting Islam because of the community’s accepting stance toward refugees and progressive positions on multiculturalism. The church’s priest, Father Rod Bower, condemned the protestors for “violating the religious space” with “sacrilege” and interrupting the service. Bower explained, “We do a lot of work to build bridges rather than walls and I’m afraid these rightwing extremists really want a dysfunctional society.”

Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gave a policy speech on Monday in which he promised that if he became president he would enforce “extreme vetting” processes that would put Muslim immigrants through “ideological tests“. Trump made generalizing statements about people from Afghanistan who “may have attitudes about women or attitudes about Christians or gays that would be considered oppressive, even violent.” Trump promised to keep out “Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.” Comedian and CNN analyst, Dean Obeidallah, was quick to point out that many of Trump’s supporters, including his vice president, would likely fail the test. Trump included tolerance for the LGBTQ community and of other faiths as some of the criteria all immigrants would have to meet. He is drawing on stereotypes that Muslims are anti-gay and anti-Semitic despite evidence to the contrary.

Before concluding his remarks, Trump added that, if made president, he would form a “commission on radical Islam” that would see American Muslims put on McCarthyist-style trials for their faith, as if simply being Muslim makes someone guilty or suspect of associations with terrorism. Many have pointed out the extreme nature of such a measure and have argued that the commission could even pose an increased threat to national security.

Then, early this week, a story from Tulsa, Oklahoma broke about a young man named Khalid Jabara. Khalid was a Christian Arab-American who was shot and killed by his neighbor on August 12th. The neighbor, Stanley Vernon Majors, had made vague threats to terrorize the city of Los Angeles in 2009. He had harassed the Jabara family for years, even trying to run over Khalid’s mother in 2015. Despite a restraining order the family had against him that restricted him from possessing firearms, Majors shot Khalid while Khalid was on his front porch talking on the phone with his mother. Prior to the attack, Majors had verbally assaulted the Jabaras frequently, calling them “filthy Lebanese,” confusingly labeling them “filthy Mexicans” and using the n-word. Just before executing Khalid, Majors had been heard using the Islamophobic slurs “dirty Arabs” (pronounced “ayy-rabs”) and “Mooslems”.

Islamophobia is more than just nasty insults or vague threats. As we’ve seen this week, and in the last year, when fear is high, Islamophobia can kill. In 2015, there was an Islamophobic attack in the United States every 48 hours. According to ThinkProgress, already in 2016, there have been 16 Islamophobic attacks in the United States, not including the shootings this week in Queens and Tulsa. Counting those, an attack targeting Muslims has taken place approximately every 13 hours as of this month. The rate of attacks in 2016 is four times higher than that of 2015.

Islamophobia does not only affect Muslims. Khalid Jabara was an Arab Christian, and was killed after allegedly being called a “Mooslem.” In January, Gurcharam Singh Gill, 68, was stabbed to death at a convenience store where he worked. Gill, who was Sikh, was also mistaken for a Muslim.

In 2015, about one-third of all of the reported incidents where Muslims were targeted occurred in December alone. With four months left to go in 2016, and with anti-Muslim election rhetoric ramping up as November approaches, will we continue to see violent attacks against Muslims and those likely perceived to be?

As for this week, it’s only Wednesday.



Mental Illness: A Key Factor in “Terror”

In the wake of violent attacks in Europe, Senior Faculty Fellow and adjunct professor Engy Abdelkader discusses the role that mental illness plays in terrorism. She notes that a perpetrator’s race or religion usually determines whether the media, politicians, and commentators choose to label a violent act as “terrorism,” and then highlights how mental instability has been a common thread among the recent attacks in Nice, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Increasingly, in the court of public opinion, an attacker’s race and religion is more likely to determine whether a violent attack constitutes terrorism than legal definitions.  An attacker’s identity as an Arab, South Asian and/or Muslim, is a marker for terrorism that is emphasized by some news media to the exclusion of other relevant inquiries such as mental illness.

The most recent attack in London, however, reminds us that this latter factor – mental health – may be critical to averting future acts of violence.

In the aftermath of the knife attack by a 19-year-old Briton in Russell Square that left one American woman dead and half a dozen injured, London police confirmed that mental health played a role in the tragedy.  This horrific story from the U.K. comes on the heels of a series of violent attacks in the region (and around the world).

A recent attack against a Catholic church in Normandy, France left a senior priest dead.  Neighbors described one of the attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche as, “too strange,” and “crazy, he was always talking to himself.”

In Nice, France, a man who launched an attack via truck against a crowd of compatriots celebrating Bastille Day left 84 dead, including a disproportionate number of Muslims.  As a local imam observed, while Muslims constitute approximately 7% of the total French population, the group accounted for 30% of those hurt, with 35 fatalities.

Similar to the attacks in London and Orlando, where a gunman murdered 49 and injured 53 at a gay nightclub, mental health played a role there, too.  In Nice, the French attacker had a history of mental illness.  Those who knew him claim that he was unstable, depressed, aggressive and violent.  Apparently, he was seeing psychologists in his native country of Tunisia before he moved to France.

Then, there was the attack In Munich, Germany.  A teen’s violent rampage near a local McDonald’s left more than 30 injured, and 9 dead.  There, too, a disproportionate number of fatalities appeared to be Muslims, including a Greek 17-year-old who died while attempting to protect his sister; two Turkish teens; a 45-year-old Turkish woman; and two Kosovan Albanians (the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims).

During that mass shooting, the deadly youth – inspired by Norwegian white supremacist and far-right terrorist, Anders Breivik – arguably demonstrated psychological trauma as he spoke publicly of being bullied in school.  A police search of the 18-year-old German shooter’s home yielded a book titled, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.

And, in another recent tragedy, an asylum seeker who was scheduled to be deported from Germany, killed himself and wounded 15 others outside a music festival.  In addition to a criminal record, the suicide bomber had a history of mental illness, including prior suicide attempts.

In the wake of such horrific acts, public officials on both sides of the Atlantic often seize on these tragedies to help legitimize calls for expanded restrictions on immigration from Muslim majority countries or enhanced surveillance and other police powers targeting the minority faith community.

Just last month, at the 2016 Republican National Convention, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders expressed his public support for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration ban.  He explained to delegates that Europe was “imploding” from terrorism because of “millions of Muslim immigrants.”

Arguably, the common thread above isn’t necessarily race, religion, ethnicity or even immigration status, but mental illness.

In fact, according to a 2015 Georgetown study, lone wolf attackers, responsible for many of the attacks making news headlines in recent weeks, were found to suffer “some psychological disturbances.” And, it’s these mental health challenges that make such individuals vulnerable to violent extremist ideologies including those propagated by the likes of ISIS.

Significantly, in its survey of 119 lone wolf attackers, Georgetown researchers found that despite diverse levels of education, about 40% of the attackers were unemployed when they attacked.  Beyond that, however, lone wolves have no clear profile.  Researchers found that the majority are white men with criminal records.  More than half were found to subscribe to white supremacist or extremist far-right ideologies.

The study further asserts that violent extremism by self-identifying Muslims “poses no greater threat to the public than other forms of domestic radicalization.”  While noting that the rise of ISIS may account for a potential uptick in violent attacks, the research study warns against “unfairly” profiling or targeting the Muslim community as dangerous, counter-productive and self-defeating.

This is an important message that public figures and officials should heed here and across the pond.  Increased resources should be allocated to ensure mental health and stability across diverse communities and irrespective of their racial, ethnic, religious or socio-economic make-up.

Anti-Muslim prejudice continues to spread across Western Europe. Islamophobia is also at its highest levels in the United States, with more acts and threats of anti-Muslim violence than at any time since 9/11.  Anti-Muslim political rhetoric and policy posturing by public officials will only exacerbate an already growing problem while distracting us from achieving more effective solutions to ensure our collective security.

You can read this piece where it was originally published here.


Americans Are Afraid of Islam. But They Also Buy Lots of Islamic Art.

For many Americans, Islam is a foreign — if not frightening — religion. A majority see Islam as incompatible with American values, and some have even confused algebraic equations with terrorist plots. Prejudice and discrimination targeting Muslims has increased in the last year, and across the U.S. in recent weeks, more and more Muslims have been targeted — sometimes violently — for their faith.

Given many Americans’ fear of Islam and the current high levels of Islamophobia, it is perhaps surprising to see influences of Islamic art in more Americans’ outfits, dinner tables, and living rooms. In recent months, Islamic artistic patterns have made their way into clothing and housewares sold at quintessentially American stores like Target. In particular, we’ve noticed that Islamic geometric patterns from places like North Africa have become especially prevalent in American clothing and big box stores.

Here we highlight some examples of Islamic geometric patterns that can be found on items ranging from placemats to pencil skirts, and juxtapose them with works of art from museums and the Muslim-majority world to show their similarities.

Where are we seeing influences of Islamic art?

1. On clothing sold at Banana Republic.

Banana Republic’s spring 2016 clothing line features a blue and green pattern that appears on pencil skirts, pants, and shorts. The design’s series of colorful circles, made up of small blocks of color, resembles traditional mosaics of North Africa.

In an Islamic context, this mosaic pattern usually adorns the halls of grand courts or beautiful mosques. The images below are from the Met’s reproduction of a Moroccan court, the Grand Mosque of Paris, which is designed in the Mudejar style, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. See the similarity?

2. On even more clothing from Banana Republic.

Clothing from Banana also features these star-like patterns.

Interconnected star motifs like these are common in Islamic art, and have symbolic religious meaning depending on their number of points. The eight-pointed star, or khatam in Arabic, is particularly prominent. A variation of it is used in the tan, blue, and green dress from Banana Republic above.

3. On this Target placemat.

target placemat

This placemat, from Target’s Threshold line, features the star motif in beautiful shades of blue and green, much like zellige “tile” designs from Morocco.

4. On all these bags from Lulu Dharma.

The patterns on these handbags from Lulu Dharma are nearly identical to the “Moresque” mosaic patterns found in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was completed in the 1300s when southern Spain was under Muslim rule. The image below, accessed from the New York Public Library’s website, features the numerous mosaic patterns that are mimicked in the Lulu Dharma totes.

Art from Alhambra

5. On this candle holder sold at Nordstrom Rack.

This golden candle bears another common Islamic star motif. We saw it sold in the store, Nordstrom Rack, during the Christmas season in 2015. Its design mimics tiling on the walls of the Alhambra palace.

Blurred Lines

The incorporation of Islamic art into American consumer goods raises important questions about the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Is it ok to wear or purchase these designs without knowing their origin, and while potentially favoring discriminatory policies that target the group who originated these artistic styles? Significant minorities of Americans have expressed support for profiling and surveilling Muslims, and even favored a ban on Muslim immigration.

None of these products are advertised as “Islamic.” For the most part, the retailers give them generic descriptions like “Mosaic” or “Kaleidoscope.” Only a few items, like the “Alhambra” bag from Lulu Dharma, give away their Islamic or Middle Eastern association.

It’s ironic that in a time of heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric, we’re seeing more and more Islamic art being bought and even worn by Americans. Most are likely unaware that the patterns they are purchasing originated in an Islamic context, out of a culture that many Americans only associate with violence and war.

But if and when they do recognize the source of this year’s stylish geometric designs, it might prompt a moment of reflection and reevaluation, a realization that “Islam” isn’t quite as “incompatible” with their American way of life as they thought.

Have you seen other examples of Islamic geometric art on American clothing or housewares? Share your photos with us by tagging us on Twitter (@bridgeinit)!


Lessons Learned from President Eisenhower’s Mosque Visit 59 Years Ago

Visits to American mosques by sitting U.S. Presidents are a big deal. Only three have ever done so.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to visit a mosque on June 28th, 1957. This week marks the 59th anniversary of that visit to the Islamic Center of Washington.

President George W. Bush visited, incidentally, the very same mosque, but 44 years later and six days after September 11th, 2001.

President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore earlier this year in February.

Particular sets of politics played out in each visit, but the overall message it sends to the American Muslim community remains consistent – a recognition and validation of the American Muslim experience.

This piece will explore and contextualize President Eisenhower’s speech, highlighting both the inspirational and, well, the problematic. In so doing, there are important lessons to be learned for today.

In 1957, President Eisenhower visited the Islamic Center of Washington in D.C. There, President Eisenhower delivered a speech that marked the dedication of the recently-built mosque. In it, he highlighted the “Muslim genius” that has cultivated some of history’s most important inventions, discoveries, art, literature and thought now considered indispensable to modern civilization.

“Civilization owes to the Islamic world some of its most important tools and achievements. From fundamental discoveries in medicine to the highest planes of astronomy, the Muslim genius has added much to the culture of all peoples. That genius has been a wellspring of science, commerce and the arts, and has provided for all of us many lessons in courage and in hospitality.”

It is important to also remember that President Eisenhower’s visit marked a time in which the United States began to look to the Middle East amidst global geopolitical struggles over ideology. This was especially the case with Iran. During that time, American Muslims were looked to with great interest as political intermediaries between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries. President Eisenhower’s remarks, then, must also be viewed from a lens of strategic and calculated diplomacy. The Islamic Center of Washington – originally established by and for Muslim ambassadors and foreign diplomats on Embassy Row – thus made for a fitting backdrop.

President Eisenhower also spoke of freedom of religion and religious pluralism, and firmly rooted these ideals to the founding tenets of the U.S. Constitution:

“I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this Center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.”

It is curious that President Eisenhower here used the word “church” instead of “mosque.” Perhaps some contextualization will help to clarify.

According to Will Herberg in his widely acclaimed Protestant-Catholic-Jew, the 1950s were a unique period in American history, marked by a paradox of “pervasive secularism amid mounting religiosity” within American society. Herberg explains that, in the 1950s, Americans increasingly turned to religious communities to achieve a sense of belonging – a logical progression considering America’s unique immigrant experience, in which everything but one’s religion was expected to be changed or “melted down.”

Herberg goes on to explain that “religious normality” in the mid-twentieth century U.S. was limited to the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faith traditions. To identity as anything else, be it Muslim or secular humanist, for instance, was somehow “un-American” insofar as it was disloyal to, or a betrayal of, the “American Way of Life” and “its appropriate manifestations and expressions” of Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.

As a result, explains Kambiz GhaneaBassiri in A History of Islam in America, many immigrants with Muslim backgrounds or whose race fell outside the bounds of culturally and legally accepted norms of the time faced enormous pressure to assimilate in such a way that shed either their ostensibly problematic religious identity, or to “pass” as one of the legally acceptable “races” for naturalization, or even both. GhaneaBassiri expands on this harsh, xenophobic reality:

“The conflation of race, religion, and progress affected immigrants from countries with a significant Muslim population at the turn of the twentieth century in two principled ways. At one level, it legally restricted mainly through quotas, their entry to the United States and their eligibility for citizenship. At another level, it defined the paradigm of American identity through which they were expected to self-identify in order to be accepted as Americans. Since the stigma around Islam at this time would not have allowed for its inclusion within this national identity paradigm, immigrant Muslims who sought inclusion did so primarily through an ethnic rather than a religious mode of self-identification.”

Therefore, while the Christian and Jewish religious identities of immigrants survived assimilation, for Muslim immigrants this was largely not the case.

Today, shifts in demographics are challenging this reality. According to a Pew demographic study on the future of world religions, Islam is projected to be the second largest non-Christian religion in the United States by 2050, surpassed only by those who identify as religiously unaffiliated. Considering these trends and the exclusionary ethos it challenges – namely, that Islam is somehow an innately un-American religious identity – many American Muslims are left wondering how and where they fit into this so-called American Way of Life.

Perhaps President Eisenhower said it best all along:

“As I stand beneath these graceful arches, surrounded on every side by friends from far and near, I am convinced that our common goals are both right and promising. Faithful to the demands of justice and of brotherhood, each working according to the lights of his own conscience, our world must advance along the paths of peace.”

The wisdom of President Eisenhower’s words at the Washington mosque over half a century ago are a reminder of the core religious freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and a warning to those today who would deny American Muslims their ability to practice their faith freely and without prejudice. Indeed, foreshadowed President Eisenhower, those who do so will turn America into “something else than what we are.”


As Islamophobia Surges, Anti-Muslim Speakers Exploit Fears

As the election season has set into motion a flurry of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and set off an alarming number of anti-Muslim attacks, another consequence has surfaced in recent months in local boroughs across the United States: small anti-Muslim speaker circuits that thrive off of public anxieties and prey on unwitting citizens.

In the decade-and-a-half since 9/11, anti-Muslim speakers, bloggers and activists like Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel have become a dime a dozen. They get regular spots on primetime news outlets, routinely speak before packed audiences, and, as research shows, profit greatly from their trade.

But equally concerning are lesser known speakers whose turf is restricted to local communities. Self-made citizen “experts” in the age of ISIS and Donald Trump, they’ve taken to high school gymnasiums, neighborhood restaurants, and public libraries to warn communities of the supposed dangers posed by Islam.

Self-Styled Citizen Experts

Last month, inside the Vision Church at Christian International, a charismatic worship center in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, some 30 people showed up for an event titled “Understanding the Impact of Refugee Resettlement: Economically, Socially and Culturally.” A local news affiliate described those that gathered as “fueled by the belief that Muslims are quietly trying to infiltrate American culture and destroy it.” Among the speakers was a man who simply went by the name “Hassan,” and David Gaubatz, a retired member of the military who gained notoriety in 2009 when his son, Chris, posed as an intern for CAIR and stole hundreds of internal documents that his father later used in his book, Muslim Mafia. Other presenters included Randy Osborne, a Republican Party leader and lobbyist; Don Barnett, an application software developer; and Douglas Layton, a Tennessee businessman whose evangelical organization, Servant Group, set up a chain of Christian schools in Kurdistan.

“I had kind of gotten out of the lecture circuit,” Layton said. “I’m getting back into it because I think we’re at a very critical moment in our history.”

These types of assemblies, while billed as informative and educational, rely less on the alleged expertise and credibility of those who speak and more on the fear of those who attend. A case in point is that of Ron Branstner, a car salesman from St. Cloud, Minnesota who travels across the North Star state, warning that refugees will soon take over, “get rid of our Constitution, get rid of our way of life and implement it with another way of life called …”

The crowd of 100 at The Landing Restaurant inside Avon, a town of about 1,400, responded in unison: “Sharia!”

As the Star Tribune reported, Branstner isn’t alone. A.J. Kern, a columnist for the St. Cloud Times; Cynthia Khan, a member of the Christian organization called People of the Book Ministries; and Jeffrey Baumann, a doctor from Coon Rapids, MN who was raised in Saudi Arabia, show up “in churches, restaurants, VFWs [Veteran of Foreign Wars groups] and community centers to address crowds and air concerns about immigrants, the Quran and what they see as a threat to the U.S. Constitution.”

A flyer from an event with speaker Jeffrey Baumann.

In early January, Baumann hosted a chicken dinner “Sharia 101” talk (flyer featured above) at a Minnesota eatery that triggered a local backlash. Some groups pointed to his history of agitating the public over proposed mosque construction and tendency to make inflammatory statements about Muslims. At the event, Baumann warned that Muslims will soon outnumber Christians in the United States, and urged the attendees to visit the Muslim foot-washing station at a local University and “make a scene.”

The group that hosted Baumann’s talk, Peace in St. Cloud, also sponsored a series of talks in late May by Usama Dakdok, an anti-Muslim preacher whose Internet videos include such titles as “Every Muslim is a Demon!” Dakdok, a Coptic Christian who founded the evangelical group Straight Way Ministries, has called Islam a “wicked cult,” and said that Muslim Americans “will kill your children.” Beyond Minnesota, his speaking circuit has taken him to Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, and New York.

Lack Credibility & Linked to Islamophobia Industry

A concern about speakers like those mentioned above is that they have links to more influential individuals and groups that comprise the Islamophobia “industry.” For example, ACT for America’s Minnesota chapter hosted a June speech by Usama Dakdok, who is also closely associated with Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller (pictured together below). Clare Lopez, who speaks regularly at events across the country, is a member of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the DC think-tank run by former Cruz adviser Frank Gaffney. And speakers like Jeffrey Baumann and State Senator Dave Brown, who attended Baumann’s “Sharia 101” event in January, have cited CSP’s material, including its pamphlet “Sharia in American Courts.”

Possible Consequences

Beyond the spread of misinformation that stems from ideologically charged representations of Islam and Muslims, the speaker circuits that are popping up across the country have also prompted threatening outbursts and violence targeting that Muslim communities.

Last December, a few weeks after Dakdok spoke in Grand Forks, Minnesota, a Somali restaurant in the city was firebombed. That month, the provost of Bemidji State University noted that Muslim students were increasingly the targets of harassment. In Minnesota, especially, which harbors the largest concentration of Somalis in North America, harassment towards Muslims has become more frequent in recent months. Some members of the Minnesota legislature were so concerned about the effects of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, in fact, that one day after the Brussels attacks, fearing its politicization and blowback on the local Muslim community, they addressed the “normalization of hate speech” and urged calm.

Conclusion

Events likes those mentioned above, which lambast the religion of Islam and paint Muslims as a unique threat, warrant public scrutiny and skepticism. It is critical to distinguish ordinary citizens whose ideological leanings and self-study compel them to speak with authority on Islam from those members of our society with recognized credentials, trusted affiliations, and a commitment to advancing American values of religious freedom and pluralism. Part of that lies in rejecting representations of Muslims and Islam that are expressly violent or that rest on conspiracy theories, and instead embrace information that acknowledges existing challenges while offering nuance and context that present a fuller, more accurate portrait. One-dimensional narratives bandied about by local armchair scholars jeopardize the safety of the Muslim community and, as a result of propagating misinformation, all Americans.


Memories of Muhammad Ali by John L. Esposito

Bridge Initiative Project Director John L. Esposito offers the following reflections on Muhammad Ali and the gracious spirit that characterized several of “The Champ’s” interactions with him over the years. 

From the time I learned of Muhammad Ali’s passing, I wondered if it made any sense to write something about three especially memorable personal encounters amidst the outpouring of media stories and accolades. This morning, as I settled into my cockpit in front of my computer to another day of responding to email and writing, I reached for something in a letter-holder, and discovered an autographed $1,000,000 bill signed by Ali.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Although I grew up following Muhammad Ali’s career, I never expected to meet him. And then one evening, to my great surprise, there we were on a Swiss Air flight, both part of a delegation going to a gathering in Sudan. Ali, we were told, had come directly to Kennedy Airport from a hospital where he was being treated, and was tired and groggy from medication. It was on that trip that I had my first personal glimpse, the first of several, of a remarkable facet of Muhammad Ali’s  personality.

Shortly after the flight took off, a line of passengers from the economy cabin started trickling in. The word was out! One by one, people, most Europeans, approached the champ for his autograph. Given his condition, to my astonishment, Ali not only rose to the occasion but also exceeded it. Each person received not only an autograph but also couplet of rhyme! Each couplet was different — I know because my colleague and I also requested an autograph, he for his daughter and I for my niece, and also received an individualized couplet.

Many years passed, and for reasons I cannot remember, Lonnie Ali, the champ’s wife, invited me to join them for breakfast at The Mayflower Hotel in D.C. I arrived, sat alone and restless (this was before my iPhone) waiting for them, amidst tables filled with businesspersons and tourists happily talking and eating away. Enter Muhammad and Lonnie, and the scene suddenly changed. As they walked to the table, it seemed as though everyone had stopped and followed them with their eyes to our table.

We settled into conversation and just as quickly were interrupted by those who came over to greet Ali, tell him a brief story, etc. All that abruptly changed, when, to my surprise, in addition to the arrival of our breakfast, Ali produced a large copy of the Bible with passages marked in multiple colors. For much of the breakfast, although having some difficulty speaking, he enthusiastically proceeded to point out passages that he saw as contradictory or problematic. He seemed to enjoy pressing, even challenging me, to respond. It was clear from the way he moved through the volume and the sections color-coded that this was a long-term personal project.

As we finished breakfast, he whipped out autographed gifts. This time, not a handwritten couplet but a signed $1,000,000 bill! They looked real enough that recipients did a double take when they first received one.

After the meeting, from time to time, Lonnie Ali and I remained in touch as I served as one of many advisers in the preparation for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Our last meeting was in New York City where a small number of us gathered around a conference table with Ali and Lonnie. By now, Ali’s Parkinson’s had progressed and he seemed tired and listless. I remember wondering if he was following any of our conversation. No sooner did the thought occur, then I was startled, as if by the awakening of a sleeping giant. He proceeded to demonstrate that he had indeed heard and followed everything and now gave us his opinions/decisions. And typical of his warm personal style, he thanked us all and presented with Muhammad Ali G.O.A.T memorabilia, a cap and T- shirt, with an extra set for my Dad.

Throughout his astonishing worldly accomplishments, a three time heavyweight champ and global icon, a fierce fighter both in and outside ring for what he believed in, Muhammad Ali, throughout life’s struggles, turned to Islam as his moral compass, often speaking of his passionate desire to make it to heaven. And now with his passing, as we say, May he rest in peace, what better Quranic verse (2:156) to recall than: “Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.


In Congress, Race and Religion Pose Challenges to Electability

In the final months, and moments, of former Senator Bob Bennett’s life, he took it upon himself to apologize to Muslims for Donald Trump. During one of his hospitalizations, Senator Bennett asked his wife and son, “Are there any Muslims in the hospital? I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump.” According to his son, Senator Bennett understood all too well the shared prejudice and struggles faced by his Mormon community with those of the Muslim community.

Senator Bennett passed away last month, but his legacy and integrity will endure. Sadly, this stands in sharp contrast to his co-religionist and former colleague, Senator Harry Reid, who allegedly told Nevada Congressional candidate Jesse Sbaih to give up his bid for office, because “a Muslim cannot win.”

Sbaih seeks to join the only Muslim Members to (so far) serve in Congress. Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota was the first Muslim elected to Congress, in 2006. Congressman Andre Carson from Indiana joined him two years later. Both share similar back stories – Ellison and Carson are African Americans who converted to Islam as teenagers. Congressman Ellison made headlines when he was sworn into office with a Qur’an, and Thomas Jefferson’s personal Qur’an at that.

Despite their continued influence and support by constituents, they have not been immune to today’s noxious climate of Islamophobia. Last December, for instance, Congressman Carson received a death threat the same day he criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his plan to ban all Muslims from the country.

Additional Muslim candidates who ran for Congress, albeit unsuccessfully, are Saba Ahmed from Oregon and Cheryl Sudduth from California. Their candidacies, like those of Sbaih, Congressman Ellison and Congressman Carson, are emblematic of the struggles faced by not only religious minority communities, but by racial minority communities as well.

Half a century before the first Muslim American was elected to Congress, the Sikh community found a powerful voice in Dalip Singh Saund. Congressman Saund was the first Indian American and, so far, only Sikh American elected to Congress, serving from 1957 to 1962 from California. He was instrumental in helping to pass the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, which allowed a quota of 100 Indians and Filipinos to immigrate to the United States every year. It also granted citizenship to Indian and Filipino nationals who were already residing in the US. Prior to its passing, Indians and Filipinos were legally defined as “ineligible races” for naturalization.

Since Congressman Saund’s tenure in office, two Indian Americans have been elected to Congress. In the 2014 election cycle, Amar Kaleka ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress from Wisconsin. An Indian American of the Sikh community, Kaleka is the son of the late Satwant Kaleka Singh, the Oak Creek Gurdwara president and founder who was gunned down along with five other Sikh worshipers in a shooting rampage in August 2012 by a white supremacist. Keleka’s candidacy marked an important step for a community that has been the victim of countless hate crimes and violent attacks since 9/11. Despite serious criminal allegations against Kaleka, his candidacy marked an important step for the Sikh community.

Two years prior to Kaleka’s candidacy, the Hindu community celebrated a big victory with the election of Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, the first Hindu Member of Congress. Congresswoman Gabbard is ethnically Samoan, the daughter of a Roman Catholic and a Hindu convert. When sworn into office, she placed her hand on the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu scripture. Prior to the election, her opponent charged that her Hindu faith “doesn’t align with the constitutional foundation of the US government.”

For many American Muslims, this accusation is a familiar one. In September 2015, former presidential candidate Ben Carson asserted that he would only be willing to support a presidential candidate who practiced Islam if “they’re willing to reject those tenets and…will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.” Sadly, Congresswoman Gabbard has not softened her tone on American Muslims who have faced such similar discrimination.

So, why do these candidacies matter?

They matter because identity politics are important to American voters.

According to a 2015 Gallup Poll on American voting preferences for presidential candidates, 93% of Americans are willing to support a Catholic candidate, 91% a Jewish candidate and 81% a Mormon candidate. By comparison, only 60% are willing to support a Muslim candidate. That is a huge difference.

Additionally, 92% of Americans are willing to vote for an African-American candidate and 91% for a Hispanic candidate. Unfortunately Gallup did not poll for South Asian or Arab candidates, but one might suspect to observe a similar trend. Why? Because Arab Americans and South Asian Americans are often racialized as Muslims.

In today’s climate of Islamophobic rhetoric by presidential candidates and increased violence against Muslims and those perceived to be, it is critical that minority communities be politically represented in Congress. The old adage, “if you’re not at the table, you’re for dinner,” rings truer now than ever.


How Christians, Jews, and Others are Combating Islamophobia

Amid rising hate crimes and prejudicial political rhetoric, religious leaders are speaking out against Islamophobia. But these calls to reject anti-Muslim bias aren’t just coming from the Muslim community. Jews, Christians, atheists, and others are taking concrete steps to raise awareness and challenge prejudice in their own communities and around the country.

Speaking Out and Standing Together

In recent months across the country, it has become increasingly common to see a hodgepodge of yarmulkes, priestly collars, and flowing robes huddled around a podium and doused in the light of news cameras. Many of these displays of solidarity with American Muslims in Washington, D.C. have been organized by Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a coalition of religious denominations and groups wants people of faith to see Islamophobia as a “religious freedom” issue. In October 2015, they urged religious leaders and ordinary Americans to sign a pledge to “defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out, without reservation, against bigotry…”

Shoulder to Shoulder is just one of many religious groups going public about Islamophobia. Sojourners, the Christian organization and magazine, has used its platform to draw attention to the problem of anti-Muslim prejudice (and how Christians can do something about it.) Both Sojourners and Shoulder to Shoulder were behind anti-Islamophobia ad campaigns, too — back when Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s group, AFDI, put up their own Islamophobic signs in subways across the U.S.

Interfaith Action for Human Rights, a D.C.-based organization led by Rabbi Chuck Feinberg, sells banners that congregations can display outside their houses of worship. They read “Honor God — say no to anti-Muslim bigotry” and “We stand with our Muslim neighbors.” In Austin, Texas, several churches and synagogues have put these signs up as a visible sign of solidarity.

During the Jewish observant of Hanukkah in 2015—which fell during a surge in anti-Muslim violence in the U.S.—Jewish Voice for Peace launched an anti-Islamophobia initiative and hosted vigils and demonstrations in U.S. cities.

Other shows of support have had a distinctly local flavor. In Nashville, Tennessee, Rev. Josh Graves, the lead pastor at Otter Creek Church, has used his megachurch’s venue to educate his congregation and provide an opportunity for church-goers to meet Muslims. After Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims in December 2015, the interfaith group in St. Louis sent letters of support to every area mosque.

Supporting Legislation and Pushing Politicians

Given that Islamophobia has become a wedge issue in elections — particularly in the 2016 presidential campaign — these interfaith efforts have also gotten political. In 2016, Shoulder to Shoulder called on both the Democratic and Republican National Committees to reject Islamophobia in their party platforms. And in response to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban idea, a broader coalition of faith and non-faith groups pushed for a bill that would make that kind of religious test for immigrants illegal.

Religious leaders — like Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis — have also defied the orders of state governors, who in late 2015 didn’t want their states to resettle Syrian and Muslim refugees. Religious congregations around the country have supported Syrian Muslim families who have fled violence to the U.S.

Artist: Micah Bazant. Created in collaboration with Jewish Voice for Peace.

Sharing Meals

Another way religious people are combating Islamophobia is through the stomach. Houses of worship and private citizens will hold hundreds of iftars — or fast breaking meals — for Muslims around the country during the Islamic month of Ramadan (this year in June and July.) One platform for organizing these dinners — Se7en Fast — urges participants to also undertake the fast and donate money to charity. Some communities, like one in Nashville, host interfaith meals throughout the year. In a recent interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Pastor Josh Graves said of these meals:

“The stereotypes lose their power because they’re replaced by true, authentic relationships. It’s very hard for people to care about people they don’t know.”

Motivated by Faith, Despite the Opposition

Why do Christians, Jews, and others see fighting Islamophobia as a cause worth undertaking? For many, it stems from their faith in God and their own histories of prejudice.

For Rabbi Jonah Pesner, standing up to Islamophobia in his own community is a “religious duty.” Josh Graves, the Otter Creek Church pastor, says that “it’s almost impossible as a white, educated, affluent Protestant male to understand what it’s like for my Muslim neighbors to hear the rhetoric. What I do know is that I have a responsibility because of my sacred texts, because of the example of Jesus, because I have children, I have a responsibility to speak out.”

Both men have faced opposition in their own congregations for their work to combat Islamophobia. So has Larycia Hawkins, the former professor at Wheaton College whose expression of solidarity with Muslims on Facebook led to a firestorm over the question if Christians and Muslims believe in the same god. Sandra Collins, who hosts an interfaith dinner at her home in Nashville says that “we have friends we know who are exclusive, who would not appreciate this.” Still, they carry on with their activities.

Tom Reese, a Catholic writer and commentator, says that religious people need to do more, especially Catholics in light of America’s history of anti-Catholic prejudice: “…In the 19th century and early 20th centuries, we were the people who were the subjects of discrimination and prejudice from the Know Nothings, from the KKK, from lots of people. So, you know, we should not now be part of the problem when we were the victims in the past.”

These faith leaders want more to get involved. Josh Graves looks forward to the day when Christians combating Islamophobia is not seen as unusual or surprising:

“I long for the day when Christian churches are known for being on the forefront of understanding … and appreciation of our Muslim neighbors out of the conviction that we do not get to decide who is ‘neighbor’ and who is ‘enemy.’”

Do you know of other interfaith efforts to combat Islamophobia that weren’t mentioned here? Contact us on social media (@bridgeinit) and let us know.


Denying Islamophobia is the New Islamophobia

In recent months, election-season rhetoric has triggered a spike in Islamophobia. Presidential candidates and swaths of the general public alike have directed animus at the American Muslim community, which is this year (as in years past) an electoral wedge issue. In addition to amplified rhetoric and threats or acts of violence, a more subtle yet equally pernicious form of prejudice has burgeoned: the denial that Islamophobia even exists. It has manifested itself within the discourse of politicians, political pundits, and bloggers. Its danger is that it dismisses the gravity of continued acts of violence that target Muslims, and in some cases mocks a phenomenon that has had deadly consequences for that group.

Denying Prejudice Isn’t New

The truth is that the denial of prejudice is not new. The denial that Islamophobia exists is simply the latest example within a lineage of similar rejections.

During the height of the civil rights movement, a time when African Americans fought back against institutionalized and other practices and policies that discriminated them, there were voices from within the American populace that rejected the notion that the persistent mistreatment of racial minorities was a problem, and the notion that it was systemic enough to constitute a moral crisis.

The same is true of anti-Semitism. Throughout the 19th Century, as European Jews were subjected to discriminatory policies and widespread prejudice, those responsible for such things not only denied that anti-Semitism existed, but in doing so laid the groundwork for what eventually became the epitome of anti-Jewish prejudice: Holocaust denial.

These ideas percolate through social discourse still today. Pew Research Center reports, for instance, that despite the prevalence of racially motivated crimes and other acts targeting African Americans, half of all white Americans report that they see no racism around them. And instances of Islamophobia denial abound, too.

“Islamophobia Isn’t Real”

Critics of Islamophobia often attack the term itself, suggesting that its prefix and suffix render it etymologically deficient. But beyond a general revulsion over the word, some have mocked the overall existence of a form of prejudice that targets Muslims, calling it “Islamofauxbia” instead, as if to suggest that there is something fake about it. A Google search result of that coinage generates more than 5,000 results. Among them are the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller and the Internet’s popular alternative to Webster: the Urban Dictionary.

Other tactics used to discredit anti-Muslim prejudice include the use of quotation marks around it, which communicates an air of illegitimacy, or in the case of some authors, sarcastically deriding those who point out unquestionable and indisputable instances of anti-Muslim violence.

Former presidential contenders Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have scoffed at the idea, too. Cruz called into question the characterization made by Attorney General Loretta Lynch that anti-Muslim rhetoric is increasing, while Rubio asked, rhetorically, where the “widespread evidence” is that Muslims are discriminated against.

American blogger Robert Spencer denies the existence of widespread prejudice targeting Muslims, and argues that there is a “false narrative that Muslims are treated unjustly in this country — a false narrative constructed so as to deflect scrutiny from jihad terror plotting and to intimidate people into thinking that resisting jihad terror will harm innocent people.” Still more, famed atheist Sam Harris spells out denial unambiguously: “There is no such thing as Islamophobia,” he writes.

What Does This Mean?

Social psychologists have suggested that those who deny prejudice seek to inoculate themselves from charges of bias, and that by denying that such a form of prejudice — in this case Islamophobia — exists, they feel more empowered to express views that would otherwise be “unsayable.” To accomplish this, Martha Augoustinos and Danielle Every argue that people who harbor prejudice towards a particular group often present their criticisms of that group as reasonable observations of their behavior. This is precisely how a figure like Robert Spencer operates. By pointing to example after example of violence on the part of Muslims, he is able to shield himself from accusations of prejudice, adding that “those who have a low opinion of Islam have it because of jihad violence, despite the Islamic supremacist propaganda industry’s desperate attempts to claim that that low opinion is the result of ‘Islamophobia.’”

Denying that Islamophobia exists also seems to be a defense mechanism of sorts on the part of those who advance the idea. As national and international conversations about Islamophobia have grown in recent years, so too have proclamations that it is imaginary. That relationship signals that there is a mounting consensus among Americans and others about the real threat of anti-Muslim prejudice, and that is concerning to those who would deny it. It also calls attention to the idea that those who deny that Islamophobia exists appear more concerned about fending off accusations of prejudice than acknowledging the widespread reality prejudice and discrimination.

Even in their victimhood, some would deny Muslims an opportunity for their suffering to be recognized, named, and ultimately combatted. Arriving at a place where Islamophobia is alleviated and eventually swept into the trash bin of history therefore involves educating the public about just how prevalent, prominent, and dangerous this pernicious form of prejudice actually is.


As Islamophobia Increases, So Does Use of the Word

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed a concerning rise in anti-Muslim incidents. At the same time, we’ve also seen increased use of a word to describe it: Islamophobia. Major media outlets and journalists have begun using the term to describe the climate of prejudice and discrimination facing American Muslims or those perceived to be, and the American public’s interest in the word has also increased.

Mainstream media and prominent politicians have begun adopting the term

The term “Islamophobia” has gained considerable traction in the mainstream media , with more journalists utilizing the word in print or broadcast settings.

A few years ago, the term was rarely used. It primarily appeared in obscure blogs and foreign outlets, or in right-wing or explicitly anti-Muslim websites that contested the term (and the reality of anti-Muslim prejudice.) When it did appear in mainstream outlets, it was almost always put in quotation marks.

But this seems to be changing. Using Georgetown University’s library One Search database, we found that newspaper headlines using the term nearly quadrupled between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, there were 542 news articles with “Islamophobia” in the title, while there were only 147 the year prior. (See graph below.)

  • Newspaper articles with "Islamophobia" in the headline

Results produced by Google’s email alert for appearances of the word “Islamophobia” in online news also indicate an increase in use. We compared our most recent Google Alert results to those we received when we first signed up in 2015. Over five days in May 2015 (the 26th to the 30th) there were 19 total results provided by Google, an average of 3.8 per day. Over the five-day period before this article was drafted, April 30, 2016 to May 4, 2016, there were 45 results provided by Google, with an average of 9 per day. Comparing last year to today, we see average Google Alert results for “Islamophobia” more than double.

Anecdotally, we have also noticed that major mainstream outlets have started using “Islamophobia” in covering anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. Respected NBC journalist, Chuck Todd has frequently used the term since January 2015 when expressing his concerns about rising anti-Muslim sentiment. New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, used the word as far back as 2010 when it also appeared in the title of a TIME magazine cover story. Kristof recently defended the word after a reader criticized it in a letter to the editor.

Major outlets like New York Times and Washington Post have started using “Islamophobia” more often, and do in similar ways — in op-ed headlines and in the text of articles. We’ve also seen it recently employed in headlines elsewhere: op-eds in TIME and Newsweek, pieces from CNN, CBSand the BBC. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang and other NBC reporters use “Islamophobia,” as does MSNBC, which covered Islamophobia in-depth even before the major jump in incidents in late 2015.

“Islamophobia” has even appeared in headlines of fashion magazines like Vanity Fair and Teen Vogue. Major Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant Christian magazines have embraced the word, too.

Major political figures like John Kerry have also adopted the word. Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have used “Islamophobia,” as did their former contender, Martin O’Malley. While President Obama has yet to employ the word, many news outlets used it when covering his speech at a Baltimore mosque, where he decried anti-Muslim prejudice.

The public is more curious about “Islamophobia,” too

It’s not just journalists and politicians who are increasingly interested in the word. So is the general public.

As we noted in an earlier piece on Islamophobia in 2015, American Google searches for the word “Islamophobia” rose dramatically in 2015:

An initial jump occurred in January in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and then again in September when the arrest of 14-year-old Muslim student Ahmed Mohamed (whose clock invention was mistaken for a bomb) shed light on Muslims’ treatment in the U.S. But the major spike in “Islamophobia” Google searches occurred in November and December, as anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks escalated in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino.

Google Trends Islamophobia

Internet users’ interest in the word doesn’t always correlate with spikes in anti-Muslim attacks, but rather seems to be affected by media coverage of these Islamophobic incidents. In July 2015, we saw an increase in anti-Muslim violence, but Google searches of Islamophobia didn’t rise along with it like they did in December 2015, when there was widespread media coverage of the surge in Islamophobia.

Many Americans realize Islamophobia is on the rise

Why might we be seeing increased acceptance of the word Islamophobia? Why have major newspapers and politicians adopted the word and more Americans started Googling it?

Perhaps it’s because of how bad Islamophobia has become. According to our recent report, “When Islamophobia Turns Violent,” anti-Muslim attacks were about six to nine times higher in 2015 than hate crimes reported by the FBI before 9/11. At the same time, Donald Trump and others have won political points by advancing discriminatory proposals. Things can only get so bad before people start to pay attention. And people — whether they be major broadcast journalists, politicians, or private citizens — are now paying attention.

According to a January poll by Pew, a majority of Americans think there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. Three-fourths of Americans think anti-Muslim discrimination is on the rise, even most of those who don’t think it is high to begin with. Americans’ increased awareness of the reality of Islamophobia, coupled with the rise in curiosity about the term, suggests that many Americans may have settled on a word to describe both the incidents of hate violence they hear about in the news and the prejudicial rhetoric from pundits and political leaders.

In a time when anti-Muslim attacks continue, this is a positive step. The naming of prejudice is crucial, and signals that a society has begun to recognize how wrong it is.

But awareness and naming are just a first step. We need politicians, pundits, and ordinary Americans to also take the more difficult second step — exposing and addressing root causes, and seeking solutions to the prejudice and discrimination that affect so many.


When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report highlights trends and patterns surrounding Islamophobia since the start of the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle. It does so in the broader context of hatred, violence and social hostilities confronting Muslims as a minority faith group in contemporary America and with a particular focus on acts and threats of violence.

Since 2015, the Bridge Initiative has been chronicling Islamophobic political rhetoric by each presidential candidate irrespective of his or her party affiliation while finding Republican candidates to be the worst offenders to date. In this publication, however, we aim to contextualize such statements nationally and internationally while also exploring potentially violent effects.

To that end, we examined two distinct but overlapping time periods: January 2015 through December 2015 (entire duration of 2015) and March 2015 through March 2016 (2016 presidential election season).

Based upon our analysis, the following observations are noteworthy:

  • The 2016 U.S. presidential season began against a backdrop of already rising Islamophobia in 2015, threatening American Muslim religious freedom.
  • During the course of 2015, there were approximately 174 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence and vandalism, including: 12 murders; 29 physical assaults; 50 threats against persons or institutions; 54 acts of vandalism or destruction of property; 8 arsons; and 9 shootings or bombings, among other incidents.
  • Anti-Muslim violence remained significantly higher in 2015 than pre- 9/11 levels with American Muslims approximately 6 to 9 times more likely to suffer such attacks. The number of incidents in 2015 is also higher than the total number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported in 2014: 154.
  • In 2015, American Muslim men were twice as likely to be victims of physical assaults and 5 to 6 times more likely to be victims of murder than American Muslim women.
  • Since the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015, there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence, including: 12 murders; 34 physical assaults; 49 verbal assaults or threats against persons and institutions; 56 acts of vandalisms or destruction of property; 9 arsons; and 8 shootings or bombings, among other incidents.
  • Since the start of the presidential election cycle, American Muslim men have been twice as likely to be victims of physical assaults and about 11 times more likely to be the victims of murder than their female counterparts.
  • Also during each period, Muslim murder victims were most likely to be aged 18 to 24.
  • Children and youth – as young as 12 years oldwere among those responsible for acts and threats of anti-Muslim violence.
  • Although Islamophobia made an appearance during the first GOP debate in August 2015, the first surge of anti-Muslim political rhetoric occurred in September 2015.
  • It corresponded with an international development: the Syrian refugee crisis. The deepening crises dominated news media headlines in the U.S. and Europe potentially highlighting the media impact on political discourse.
  • This surge in September 2015 was accompanied by approximately 10 reported incidents or threats of violence, including 3 murders. In comparison, there was one (1) such incident in August 2015 representing a significant increase in anti-Muslim violence over the course of one month.
  • Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner at the time of publication, escalated anti-Muslim vitriol in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November 2015 rather than urge calm or international unity. The attacks signify an international event that triggered a second surge in Islamophobic rhetoric in addition to the uptick in bias attacks.
  • Trump made many anti-Muslim statements during televised appearances on mainstream news media outlets, impacting millions of viewers across the U.S. and around the world.
  • As Mr. Trump called for shutting down mosques in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California in December 2015, anti-Muslim attacks initially tripled with nearly half of those attacks directed against mosques.
  • Anti-Muslim attacks surged once more in December 2015. There were 53 total attacks that month, 17 of which targeted mosques and Islamic schools and 5 of which targeted Muslim homes. By comparison, when the presidential election season began just 9 months earlier, there were only 2 anti-Muslim attacks. Attacks on Muslims during this month constitute approximately 1/3 of all attacks last year. In fact, in December 2015, anti-Muslim attacks occurred almost daily and often multiple times a day.
  • At least three separate incidents of violence involved perpetrators who were public supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump. There was otherwise a strong perception among American Muslim leaders that political rhetoric created fertile ground for threats and acts of anti-Muslim violence.
  • While anti-Muslim political rhetoric gives cause for alarm, the ensuing violence has inspired expressions of solidarity with the American Muslim community, too.

BY: ENGY ABDELKADER, J.D., LL.M

RESEARCH TEAM: ENGY ABDELKADER, JORDAN DENARI, NATHAN LEAN

Download a PDF of the full report here, which includes a complete list of sources.

2016 Election Season Attacks on Muslims

Scroll over the line graph below to see the total number of attacks targeting Muslims from March 2015 to March 2016.

  • Attacks

The interactive calendar below shows the total number of attacks targeting Muslims during the 2016 election season. Scroll over the month to see the total, and click to open an addendum with the complete list for each month.

DECEMBER 2015 SURGE

Anti-Muslim attacks surged in December 2015. There were 53 total attacks that month, 17 of which targeted mosques and Islamic schools and 5 of which targeted Muslim homes. Click the infographic on the right to download and share it.

INFOGRAPHICS

Visit our infographics page to download the following infographics.


Muslim Stereotypes Used in Teacher Training to ID Terrorists

Over the last year, the United Kingdom’s terrorism prevention program, Prevent, has received much attention from journalists, politicians, and civil rights advocates on both sides of Atlantic who have raised concerns about its impact on Muslims’ civil rights. Many across the pond also worry about the program’s impact in the United States. So when we came across the online public servant training portal for Channel, a component of Prevent, we decided to take a closer look.

The first step in the Prevent program, Channel is described as “a process for safeguarding individuals by assessing their vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism.” It intends to “divert people away” from potential terrorist activity. This process is initiated by school teachers and other public servants who are required by statute to refer students or other individuals to Prevent law enforcement if they suspect the person could be “drawn into terrorism.” (After the referral is made, the Prevent officer determines whether a multi-agency panel of various community actors will come together to address the individual’s specific case. Referral does not mean the person will be prosecuted.) The online training is intended to give teachers and other public servants the knowledge they need in order to carry out this terrorism-prevention function.

We went through the online training like any British teacher would. As we clicked from slide to slide, reading the content and looking at the accompanying photographs, we noticed that the creators of the training had made a concerted effort to challenge the notion that Muslims are the primary perpetrators of terrorism, or that Islam is inherently tied to terrorist violence.

Despite deliberate efforts to avoid stereotypes about Muslims and violence, the Channel portal plays off of and reinforces other common stereotypes about Muslims — namely, that Muslims are disrespectful of women, naturally aggressive, and intolerant of non-Muslims.

Insisting that Islam doesn’t equal terrorism

“Do we stereotype when we think about potential terrorists?”

The answer to this rhetorical question, which appears near the start of the training session, seems to be yes, because immediately following the query is a photo of a dark-skinned woman, wearing a black headscarf and looking sullen. “There isn’t a single profile of someone who may be at risk of being drawn into terrorism,” the slide says, seeming to acknowledge and directly challenge the stereotype about Muslims and terrorism that many of the portal’s users may have.

Later in the session, after a number of fictional case studies about individuals’ “radicalization” factors are presented (which we’ll discuss below), we again meet the woman in the black headscarf. The slides tell us that Rabiya is an 18-year-old student who has recently “become more devout” and starting wearing hijab. While she used to go to nightclubs, she “now spends her free time reading from the Qur’an and Islamic texts” and “has rediscovered her faith and is trying to become a better Muslim.”

After presenting Rabiya’s story, the slide asks, if you were a staff member at her school, “would you refer Rabiya to Channel?”

The correct response the training provides is an extended “no”:

“Rabiya’s change in appearance and her increased devotion to her religion do not necessarily make her vulnerable to radicalization. There is a big difference between being religiously observant and holding extremist views. Rabiya is reconnecting with her religion by becoming more devout. Whilst she is engaged in her faith she is not showing signs of susceptibility to radicalization or becoming involved in terrorist-related activity. This would be considered an inappropriate referral to the Channel process…”

Channel seems to provide this example to reiterate that this program is not meant to single out Muslims, and to underscore the point that becoming more religious does not cause one to be more violent. But Rabiya isn’t the only Muslim character to appear in the Channel presentation. In the case studies that feature other Muslims, stereotypes about Muslims still abound.

Stereotype 1: Islam equals the oppression of women

One of the most common stereotypes about Islam is that Muslim men (and Islam as a religion) are oppressive to women. In a training session meant to help British public servants identify potential terrorists, we didn’t expect to encounter this trope about women. But it came up in the first case study, which focused on a Muslim grade school student named Zayn and his mother.

After tracing fictional Zayn’s story of learning disability, bullying, increased time online, and his desire to “learn to fight to ‘help his brothers and sisters who are being murdered’” in Syria, the slide informs us that Zayn’s mother also recently left her husband “because he used to beat her.” Whether or not the creators of Channel intentionally included a storyline about an abusive husband in the Muslim character’s story is less important. Regardless, including this aspect to Zayn’s story reinforces “common anxieties” — as Islamophobia and religion expert Peter Gottschalk would put it — about “oppressed [Muslim] women” that pervades both news and entertainment media.

Stereotype 2: Muslims are aggressive and irrational

Another common trope about Muslims is that they’re aggressive and irrational. This stereotype was on display in the Channel training’s second case study about a 34-year-old Afghan asylum seeker named Geedi.

We learn that Geedi “has made a number of verbal threats toward staff members at the housing office” and “become more aggressive toward staff at the accommodation unit…” The slides for this section show images of Geedi looking angry and intense.

Geedi’s apparent impatience and aggression doesn’t get the same kind of treatment as Callum’s belligerence, which is presented in the third case study. A white British man, Callum is also a sinister, and perhaps aggressive individual, but his condition is explained by psychological problems he developed from time served in the military. We learn that he is schizophrenic, not taking his medication, and that though he has “thoughts telling him to hurt people, ‘he knows it’s wrong.’” Callum’s situation is treated with more compassion than Geedi’s.

The slides explain Callum’s extenuating circumstances and gives him a moral compass, while Geedi is not afforded the same kind of contextualizing information in his portrayal. On the contrary, his attitudes and behaviors are portrayed as intrinsic to his Afghan, Muslim identity.

Stereotype 3: Muslims are intolerant of non-Muslims

Embedded in Geedi’s story is another stereotype about Muslims: that because of their religion, they’re intolerant of non-Muslims.

We learn that Geedi “refers to the housing office staff as non-believers” and that “accommodation staff have also found boxes of extremist leaflets in Geedi’s room which call for the overthrow of Western democracy and to ‘Beware the Kuffar [unbelievers].’”

An expert on stereotyping, Peter Gottschalk explains that one common “dynamic of intolerance” is actually accusing the other of intolerance, and blaming it on their religion. Tied to this is also the perception that “religion is all that matters them,” in this case Muslims. We see that dynamic clearly at work the portrayal of Geedi, who seems to only make decisions based on his interpretation of Islam.

The treatment of Geedi’s character is also reminiscent of an unfounded but oft-discussed claim about Muslim refugees and asylum seekers: that they hate the West and want to transform it into a society like the one they came from in the Middle East or South Asia. This idea, however, doesn’t hold water: those coming to Europe do so because they think the new society will serve their needs better than the countries from which they came.

The stereotypes are just the tip of the iceberg

These stereotypes about Muslims were not the only unfortunate aspects of the Channel training that we discovered.

Though the training seems to criticize Islamophobic views — like when one at-risk character talks about wanting to kick “Pakis” out of a community center — it also seems to trivialize Geedi’s claim that he’s being treated differently because he’s Muslim. In a climate of heightened Islamophobia, when Muslims are targets of discrimination, it’s unhelpful and potentially harmful to portray complaints about anti-Muslim discrimination as something only a potential terrorist would voice.

Other concerning aspects about Channel are important to mention here:

  • It casts suspicion on ordinary activities and viewpoints:  Among the factors that could contribute to a person being “drawn into terrorism” are mental health issues; family or friends’ involvement in extremism; feelings of grievance or injustice; feeling under threat; and a desire for political or moral change. Though the Channel training explains that one of these factors is not enough cause to refer someone to law enforcement, a combination of them could be cause to report the individual. But this combination is left up to the referrer’s judgment.
  • It sets a low bar for referral: To be referred to law enforcement, a person does not have to only exhibit signs of “intent” and the “capability” to engage in terrorist activity, but simply to be “engaged” in an “ideology.” Because this “engagement” is never defined explicitly, and is only illustrated using Zayn’s story, it leaves room for broad interpretation informed by one’s stereotypes and prejudices.
  • Is the government deciding what is a correct interpretation of religion?: In discussing Geedi’s storyline, the training refers to his “misinterpretations” about Islam, indicating that the British government may be getting involved in determining what are acceptable religious beliefs and practices.

Despite the government’s claims that Muslims are not the main targets of the program, statistics show that Muslims are many times more likely than other Brits to be referred through Channel. Though they only make up 5% of the population of the kingdom, they make of over half of those referred, a fact that raises questions about the training’s ability to undermine user’s stereotypes about Muslims and violence. 80% of the referrals that Channel receives get thrown out, an indicator of this training’s failure at properly advising teachers and others. Prevent’s focus on Muslims also becomes apparent in information about Prevent’s funding. Funding for Prevent’s implementation varies by region depending on how many Muslims are located there.

Coming across the pond?

Critics say that these aspects of Channel, and its parent, Prevent, should be concerning to all Brits, even though Muslims are those most affected now. Many across the pond also worry about the program’s impact in the United States. As The Intercept recently reported, the FBI’s new “Shared Responsibility Committees” (SRC) are modeled off of Channel. As Murtaza Hussain and Jenna McLaughlin describe, the program would have “social service workers, teachers, mental health professionals, religious figures, and others interdict young people they believe are on a path toward radicalization. Arun Kundnani says that the FBI’s SRCs “suffer from the same problems, such as drawing non-policing professionals into becoming the eyes and ears of counterterrorism surveillance, and thereby undermining professional norms and relationships of trust among educators, health workers, and others.”

In the current American political climate, when the wave of Islamophobic attitudes seems to be cresting, Americans should take a critical and close look at this new FBI program and its British predecessor.


Cruz’s Muslim Constituents Smeared as Extremists

If anything is part and parcel of American democracy, it’s the idea that voters can, and should, communicate their ideas and concerns to the members of Congress who represent them. On Monday, April 18, 2016, as leaders from the American Muslim community visited their lawmakers on Capitol Hill, that ideal broke down in the office of Senator Ted Cruz.

After repeated attempts to schedule a meeting with Cruz’s office, 14 of the Senator’s constituents were told that they were being directed to his “Middle East policy adviser” — a curious remark given that they were Americans from Texas. Arriving on Capitol Hill, they were eventually turned away. An intern informed the group that staff members were busy with meetings.

It would not ordinarily be difficult to chalk this chain of events up to the unusually busy — even chaotic — calendars of sitting U.S. Senators. But the context and backstory of this debacle are worth examining as they make it clear that this was not a scheduling snafu, but rather an intentional swipe at American Muslim voters.

On the morning of the scheduled Capitol Hill rendezvous, Ted Cruz’s controversial national security adviser, Frank Gaffney, published an op-ed in The Hill titled “Muslim Brotherhood Day on Capitol Hill.” In it, he argued that the American Muslims visiting the nation’s capital were not concerned constituents, but were actually part of a “subversive” plot on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood to “penetrate” the government and usher in “Islamic supremacism.”

His evidence? An obscure document from 1991 that we debunked earlier this year. It’s what lies at the heart of all of Gaffney’s claims about the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged presence in the United States.

For Gaffney, the idea of American Muslims organizing themselves into voting blocs or lobbying groups is alarming. Even more alarming is the idea that they would seek to voice their ideas within America’s hallowed halls of power. Thus, his response — and the response of other Ted Cruz advisors — is to delegitimize them by linking them to the supposedly nefarious activities of an Islamist group in the Middle East, with no proof of such affiliation. It’s a tactic that harkens back to the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who wildly accused members of Congress of being closeted Communists, and it’s one that Gaffney has deployed time and time again.

He’s accused the Obama administration of cavorting with the Muslim Brotherhood; he’s said that Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abdein, is secretly connected to it; he’s argued the same of tax reform advocate Grover Norquist, and this project, The Bridge Initiative. One might say that the cry of “Muslim Brotherhood!” is his hobbyhorse.

Beyond his most recent unsubstantiated links, Gaffney’s maneuver begs a bit more unpacking, especially when situated within the context of Ted Cruz’s Congressional efforts last November to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. A bit of simple mathematics shows just how farfetched, and indeed dangerous, these types of accusations are.

The transitive property demonstrates that: If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

Let’s then label the Texas constituents as A, the Muslim Brotherhood as B, and the “terrorists” as C.

So, if Cruz’s Texas constituents (A) are representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood (B), and if Cruz considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization (C), then Cruz’s Texas constituents (A) are therefore terrorists (C).

Here’s what that looks like as a set of equations:

Texas constituents = Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood = Terrorists

Texas Constituents = Terrorists

Extending this erroneous logic, the same could be said of any other individual or group that Gaffney whimsically links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Suddenly, without any evidence of affiliation or wrongdoing, innocent American citizens are cast into the same lot as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, and other violent groups.

In a way, the “Muslim Brotherhood” label is a convenient ploy to paint large numbers of Muslims — or even just 14 from Texas — as terrorists without explicitly advancing the tired trope that equates Islam as a religion, and Muslims as a religious group, with terrorism. It’s a rubber stamp, of sorts, impressed on any Muslim or other group that does not neatly subscribe to the neoconservative worldview of Gaffney and Cruz, or see the religion of Islam exactly as they do.

There is real reason for concern given Gaffney’s influence in GOP politics (see our recent piece about his role in Trump’s “Muslim ban”). What was a nuisance for Cruz’s Capitol Hill visitors on Monday could play out more widely as the election season rolls along and rolls over the civil rights and religious freedoms of American Muslims.


Trends in Islamophobia: Focus on UK

Last week, on April 11th, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom hosted a conversation, Europe at a Crossroad:  Civil Society Efforts to Counter Religious Hatred and Bigotry in Europe, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Akeela Ahmed, a member of the UK Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, was among the European civil society leaders invited to address rising Islamophobia in Europe.  Ms. Ahmed’s intervention focused on diverse manifestations of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK such as hate crimes; the gendered dimension to Islamophobia; religious discrimination in employment; anti-Muslim media bias; Islamophobia online; and effective solutions in countering anti-Muslim sentiment.

She highlighted a number of significant trends and research findings, including:

  • Anti-Muslim hate crimes in London tripled following the Paris terrorist attacks and increased more generally in 2015.
  • University of Cambridge research found Muslim women were more likely to suffer discrimination in the public square than their non-Muslim female counterparts.
  • TELL MAMA UK reported Muslim women were more likely to suffer attacks in the virtual and online realms than Muslim men.
  • Research shows that UK Muslims are less likely to be found in managerial and professional posts than members of other religious groups, and that educated Muslim women are more likely to be unemployed than other women with identical credentials.
  • Studies show that 84% of news coverage of Islam and Muslims is likely to have a harmful impact such as contributing to anxiety and suspicion about Muslims among non-Muslims.
  • Muslims are demonized, dehumanized and threatened online.

Ms. Ahmed makes a number of recommendations to counter the rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK.  These include strengthening partnerships between civil society organizations and law enforcement agencies, interfaith dialogue and initiatives, and dismantling barriers to employment to help facilitate greater socio-economic integration.

Read more of Ms. Ahmed’s remarks.


Bridge Initiative Hosts Panel Discussion on Race, Religion, and the 2016 Election

Against the backdrop of an election season characterized by unbridled anti-Muslim rhetoric, and a broader political landscape littered by hostile expressions towards refugees and minorities, Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative hosted an afternoon panel discussion that brought together celebrated experts to examine the nexus between race, religion, and presidential politics.

The event came just as the U.S. Justice Department announced its concern over persistent and increasing attacks targeting Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and South Asian Americans, and assembled a team of attorneys from 11 states to find ways to safeguard minority groups that are so often the targets.

Moderated by Bridge Initiative Project Director John L. Esposito, the diverse group of speakers shared insights that were complementary, and that connected public episodes of discrimination and violence to deep-seated patterns and trends that make those things possible.

Engy Abdelkader, Bridge Initiative Assistant Director, discussed the religious freedom landscape confronting American Muslims and offered a detailed portrait of the 2016 presidential campaign, and the clear relationship between feverish anti-Muslim language and ensuing episodes of physical violence or acts of vandalism directed at Muslims and their property. In November of 2015, she noted, anti-Muslim attacks more than tripled — a devastating spike that coincided with an uptick in inflammatory rhetoric from GOP frontrunner Donald Trump post Paris attacks.

Engy Abdelkader, Bridge Initiative Assistant Director, speaks.

Importantly, Abdelkader noted, hate crimes and other flagrant attacks aren’t the only problem. Bias-based bullying in schools, religious discrimination in places of public accommodation and employment discrimination are grave concerns too, and often don’t get the attention that more sensational acts of violence do.

“Mosque attacks are symbolic. They suggest that Muslims are not welcome here,” Abdelkader said. “Arguably attacks on Muslim homes, particularly in our country where property rights are so deeply valued, are even more traumatic.”

These acts speak to an underlying animus that communicates to Muslims that they don’t belong while threatening their personal sense of security. And, she added, while religious freedom laws in the United States are intended to protect Muslims and other religious groups from crimes that target them, social hostilities – religious hostility by individuals, groups or organizations – often go unchecked. So, while the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and local laws protect minority rights in theory, religious freedom may be compromised in practice.

Abdelkader helped humanize the hate crimes statistics we often see.

“If you’re a child whose mosque has been vandalized with the words, ‘Death to Islam,’ one anti-Muslim attack is one too many.”

Naureen Shah, a human rights attorney and national security expert, also explored this sense of gripping fear, situating its origin within an intractable machinery of post-9/11 politics that thrives on an everlasting Muslim specter.

Naureen Shah, human rights attorney and national security expert

“A national sense of crisis has existed over and over again since 9/11, and has propelled a multi-million dollar counter-terrorism bureaucracy,” Shah said.

It’s that bureaucracy, she noted, that has given birth to the Guantanamo Bay prison, and to programs like Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which locates the germ of terrorism within the Muslim community especially. This apparatus, Shah added, claims to protect the safety and interests of Americans, yet in practice, is a system that is designed to “keep fear alive” by constantly anticipating — and warning against — the next big attack. It’s a scenario she called “left of boom.” With a Muslim “monster” clearly defined, it can be targeted and exploited by presidential candidates and policy makers, whose decisions to keep places like Guantanamo open, drop drones on foreign enemies, or ramp up domestic surveillance of American citizens operates on the notion that some lives are more valuable than others.

Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs reporter for Washington Post, opened his remarks by noting the sharp social media reactions to his most recent published article.

“I only have to look at my phone to know that Islamophobia exists,” he said.

Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs reporter for the Washington Post

Tharoor connected the discussion of Islamophobia to three trends that he identified within an international context. The first, he proposed, was the development and crystallization of a European-style populism within American national politics — something that we’re not used to seeing. Within the GOP, he noted, there has traditionally been more of a balance, but this election cycle, with the rise of figures like Donald Trump, has elicited fiery overtures from people who once rejected the far right but are now embracing it.

The impact of the refugee crisis facing Europe, Tharoor noted, also animates Islamophobia at an international level. Discussing the seriousness and complexity of the issue — European nations dealing with the practicalities of taking in Syrian refugees — he reminded the audience of a point that is often lost in the cacophony of voices proclaiming that there is a “crisis.”

“The refugee crisis is a crisis in the Middle East, first,” he said.

And concerns here in the United States about how to deal with it, he added, are sometimes inflated, especially when one considers the detailed and protracted security process involved in taking in those fleeing foreign violence and chaos.

Lastly, Tharoor discussed the ways in which the effects of attacks in places like Brussels and Paris play out at home and abroad. These events, and others like them, have a tendency to fuel the “clash of civilizations” narrative, Tharoor said, causing some to muse over the supposed “incompatibility” between Islam on the one hand, and the West on the other. He cited a recent Freedom House report which suggested that anti-Muslim narratives — that Europe is facing a “Muslim invasion” as a result of the refugee crisis, for example — threatens democracy as some politicians exploit the crisis to boost their populist appeal.

Despite the ominous subject-matter, the panelists offered hopeful messages of pluralism and cooperation as the event ended.

Tharoor said that despite being inundated with offensive anti-Muslim Tweets in response to his publications, he also received positive letters from American Jews whose families came to the United States, each affirming their commitment to end prejudice, saying: “We can’t ever let this happen again.”

Shah struck a similar tone of intersectionality and teamwork. To realize progress, she said, we have to “mobilize human rights supporters and make anti-Muslim hate something that is on the agenda of every major human rights group.”

“Prejudice, discrimination, bigotry — these things are not Muslim issues only,” Abdelkader said. “Only by coming together will we overcome.”

View images from the event in the gallery below, and click to see captions.


American Muslims Challenge #AboutUsWithoutUs by Running for Office

An important hashtag has been circulating on Twitter for the past few weeks. #AboutUsWithoutUs.

#AboutUsWithoutUs seeks to reorient national conversations about Muslim Americans to one that includes Muslim American voices in policy discussions. This is a critical distinction because Muslim Americans have largely been silent stakeholders to issues that disproportionately affect their communities – issues like national security, immigration and civil rights. American Muslims are underrepresented in politics, yet they are overrepresented in disproportionately negative political discourse. The results? A toxic political climate #AboutUsWithoutUs.

Take, for instance, the fact that while Muslim Americans are statistically as likely to be engaged in the community as other religious groups, they are the least likely religious group to be civically engaged. Exacerbating this phenomenon of underrepresentation are negative portrayals in the media. According to a 2015 Media Tenor report, over two-thirds of all coverage of Islam on American TV news is negative.

One way to close this lopsided gap of representation is for American Muslims to become more civically engaged. Specifically, to run for office and affect policies as lawmakers. The Bridge Initiative has therefore compiled information on American Muslims who are currently seeking elected office, or who ran for office in the latest election cycles.

Click on the candidates below (and press play to start the scroller) to learn more.

These candidates and their campaigns reveal two interesting insights: 1) the changing political landscape in which American Muslims candidates are not only running for office, but are winning, too; and 2) the uniquely Islamophobic smear tactics utilized against American Muslim candidates are failing to stick.

A Changing Political Landscape

Considering the tense political climate in the country – or better yet, in spite of it – it is remarkable that these 19 American Muslims have run, or are running, in the current and most recent election cycles. Seven of the above candidates went on to win their seats, and another six have forthcoming elections. If elected, they will join only a handful of American Muslim elected officials across the entire country, two of whom currently serve in the U.S. Congress.

It is difficult to locate exact numbers on American Muslims currently serving in office because religious preference is not reported. What is evident, however, is that American Muslims are stepping onto the political scene – an important move that mainstreams American Muslim identity and firmly roots it in political engagement and community leadership. More importantly, it pivots the political agency of American Muslims back to where it truly belongs – in the hands of American Muslims. This is critical disruption of the current reality, #AboutUsWithoutUs.

The Mudslinging

According to a poignant December 2015 Huffington Post article, if you are Muslim and running for public office, be prepared to be called a terrorist. Nadeem Mazen, David Ramadan and Sam Rasoul provide some of the starkest examples of smear campaigns and political defamation by association with individuals or organizations involved in terrorism activity, whether substantiated or not. In the case of Jesse Sbaih and Atif Qarni, the insinuation that a Muslim cannot win the seat he seeks, and by party leadership no less, is demoralizing.

Such smear tactics are dangerously irresponsible. In the case of Nadeem Mazen, they can be life-threatening. They can also be fatal to political campaigns because once a terrorism allegation is made (or an insinuation made that a Muslim can’t win a race because of his/her faith), candidates are often forced to expend valuable time and money to discredit such claims, instead of focusing on their campaign platform and reaching out to constituents.

Conclusion

Smears of terrorism, coupled with negative media portrayals of Islam and Muslims that saturate our television news and newspaper headlines, make it all too easy, if not encouraged, for voters to pass on Muslim candidates at the election box. Which makes it easy for Muslim Americans to go on underrepresented at policymaking tables, yet overrepresented in policies and media coverage that affect their communities.

And yet, each of the candidates listed above are important examples of American Muslims who are disrupting this disempowering reality. Whether they win the office they seek is beside the point. The point is that American Muslims are electable – that American Muslims can determine the outcome of policies and laws that affect their communities by engaging in the political process, that American Muslims can be leaders who effectively and fairly represent their constituents, and that ultimately,  #AboutUsWithoutUs can become a thing of the past.

A note about methodology: Methodologically speaking, it is difficult to compile a comprehensive list of candidates based on religious affiliation because political candidates are not required to register either. Furthermore, with this election cycle being a presidential one, headlines are dominated by presidential candidates, not by state or local ones.


Honey Maid Ad Embraces Diversity, Challenges Islamophobia

Honey Maid, the famous Graham cracker brand behind such delectable pleasures as “Morning Sticks” and “Teddy Grahams,” has thrown its cap in the ring of pluralism. In a new advertisement that is part of its “This is Wholesome” campaign, the company showcases a Muslim woman interacting with her new neighbors. “I didn’t know anything about her culture, only what I saw in the news,” a woman says as she peers out of her window blinds. As their children frolic in the yard, the neighbors embrace. “I was kind of scared of how she’s going to accept me,” the first woman, who wears the hijab, said. “But then our girls brought us together.” This powerful clip, featured below, quickly took the Internet by storm with more than 21,000 views on Facebook, and 16,000 views on YouTube. It is part of a small but growing trend among some American companies responding to Islamophobia in America and its negative effects on Muslims. 

Visit our Facebook page and tell us your #BridgeBuildingStory, or Tweet #MyBridgeStory and tag @bridgeinit.


Presidential Candidates and Mosque Visits: A Powerful Gesture of Solidarity to American Muslims

It is critical to call out demagogues and bigots and to hold them accountable to their Islamophobic statements. It is equally critical to highlight the peacemakers and the bridge builders. The latter might sound a bit naïve in the context of this presidential election cycle, but for many American Muslim citizens and communities, public acts of solidarity are profoundly meaningful.

Why?

American Muslims have been forced to defend their faith and civil liberties, facing a candle burning at both ends with Islamophobes’ bias and hate speech on one side and violent extremists who claim to represent Islam on the other. They endure near daily assaults on both their religion and their bodies. According to a recent poll released by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), more than half of American Muslims have reported experiencing discrimination within the past year because of their religion. Eighteen percent report that they experience discrimination regularly – the highest of any faith group.

Positive portrayals of Islam and Muslims are needed now more than ever. We need more stories like the one in which little Jack Swanson donated his piggybank savings to a local mosque that had been vandalized, the U.S. Service Members on social media who promised 8-year old Sofia that they will protect her, and Olympic hijabi athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad who will represent Team USA in Rio this summer. Such stories are all testaments to their dignity, equality and rightful place in the American mosaic. They demonstrate and affirm that American Muslims matter, and that the anti-Muslim narrative we see today is unacceptable and un-American.

To that end, what can presidential candidates do to show solidarity with American Muslims?

They can visit American mosques.

Unfortunately, American mosques are already frequently in the headlines: vandalized with graffiti, pig heads, urine and human excrement; arson and property damage in the thousands of dollars; local town forums in which angry residents block the building of mosques; even openly carrying armed protestors. Some presidential candidates themselves have called for mosques to be closed and ‘Muslim neighborhoods’ to be patrolled. This is deeply unsettling because for so many Muslims, mosques are the spiritual and social lynchpins in the community. In fact, the ISPU poll demonstrates that regular mosque attendance correlates with civic engagement, i.e. working with neighbors to solve community problems, registering to vote and planning to vote.

The Bridge Initiative has therefore taken a look at the 2016 presidential candidates who have demonstrated solidarity with the American Muslim community by visiting mosques in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, those who have made this powerful gesture are Democrats (although they have not always been Democrats). Surprisingly, it does not include the Democratic frontrunner.

Governor Martin O’Malley (campaign suspended)

On December 11, 2015, Governor Martin O’Malley attended the Friday congregational services at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling, Virginia, and held a press conference with community leaders. After greeting the congregation with the traditional greeting– “Salaam Alaikum” (peace be upon you) – Governor O’Malley shared the following remarks:

“[In] these times I suppose that where fear and division is in the air, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians, for hate preachers…to turn us upon ourselves.”

He continued, “but that sort of language is not the language of America’s future…Together, in sha Allah, we shall overcome these challenges.”

At the press conference that followed, Georgetown University graduate student and U.S. Army veteran Rasheed Hamdan expressed his great disappointment that his faith and commitment to the U.S. has been called into question, that his service has been unjustly demeaned in today’s climate of Islamophobia.

Governor O’Malley took to the podium next and echoed Hamdan’s sentiments, recalling that when he first heard presidential candidate and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the first thing that came to mind was whether he would start with the patriotic American Muslims serving around the world and keeping us safe, like Rasheed Hamdan.

O’Malley concluded by underscoring the wisdom of the founding motto of the United States:

“This is the time when we need to remember E Pluribus Unum. From many different cultures comes one strong country.”

Senator Bernie Sanders

Five days after Governor O’Malley’s mosque visit in Virginia, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participated in an interfaith roundtable at Masjid Muhammad, popularly known as ‘The Nation’s Mosque.’ Situated in the heart of Washington, D.C., Masjid Muhammad has a proud and resilient 80-year history in the community.

Senator Sanders spoke of the danger of demagogues during this election cycle, which he described as preying upon fears and anxieties in our country and seeking to divide us. He reminded us that his own family members were killed in the Holocaust because of a similarly venomous and ‘othering’ ideology that divided people based on religion. Senator Sanders also reminded us of America’s dark chapters in history with the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese American internment camps, and religious double standards and accusations hurled against non-Protestant presidential candidates.

Senator Sanders laid into Donald Trump for his xenophobic and racist vitriol, which he attributed to increases in hate speech and attacks on American Muslims, including death threats against a Muslim member of Congress, André Carson (IN).

Sanders concluded, “It is time to say enough is enough. It is time to end religious bigotry.”

The roundtable continued with brief remarks by Muslim U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (MN), who shared that his son is currently on active duty serving as an Army medic, and that Imam Talib Shareef, the President and Imam of Masjid Muhammad, is an Air Force veteran who served on active duty for 30 years.

Like Governor O’Malley, Imam Talib concluded with E Pluribus Unum – from many, one, adding “we can also reverse that – from one, many.”

Secretary Hillary Clinton

And what of the Democratic frontrunner, Secretary Hillary Clinton? Has she visited a mosque yet during this election cycle? Does it really even matter that she does?

No, she has not. And yes, it really does.

Secretary Clinton, American Muslims need you to show strong, public support for their besieged, bullied and maltreated communities. Your fellow Democratic contenders have already done so. As the Democratic frontrunner, the time is now for a #HillaryMosqueVisit.

Show us that like Governor O’Malley and Senator Sanders, you too are a champion of equality and justice in these times of intemperate statements by major presidential candidates and growing Islamophobia.


Is Trump Right on Torture?

In the wake of the Belgium terrorist attacks, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has double-downed on his position in favor of torture.

In a recent telephone interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump argued “we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing,” that he would “go further” than waterboarding and that the primary suspect in last year’s terrorist attack in Paris would “talk faster with the torture.”

Trump concludes that our respect for the rule of law places us at an unfair advantage in our shared struggle against violent extremism.

“We have to change our laws and we have to be able to fight at least on almost equal basis. We have laws that we have to obey in terms of torture. They have no laws whatsoever that they have to obey,” Trump explained during his CNN interview.

In fact, international human rights law – which emerged in WWII’s aftermath – prohibits torture absolutely even in a national emergency, like in France or even Egypt (where a state of emergency has lasted over two decades). 

Since 9/11, there’s been wide ranging debate around torture particularly in the context of counter-terrorism techniques.  Some, like Trump, have argued that torture is necessary to get evidence that helps protect us from criminals who would do us harm.

But, does torture actually work? 

Several years ago, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, responsible for overseeing our federal intelligence community, began investigating the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – like waterboarding – as a counter-terrorism strategy. 

After evidence emerged that the CIA destroyed recordings of post 9/11 detainee interrogations, the bipartisan group looked at the CIA’s use of torture on detainees from 2001 to 2006.  Its findings, completed in 2012, were publicly released in 2014.

Significantly, the Committee concluded in its 6,000 page report that the CIA’s techniques were ineffective.  Specifically, the Committee found that torture:

  •             Resulted in false information and faulty intelligence
  •             Did not facilitate detainee cooperation
  •             Did not thwart terrorist plots

Regarding waterboarding, as championed by Trump, the committee’s report described how it “induc[ed] convulsions and vomiting,” with one detainee becoming “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth,’ while another suffered a “series of near drownings.”  

In other words, while it resulted in physical harm it didn’t give us accurate information.

CIA agents threatened detainees that they would be leaving in a “coffin-shaped box,” and that they could never go to court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” 

Again, according to the Senate Committee, these threats gave us no reliable intelligence.

So, what actually works?

The Committee found CIA agents obtained the most accurate information when they confronted detainees with intelligence they had already secured.

Trump sets up a moral equation between us and terrorists to argue for torture.  But, by doing so, we give up our international standing and credibility as global leaders on human rights. 

And, that’s no way to make America great again.


New Poll on American Muslims Sheds Light on Politics, Patriotism, and Prejudice in 2016

On Tuesday, the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding (ISPU) released a new survey of American Muslims. It comes at a critically important time for this religious community, which has found itself — again — at the epicenter of an election-season vortex with prejudiced views about Islam abounding.

“In this election cycle, specifically, Muslims have been a topic of debate but seldom participants in that discussion,” said Dalia Mogahed, ISPU’s Director of Research.

The survey found, among other things, that Muslims are ethnically diverse, and most favor Democratic candidates. Compared to other religious groups, they are equally as engaged in their communities, though less active politically, and report more discrimination than other faiths; 18% of American Muslims report regular discrimination. Importantly, ISPU found that Muslim Americans oppose military targeting of civilians. Sixty-five percent of Muslim Americans say that it is never justified, compared to 45% of American Jews, 43% of American Catholics, and 40% of American Protestants.

To read the full report, visit www.ispu.org/poll, or download a PDF here.


Trump Says “Islam” Hates America. Here’s Why That’s Not True.

In an interview with Donald Trump that aired on Wednesday on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked the Republican presidential frontrunner if he thought “Islam is at war with the West.”

“I think Islam hates us,” Trump said, “There’s tremendous hatred there… We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us…”

After Cooper asked if this supposed hatred is “in Islam itself,” Trump said it was Cooper’s job as a journalist to “figure that out.” He continued, “But there is a tremendous hatred. And we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful, and we cannot allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States and of people that are not Muslim.”

In a Republican debate hosted by CNN the following day, Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump if he meant “all 1.6 billion Muslims.” He responded, “I mean a lot of them.”

After his plan to ban Muslims and his lauding of Muslims being shot en masse with bullets dipped in pigs blood, most Americans are likely not surprised by Trump’s most recent comments. But what Trump said likely resonates with many who view Muslims as anti-American. Which is why it’s necessary to break down what’s wrong with this prejudicial approach to Muslims and their faith.

“Us” means Muslims, too

One of the chief errors in Trump’s remarks is the false dichotomy he made between “us”/the West/America, on the one hand, and “Islam” on the other. But Muslims and their religion are not wholly foreign, as Trump would lead us to believe.

American Muslims are just as “American” as any other religious community. Data from Pew, which is featured in the Unity Productions Foundation short film, “American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction,” shows that American Muslims are well integrated into the American mosaic. They watch professional sports on T.V., recycle their reusable materials, and are just as religious as Christian Americans. Forty-percent of American Muslims have college degrees (compared to 29% of the U.S. population overall), and Muslim women are statistically as likely as Muslim men to have college or post-graduate degrees. Muslims have been in America since before the country’s founding, many of whom were initially brought as slaves. About one-third of U.S. Muslims are African-American, and others are South and Southeast Asian, African, Arab, Latino, and white.

Trump’s notion that Muslims are not a part of the American or Western “us” flies in the face of the facts about American Muslims.

Islam Can’t Hate, because Islam is not a person

In his conversation with Cooper, Trump didn’t say that “Muslims hate us;” rather, he said their religious tradition — “Islam”— does. Many on social media quickly pointed out the flaw in this logic.

Omid Safi, the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, wrote, “apparently, something called ‘Islam’ gets up in the morning, brushes its teeth, puts its pants on, and then…‘hates us.’ Sheesh.” What he points out is that Islam is not a person. It has no thoughts and feelings — especially about America, which was founded about 1,200 years after Islam was.

Haters or helpers?

But do “a lot” of Muslims, the people who follow Islam, hate the West and other people who don’t share their faith, as Trump claimed? Public opinion polls in Muslim-majority countries often show that high percentages of residents have an unfavorable view of the United States, due to its foreign policy, its support for authoritarian regimes and failure to promote democracy, not because of a hatred of “our freedoms.” According to research conducted by Gallup and featured in the book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, co-authored by the Bridge Initiative Director, John Esposito, anti-American feelings usually stem from how the U.S. has operated in Muslim-majority countries.

Resentment among Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa may come from the fact that while they admire the West’s scientific and technological advancement as well as its democracy, few believe the West is willing to allow them to have these same advantages. As one respondent from Saudi Arabia suggests: “Change the fact that countries in the Western world would try to dominate the Islamic world rather than improve it.”

But Muslims’ criticisms of U.S. foreign policy don’t mean they dislike Americans as people. Muslims, both in the U.S. and around the world, want the same basic rights and freedoms as most people, and want to help and contribute to their society. Some analyses estimate that one in 10 American doctors is Muslim, and health clinics run by Muslims abound throughout the country.

American Muslims are artists and activists, and serve (and die for) their country in the military. Muslims raised money to supply clean water for residents of Flint, Michigan; to support the families of the victims of the San Bernardino shootings; and to rebuild numerous Black churches that were burned down last year.

If Muslims hated America as much as Donald Trump thinks they do, would we see three million and counting who have dedicated their lives to helping make America, in Trump’s words, great?


Is the Hijab “Passive Terrorism?”

Recently, a report exposed a U.S. government white paper that links the hijab to the spread of violent extremism.  As first revealed by The Intercept, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory published pseudo-analysis from Tawfik Hamid asserting that “… the proliferation of militant Salafism and the hijab contribute to the idea of passive terrorism, which occurs when moderate segments of the population decline to speak against or actively resist terrorism.”

While the author later attempted to qualify his assertions explaining that he was targeting “the phenomenon of hijab” — a First Amendment right also protected in international human rights law – in Muslim countries where it’s common as opposed to the women who embrace it, his statements are unsupported by empirical research evidence that suggests otherwise.

According to a recent Zogby report, “Muslim Millennial Attitudes on Religion and Religious Leadership,” gauging public opinion in eight Muslim majority contexts – presumably including places that have witnessed the “phenomenon of hijab” –at least three-quarters of all those polled believe groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are a complete perversion of Islam. 

This includes more than 9 in 10 respondents in the UAE and Morocco as well as 83% of those in Egypt, 65% in Bahrain, 61% in Jordan, 58% in Palestine, and 57% in Saudi Arabia.

The most frequently cited reason for joining such violent extremist groups is “corrupt, repressive and unrepresentative governments.”

Surprisingly, the hijab went unmentioned.

Another report, the Doha Institute’s 2015 Arab Opinion Index released last December, revealed similar findings.  Approximately 89% of the Arab public — spanning from Saudi Arabia to Mauritania to Jordan to Kuwait to Palestine to Egypt — views ISIS negatively.  And the support of the few who don’t is rooted in politics as it relates to the region and its conflicts. 

Interestingly, the most popular strategy cited by respondents to combat ISIS: support for democratic transition in the Arab World (28%).  Resolving the Palestinian cause was the second most common response (18%). 

Here, too, the “phenomenon of hijab” went unmentioned.

Additionally, Pew Research Center findings released late last year show overwhelmingly negative views of ISIS across Muslim majority countries including Indonesia, Senegal, Turkey, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Malaysia. 

Hamid’s opinions — correlating benign religious observance to violent extremism — are unfortunate.  The inclusion in materials presumably used to educate and train our military, law enforcement agents and other U.S. government officials is deeply troubling.  

In fact, The Intercept reveals that the FBI relied on the paper — that included Hamid’s contribution characterizing the hijab as “passive terrorism” — when it developed its 2014 counter-terrorism strategy.

Still, the FBI should really know better.

From 2003 through 2011, FBI training materials were fraught with factual inaccuracies, denigrating remarks about Muslims, Arabs and South Asians and positive correlations between Islam and violence. 

 Consider the following false assertions:

• “Historically, the mainstream Muslims have always been the silent weak majority within the Islamic faith;”

 • “Wahabis control the Koran and it’s [sic] issuance and distribution worldwide. No Koran is distributed without the approval of the Saudi Arabian government’s religious institutions;” and

 • Islam incites adherents to commit “genocide.”

Training materials also stereotyped Arabs and Muslims as inherently irrational and unstable:

• “… the Arab mind is a Cluster Thinker, while the Western mind tends to be a linear thinker;”

• “… although Islam was not able to change the cluster Arab mind thinking into a    linear one . . . it alleviated some of the weakness that inflicted the Arab mind in general;”

• “Never attempt to shake hands with an Asian. Never stare at an Asian. Never try to speak to an Arab female prior to approaching the Arab male first.”

Such assertions are harmful in so far as they conflate the second largest monotheistic religion in the world, the majority of whose adherents practice the faith peacefully, with a virulent, militant formulation of it — which in reality is subscribed to by a small minority of Muslims. By doing so, it thereby distorts the reality on the ground and fails to educate appropriately.

 In essence, pseudo-analysis such as that propagated by Hamid above can only result in misguided religious and racial profiling tactics, misdirected counter-terrorism investigations and false narratives about the West’s war against Islam and Muslims.

As NYU professor Arun Kundnani correctly observed in the original report by The Intercept, they “should not have been included in any kind of government training material or published research,” because the purpose of his chapter “is not a genuine investigation of the roots of violence, but rather an attempt to supply national security agencies with bogus surveillance rubrics.”


Mr. Trump, the kids can hear you (and other ways Muslim children are experiencing Islamophobia)

The recent execution-style murders of two reported American Muslim men – including a teenager – of Sudanese descent in Indiana comes with suspicion about possible motives.  With the execution-style murders of three American Muslim youth near the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill barely one year behind us, many suspect foul play predicated on growing Islamophobia in our country.

The Indiana murders – and surrounding suspicions reflected in popular hashtags like #OurThreeBoys and #3MoreWinners – bring back into focus the contemporary experiences of not just the American Muslim community, in general, but some of its youngest members, specifically.

We tend to view their young lives through the increasingly familiar lens of bias-based bullying – by peers and teachers – in our public schools.

Perhaps, their realities are more complicated, however.

Mr. Trump, the kids can hear you

From “accusations” casting Obama as a closet Muslim to arguments that Muslims shouldn’t serve in the president’s cabinet, young Muslims have endured Islamophobic political rhetoric since the 2008 presidential elections.  Republican presidential hopefuls, like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, have only ratcheted up anti-Muslim vitriol this election cycle, with utter disregard for constitutional principles or American values.

Recall, for instance, when Mr. Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration.  His comments prompted 8-year-old Sofia Yassinito pack up her dolls, peanut butter and toothbrush.  She thought American soldiers were en route to her Texas home.  Her fear inspired a social media campaign – #IWillProtectYou – with American soldiers and vets assuaging the young Muslim’s fears.

And, remember when Dr. Carson told NBC’s Meet the Press, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”  In response, a 12-year-old Minnesotan, Yusuf Dayur, made a video, explaining,

“Mr. Carson, what if someone told you that you couldn’t become president because of your color?  What if someone told you that you couldn’t become president because of your race? What if someone told you that you couldn’t become president because of your faith? That’s what you did to me….People would say that black people couldn’t become president.  Guess what? I’m black and I’m Muslim … I will break that Muslim boundary. I will become the first Muslim president.”

From genuine fear to powerful defiance, Muslim children’s responses signal an acute awareness about an ugliness they shouldn’t have to confront at any age.

What kids learn

Last week, an American Muslim child in Fairfax, VA, received this high school homework assignment:

Exercise 15:  Why are there so many Muslim terrorists who want to attack the West?  How do you think this situation can be improved?

There is a false assumption underlying the question.  According to Europol, non-Muslim Europeans have committed more extremist violence in the European Union than Muslims.  In the US, non-Muslims are responsible for more American deaths.  And, a 2015 survey of law enforcement officials around the country found greater articulated fear of domestic terrorism from right-wing extremists.

Conversely, controversies have erupted around the country in response to school books and lesson plans that don’t cast Islam and Muslims in a similarly negative light.

In Tennessee, for instance, parents and politicians protested a middle school curriculum on world history that incorporates a lesson plan on Islam – in addition to Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism – as  “indoctrination.”  Their efforts culminated in a proposed bill banning all Tennessee schools from teaching religion prior to the 10th grade.

In Virginia, a world geography homework assignment incorporating Islamic calligraphy shut down an entire school district.

In California, a social studies class on Islam – in addition to Christian, Buddhist and Hindu civilizations – prompted middle school parents to complain at school board meetings as well angry social media posts.

In Texas, a chain email about “pro Islamic teaching in our public schools” forced one school board to investigate the allegations.  The resulting 72-page report found a bias in favor of Christianity, however.

In Georgia, parental complaints prompted students to opt out of social studies classes that discussed Islamic history.

Significantly, the U.S. Supreme Court has previously found that teaching about religion in schools is perfectly legal so long as it’s academic, not devotional, in nature.

Those refugees include kids, too

The image of a lifeless three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, facedown on a beach has faded since discourse about immigration policy devolved into Islamophobia in the wake of last year’s attacks in Paris and San Bernadino. 

Dismissed as potential “Trojan horses,” last year, at least 26 Republican governors united against refugees coming to their states.  Some, like Chris Christie, boasted that they would have no qualms turning away refugees, even 5-year-old orphans.

In fact, the UN reports that more than 2.3 million Syrian children are registered as refugees.  They include orphans, those without food, shelter, schools or protection.  Still, Islamophobia has desensitized us to their plight and our shared humanity.

Ok, the kids are scared

According to CAIR, in 2015, there were more than 63 acts of vandalism, harassment and bias attacks. What emotional and psychological toll do such events have on Muslims kids?

Consider these examples.

Last November, a Muslim family returned to their home in Orlando, Florida to find a bullet hole in their garage.  They later discovered that three shots had been fired at their home.  The homeowner shared his family’s subsequent fear, “They feel unsafe now.  Why somebody is shooting at us, what did we do?”

The following month, in December, someone attacked a Muslim family’s home, hurling large rocks at their window.  The homeowner, who had just moved into the Texas neighborhood, observed, “More than the damage – it’s not the window – it’s the terrifying factor of it.  It is them trying to terrorize us or scare us.  The kids are scared to go up or down alone.”

From Islamophobic approaches to immigration to alarming political rhetoric, from hate crimes to homework, Muslim kids are increasingly forced to navigate  difficult terrain with which most adults continue to grapple.


“Civilization Jihad:” Debunking the Conspiracy Theory

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

• Presidential candidate Ben Carson has recently peddled a conspiracy theory about a Muslim “civilization jihad” plan to take over America.

• Carson gets his ideas from Frank Gaffney, who was also Donald Trump’s dubious source in calling for a Muslim ban. Gaffney says a 1991 memo written by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is evidence of this “jihadist” plan.

But Gaffney mischaracterizes the nature and use of the memo, and exaggerates the impact it has had. It was not a formal plan accepted by the Brotherhood, and it didn’t have influence in other Muslim circles.

• Gaffney and Carson’s claims about “civilization jihad” are baseless, but unsurprisingly appeal to Americans who are already suspicious of Muslims.


THE DETAILS

When GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson spoke in a January 2016 debate about a Muslim plan of “civilization jihad” on America, most viewers probably didn’t know that he was echoing a years-old conspiracy theory advanced by the leaders of America’s most active anti-Muslim groups.

Carson’s source for this claim is the Center for Security Policy (CSP), an organization run by Frank Gaffney that was recently designated as a hate group.

To support their theory, Carson and Gaffney point to an Arabic-language self-described “explanatory memorandum” from 1991.

The claims about the memo:

• It’s a “mission statement” that “lays out the Muslim Brotherhood secret plan for taking down our country.”

• It “describes how this ambitious goal is being pursued through a variety of stealthy techniques.”

• It is “meant as a report from [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] senior leadership here in the United States back to the mothership in Egypt.”

• It “helped get a handle on what the Muslim Brotherhood and some of these other organizations are doing.”

So is this internal memo from a quarter-of-a-century ago a secret manifesto that evidences cooperation on the part of ordinary Muslims and major Islamic organizations in America to transform the country into an Islamic caliphate, as they would lead us to believe?

No. Carson and Gaffney mischaracterize the nature and use of the memo, and exaggerate the impact it has had. It was not a formal plan accepted by the Brotherhood, and it did not have influence in other Muslim circles. This document should not be taken seriously.

THE MEMO ITSELF

Penned in May of 1991 by a man named Mohamed Akram Adlouni, the “Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America” was discovered during an FBI raid of a Virginia home in 2004. The document was admitted as an exhibit to the court during the 2007 Holy Land Foundation trial, in which that group was charged with laundering money. After the trial, the document became public. But, according to a 2009 opinion by the presiding judge, the memo was not considered “supporting evidence” for that alleged money laundering scheme, nor any other conspiracy.

But what exactly does this memo propose, and how was it received or used by those it addressed?

A closer investigation reveals that Akram likely composed the memo as a follow-up to the group’s 1987 conference, proposing his vision for the group’s future. In it, he uses the phrase “civilizational jihad” and states plainly his belief that the “role of the Muslim Brother” in North America should be one of “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house …”.

Such rhetoric is arresting. But his language is wishful, and does not reflect the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda as outlined in documents obtained by the FBI. Asking that his memo be added “to the Council agenda in its coming meeting” in 1991, Akram frames it as a “letter” that contains his “hopes, ambitions and challenges.” In listing a number of American Muslim organizations in the appendix, he even says: “Imagine if they all march according to one plan!!! [sic].”

Harvard University professor Tarek Masoud noted this aspirational tone in his 2011 testimony before the House Select Intelligence Committee, and added that it seems to reflect a desire for proselytization and political activism, rather evidence of some coordinated plot.

Was Akram’s letter adopted by the council, as he hoped?

Other documents entered as evidence in the Holy Land trial indicate that even if Akram’s memo was read, it wasn’t taken up in an official way by the Brotherhood Council meeting of 1991. A report of the “most important issues” addressed in the 1991 conference — the logical place for Akram’s memo to be mentioned if it were ever considered by the group— does not reference it. And importantly, nowhere else in the public collection of Muslim Brotherhood documents from the trial is it mentioned.

It would seem that Akram’s pleas to the group to “not rush to throw these papers away,” and to “read [the pages of his letter] and to comment on them” went unheeded. There is no evidence that those whom he addressed ever took the time to “study” or “comment” on it. Akram may have been correct, then, to fear that his letter would be seen as “strange” or a “new submission without an antecedent” or “root” to what was agreed to in the 1987 conference.

Rather than “laying out” a conclusive Muslim Brotherhood-approved plan, as Gaffney and Carson would lead their audiences to believe, this document is, at most, one man’s utopian vision or, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a “fantasy.” of a single member, albeit an ominous one.

ITS IMPACT

Akram’s colleagues did not adopt this memo, but did his ideas still have an impact elsewhere among Muslims? If it occupied a central place in a Muslim movement to take over America, one would think his supporters would have taken up his idea and spread it in popular and academic circles. But that’s not so.

Akram’s arguments and phrasing in Arabic are rarely found on the web and not found in Islamic doctrine or literature. While there are some Arabic news articles from the last decade reporting about the memo and reproducing the most disturbing bits of Akram’s language, his ideas are not widespread online.

In what appears to be linguistic coincidence, the phrase “civilizational jihad” appears once online in 2003 in a question-and-answer section to a message board post about  the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is no mention of Akram, the Muslim Brotherhood, or their 1987 conference. This usage is one of only six total websites that come up in Google Arabic archives from 2008 to today. Only three sites use the phrase as Akram intended: one is a news article about Akram’s memo, one is a short post where the phrase comes up in a Q&A (mentioned above), and the last is another blog that quotes the previous one. Five of the six sites use the phrase specifically in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — not at all mentioning the United States or a plan involving it.

In an English archival Google search of the translations of the key concepts from Akram’s memo, 66 pages that reference the document came up. However, the vast majority of the references were news reports about the 1991 memo or the Holy Land Foundation trial and were largely written by anti-Muslim sources advancing Gaffney’s conspiracy theory. A handful of pieces about the memo that were written by Muslims condemn it and Gaffney’s subsequent conspiracy. Furthermore, each of the key concepts in Akram’s memo, including “civilizational jihad” and “settlement,”  were identified by machine analyzers as “unusual” when compared to a list of common Arabic words and phrases found in publicly-available online media.

Akram’s language doesn’t come up in mainstream Islamic literature, either before or after he penned the letter.

We ran the letter’s key phrases (“civilizational jihad,” “settlement” and “destruction of the West”) through arabiCorpus, a linguistic analysis tool that searches through a database containing over 30 million words from Arabic literature and Islamic texts spanning several decades through  2012.

No mentions of Akram’s phrase “destruction of the West” or variants appear anywhere in the collection. “Civilizational jihad” and its variants were mentioned only once in the entire collection. It is referenced in a text about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and makes no reference to the West or any other Islamic topics. “Settlement” came up more often —123 times, but only three of those instances have some reference to “jihad.” All others are again about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the personal “internalization” of religious ideal, not, a stealthy way of Islamizing a society.

This analysis demonstrates the infrequent use of Akram’s phrasings — and therefore the ideas they describe. The findings underscore the inconsequential nature of Akram’s letter for ordinary Muslim communities and Islamic organizations the world over.

SELF-PROMOTION & EXAGGERATION

The facts about the real nature of this letter and its lack of impact in the years since it was written undermine Gaffney’s conspiracy theory. So why would the Center for Security Policy continue to promote this baseless narrative, and why would the once-leading GOP candidate Ben Carson adopt it for use in national political speeches?

For Gaffney and his group, this document lends legitimacy to their preexisting conspiracy theory about a stealth jihad to take over America. It’s a red herring that has  — until now — allowed them to deflect accusations that their theories are simply wild conjectures.

It’s news to few that drumming up fear about Muslims yields large donations and high salaries. The Center for Security Policy brought in over four million dollars in the first decade of the millennium, as Gaffney (who himself was paid more than $200,000 in fees in 2011 alone) promoted this conspiracy theory regularly in conservative media.

What’s more, in a climate where maligning Muslims has been shown to pay off politically (both in the polls and in terms of campaign fundraising), Ben Carson seems to have decided that adopting Gaffney’s cause célèbre about the 1991 epistle would appeal to an electorate that is already largely suspicious, if not fearful, of Islam and Muslims.


After Chapel Hill Shootings, Attacks on Muslims Increased

February 10, 2016 is the first anniversary of the murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, the young American Muslims who were shot and killed by their neighbor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Their deaths were covered in national newspapers and on nightly news broadcasts. Hashtags and fundraising campaigns emerged to remember their lives. President Obama released a statement saying that “no one…should ever be targeted because of who they are.” Muslim civil rights groups and the victims’ family believe that the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. The attorney’s office has yet to determine whether or not the alleged perpetrator, Craig Hicks, will also be charged with a hate crime.

During early 2015, this attack may have seemed to many like a fluke — a tragic but rare incident of prejudice gone wrong.
But, as we now know, the Chapel Hill shooting didn’t occur in isolation.

At the end of 2015, the country watched as attacks on Muslims in America increased in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, and amid the often-discriminatory rhetoric of leading presidential candidates. But earlier in 2015, when Islamophobia was still a widespread problem, it received little media coverage. Of the many other troubling incidents of prejudice gone wrong that occurred throughout the country, only the shooting in Chapel Hill received national attention.

The shooting in Chapel Hill was simply the most visible incident in a broader climate of increased Islamophobia.

In mid-2015, we at the Bridge Initiative compiled all of the attacks on Muslims in America that were reported by local and national news outlets both before and after the Chapel Hill shooting.* We found a troubling surge in attacks in the wake of the North Carolina murders. But it wasn’t until late November 2015 that this wider climate of Islamophobia started to receive mainstream, national media attention.

Below we document some “Chapel Hills” you likely haven’t heard about, and point out a troubling surge that occurred after the Chapel Hill shooting.

You can engage with the data in two ways: check out our interactive timeline, which provides specific details about each incident, and download our sharable infographics.

There are a couple of major points you should take away from the data:

  • Attacks against Muslims and Islamic institutions surged after the Chapel Hill shootings, with one vandal even spray painting, “Now this is a hate crime,” on the exterior of an Islamic school in Rhode Island.
  • Between December 2014 and July 2015, at least nine Muslims were murdered in the U.S. and Canada. Some cases are being investigated to determine whether or not an anti-Muslim bias motivated the crime.
  • 52 attacks against Muslims occurred across the country from November 2014 to July 2015. But this statistic likely underestimates the numbers of attacks that have occurred, since many Muslims don’t report bias incidents to law enforcement.

Timeline

*A note on method: The attacks compiled come from reports by local and national news media outlets, and from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group that tracks incidents targeting Muslims. We gathered the reports between November 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015. The attacks total 52, and include murders, shootings, vandalisms, arsons, physical and verbal assaults, and threats, among other incidents. Some of the attacks we catalogued were clearly motivated by feelings of prejudice, and are being treated as hate crimes. In other incidents, the motive is less clear.

[This piece was originally published in July 2015. It was revised and updated on February 10, 2016.)

Attacks Against Muslims Infographic

Obama on Islamophobia in the State of the Union: How did Americans react?

Question: What was the most popular moment on Facebook during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address?

Answer: When President Obama talked about Islamophobia.

In speaking about America’s leadership in the world, the president said:

And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.

His statement generated much attention on Twitter, too, where Americans from diverse communities thanked the President for calling out Islamophobia.

Fellow political leaders endorsed his remarks.

But some of those vying for the GOP nomination had different thoughts.

Todd Green, a professor at Luther college and author of the book, The Fear of Islam, praised Obama’s remarks, but wished he’d used the word Islamophobia to describe the prejudice and discrimination Muslims face.

Some were concerned that House Speaker Paul Ryan and other politicians didn’t clap after Obama started talking specifically about Muslims.

In the day following Obama’s address, an article from the conservative website Breitbart calling the president’s comments “absurd” went viral on social media. Ignoring the evidence of rising anti-Muslim discrimination in the U.S., it cast Muslims as a unique threat to America.

This moment was a mere 200 words couched in an hour-long speech. But the various reactions it sparked show the degree to which Muslims and Islam factor into charged election-season climates, and are politicized even amidst calls to avoid prejudice and treat them with dignity and respect.


Islamophobia in 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful

Looking back at the last twelve months, it can initially appear that Islamophobia was pretty bad in 2015.

And indeed it was. Attacks against Muslims in the United States and their institutions have occurred in rapid succession. Meanwhile, leading politicians and the voting public have expressed increasingly anti-Muslim views.

Even though FBI hate crime statistics for this year won’t be released for some time, the current climate of hostility towards Muslims in the United States indicates that 2015 could be America’s most Islamophobic year since 9/11.

Despite the bleak picture, 2015 also witnessed some positive shifts in the way the media and the public dealt with and responded to Islamophobia. As prejudice towards and discrimination against Muslims intensified and gained more media attention, many journalists, activists, and ordinary Americans felt compelled to do something about it.

Watch “Islamophobia in 2015: The Year in Review”

What Went Wrong This Year

In the wake of the attacks across Paris and in San Bernardino, the country witnessed a surge of mosque vandalisms, physical attacks against those perceived to be Muslim, and death threats against entire Muslim communities. Desecrated Qur’ans and pig heads were left outside some mosques, while others were targeted with bullets and fire-bombs. A Muslim cab driver was shot, as was a store clerk who now remains in critical condition. A Muslim teenager died after falling off a roof in Seattle, an incident many in his community fear was a hate crime. Some women who wear headscarves reconsidered their hijab after numerous women reported verbal and violent harassment.

But incidents like these didn’t only occur after high-profile attacks like those in Paris and San Bernardino. Muslims were targeted — and in several cases, murdered — throughout 2015. The shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is the most prominent example.

According to data collected by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamophobic incidents at mosques jumped in 2015. As of December 17, there were 71 incidents across the country, including vandalism, threats, harassment, and biased zoning proceedings for communities seeking to build mosques. This number is the highest CAIR has recorded since it started counting in 2009, and is three times higher than the total number of mosque incidents last year.

All of this occurred against the backdrop of national conversations that asked, “How Islamic is ISIS?” and within the context of broader public debates over the Syrian refugee crisis and national security. On the Internet and networks like Fox News, dubious polls claiming to report high levels of ISIS support among Muslims spread like wildfire. Long before Donald Trump cited one of these polls in calling for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the US, he and other presidential candidates made troubling statements about Islam and its followers, and attended events held by some of the country’s most active anti-Muslim groups.

Polling data from 2015 revealed that Americans had complicated views about Islam and Muslims. While 51 percent said they viewed “Muslims living in the United States the same as any other community,” 56 percent also thought “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.” Many survey results showed a stark division across party lines, with Republicans’ expressing concern about Muslims more frequently than Democrats.

A majority of GOP voters, for instance, expressed approval for the Islamophobic positions and policies put forward by candidates Donald Trump and his rival Ben Carson, who said in September that a Muslim should not be president. Two-thirds of likely Republican voters agreed with Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. Both Carson and Trump saw significant increases in support in primary states following their respective comments.

Then there were the armed demonstrations outside mosques across the country, and business owners that declared their stores “Muslim-free zones.” These populist movements mirrored the activities of similar groups in Canada, Australia, and Europe. When organizing his mosque protests in the U.S., militiaman Jon Ritzheimer claimed he had contacts in these places, where groups like PEGIDA and Reclaim Australia have orchestrated large demonstrations.

What Went Right

The severity of this year’s Islamophobia brought with it a silver lining of sorts: greater awareness and concern about the prejudice and discrimination facing Muslims. According to Public Religion Research Institute, “no religious, social, or racial and ethnic group [was] perceived as facing greater discrimination in the U.S. than Muslims.”

Google searches of the term “Islamophobia” peaked in 2015. An initial jump occurred in January in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and then again in September when the arrest of 14-year-old Muslim student Ahmed Mohamed (whose clock invention was mistaken for a bomb) shed light on Muslims’ treatment in the U.S. But the major spike in “Islamophobia” searches occurred in November and December, as anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks escalated in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino.

This heightened attention might suggest that the public is more concerned or curious about prejudice towards Muslims, and is using the word “Islamophobia” to describe it.

Google Trends 1

Some mainstream news outlets, which rarely used the term in the past, seemed more comfortable with the term, too. Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, was one of the most prominent journalists to embrace the term, using it in a post-Charlie Hebdo interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and often in the wake of the attacks in Paris. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley also called out the “Islamophobia” plaguing the political climate, with O’Malley even acknowledging that a “shadowy network” of activists and groups promotes fear and misinformation about Muslims.

And it wasn’t just the term “Islamophobia” that got more play in the media. Mosque vandalisms and other attacks against Muslims received more coverage by national media than they did in years past. So did Muslims’ condemnations of groups like ISIS.

The year 2015 also saw many high-profile acts of solidarity with the Muslim community, with both Democratic and Republican leaders spending time in mosques. Interfaith events at the local level also popped up around the country, especially in response to planned anti-Muslim rallies.

Moving Forward

Though Islamophobia in America was at its worst this year, there have also been significant signs of positive change. In the wake of Trump’s call for a “total ban on all Muslims” entering the United States, more people, on the right and left, are beginning to recognize that Islamophobia is a problem, and are naming it. Many have noted the similarities between contemporary Islamophobia and other prejudices — like anti-Semitism and anti-Catholic prejudice — that ran rampant in America in earlier eras.  These comparisons to prejudice towards Jews and Catholics, for example, are a helpful reminder of what progress can be made. Though acts of discrimination against these groups may never disappear completely, society no longer deems them acceptable; Jews and Catholics are now largely viewed as part of “America.”

As 2015 draws to a close, an important step is being taken as more American voices across the political spectrum are condemning and rejecting Islamophobia in all its forms. Moving into 2016, there is undoubtedly much to improve. But there is also hope that we are turning a corner.


Trump Calls for Ban on Muslims, Cites Deeply Flawed Poll

Update (December 7, 2015)

In a press release today, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

His statement also cites a deeply flawed poll conducted by the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a group with a history of fear mongering about Islam and Muslims.

In June, when the poll was released and circulated widely on networks like Fox News, we debunked its findings, writing:

This survey should not be taken seriously. It comes from an organization with a history of producing dubious claims and “studies” about the threat of shariah, and was administered using an unreliable methodology. Its proponents seize upon its shoddy findings, exaggerating and misrepresenting them to American audiences, and falsely claim that the survey data represents the views of Muslims nationwide.

Donald Trump is only the latest proponent of CSP’s dubious claims. In an interview with MSNBC, Saba Ahmed recounted how GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson told her that Frank Gaffney, CSP’s director, advised him on issues related to Islam. Numerous other GOP candidates, like Ted Cruz and George Pataki, have attended and spoken at CSP’s national summits.

Trump’s comment about banning Muslims is only the latest in a series of troubling remarks about Muslims made by Trump and other GOP presidential candidates. These comments are documented in our “Islamophobia and the 2016 Elections” resource.


Original article (Published June 26, 2015)

On June 24, 2015, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C. think tank run by former Reagan official Frank Gaffney released a survey of 600 Muslims living in the United States. Its takeaway, captured in a headline on the CSP website, is this: “Poll of US Muslims Reveals Ominous Levels of Support For Islamic Supremacists’ Doctrine of Shariah, Jihad.”

The poll gained quick traction online and in the media. On the evening of its release, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly also lent credence to its findings and cast doubt upon American Muslims’ loyalty to their country.

Among the poll’s findings are:

  • “A majority (51%) agreed that ‘Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah.’”
  • “Nearly a quarter of the Muslims polled believed that, ‘It is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.’”
  • “Nearly one-fifth of Muslim respondents said that the use of violence in the United States is justified in order to make shariah the law of the land in this country.”

But this survey should not be taken seriously. It comes from an organization with a history of producing dubious claims and “studies” about the threat of shariah, and was administered using an unreliable methodology. Its proponents seize upon its shoddy findings, exaggerating and misrepresenting them to American audiences, and falsely claim that the survey data represents the views of Muslims nationwide.

Here are the details.

CSP’s History of Baseless Fearmongering

In recent years, many groups have raised questions about the objectivity and intentions of Frank Gaffney. His tendency to posit conspiracies about Barack Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood is well documented, and has earned him sharp critique across the political spectrum. The Center for American Progress labels him a “misinformation expert,” while the Conservative Political Action Committee banned him from their 2011 conference for peddling false accusations about GOP connections to Muslim extremists. It was his organization, CSP, that was behind the unfounded rumor that Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Huma Abedin, was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and once floated the false idea that General David Petraeus had “submitted” to shariah.

Since the early 2000s, CSP has generated dozens of occasional papers, blogs, and reports that fixate on shariah or other allegedly nefarious topics related to Islam. Often, they are loosely sourced or entirely unsubstantiated, relying instead on a furtive web of connections or, in one case, a 24-year-old document written by a lone Muslim activist that has since been roundly discredited.

False Statistics and False Claims

Both Gaffney and O’Reilly claim that the poll’s findings are representative of nationwide Muslim public opinion. But this assertion is untrue.

CSP’s survey was a non-probability based, opt-in online survey, administered by the conservative group, the Polling Company/Woman Trend, a small Washington-based agency that has collaborated with CSP on other occasions to produce surveys about Islam and Muslims. (We learned this after reaching out to the Polling Company to get more details about their methodology, which wasn’t released to the public when Gaffney began promoting the survey’s findings.)

According to the body that sets ethical standards for polling, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), opt-in surveys cannot be considered representative of the intended population, in this case Muslims. The AAPOR says that in these cases, “the pollster has no idea who is responding to the question” and that these kind of “polls do not have such a ‘grounded statistical tie’ to the population.”

So when O’Reilly and guest Zuhdi Jasser pointed to this survey and made claims about what “25% of three million, which is hundreds of thousands of Muslims” believe, it’s not only a misleading statement—it’s outright false.

This survey does not represent the views of American Muslims. It only represents the views of the 600 Muslims that it polled.

Loaded Questions and Answers

Another problem with this poll is the way that questions and answers are phrased. Often, they are not neutral but are imbued with assumptions, and replicate, in an interrogative form, statements that Gaffney and CSP have declared as fact for years. In one question, respondents are asked: “Do you believe the Muslim Brotherhood in America accurately represents your views?” Packed into this question is the assertion that the Brotherhood indeed exists in the United States — something that Gaffney has long propagated. Those who answer “yes” confirm his suspicions, while those who answer “no” acknowledge nonetheless that the group is present here. They’re put into a lose-lose situation.

In several questions that are asked about shariah, the content of what shariah actually is remains unexamined. Even when Gaffney’s survey appears to be more nuanced by asking Muslims how they would “characterize shariah,” it only offers options about how broadly sharia—whatever it is—should be applied. Answers ranging from “guide to the personal practice of Islam” to Gaffney’s preferred option (“the Muslim God Allah’s law that Muslims must follow and impose worldwide via jihad”) still don’t allow Muslims to express about what they believe about shariah.

Respondents’ likely answered questions on shariah based on their understanding of the concept, but those views were not measured in the survey, nor communicated to the Fox News audience. Instead viewers are left to believe that Muslim Americans support shariah as Gaffney and O’Reilly have portrayed it for years: a “brutally repressive” law hostile to non-Muslims. At the end of the day, Gaffney and O’Reilly make it look like Muslims support things they actually don’t.

Selective Reading and Exaggerations

Sixty-percent of respondents agreed that “shariah as interpreted by Islamic authorities is compatible with the U.S. Constitution, including freedom of speech and other rights,” and 51% chose this definition of jihad: “Muslims’ peaceful, personal struggle to be more religious.” These rare but helpful nuances are not even alluded to in the promotion and coverage of the survey’s findings in conservative outlets like Fox News.

O’Reilly also makes exaggerations that the already-flawed data doesn’t support. “Fifty-one percent [of Muslims] say sharia law should be the reigning law,” he said. But that language is nowhere in the survey data he’s likely referencing, which says that “a majority (51%) agreed that ‘Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah.’”

Despite its unreliability, the survey and its findings have spread quickly, with generalizations about American Muslims ricocheting across the Internet and social media, and bleeding into more mainstream outlets. Unfortunately, the general public is not equipped with the tools or knowledge to dissect such claims and is left to accept them at face value. This is especially so when they’re touted by a trusted personality, like Bill O’Reilly, and confirm pre-existing beliefs about Muslims.

Though the public may not see it, the problems with this poll are numerous: CSP has a history of fabricating fear about Islam and Muslims; the survey’s questions and answers are loaded with bias; and its creators and proponents falsely claim that its findings represent the views of all American Muslims.

The American public shouldn’t trust this poll.


How American Muslims Are Countering Islamophobia and Getting It Right

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, many have noted an increase in Islamophobia in America. Presidential candidates have made troubling comments about American Muslims and refugees seeking to escape violence in the Middle East, while ordinary citizens have threatened mosques and targeted Muslim individuals in physical attacks.

Writing in Cornerstone, a blog of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, incoming Bridge Initiative Assistant Director Engy Abdelkader discusses the current climate of Islamophobia and highlights American Muslims’ responses to it. You can read her article in full at Cornerstone.

… [A]nother part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and freedoms that define our two great republics. That includes freedom of religion. That includes equality before the law. There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals, and it has been to our lasting regret. We must uphold our ideals now. Each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background. -President Barack Obama, White House Press Conference with President Francois Hollande Nov. 24, 2015

We learn from history that hate speech and hysteria have dire consequences, the result of societal complacency,
failed leadership and the lack of courage to stand up and speak out against hate.-US Representative Mike Honda, D-CA

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many Americans and Europeans have questioned their governments’ policies toward refugees. Citizens are fearful of terrorists posing as migrants to gain free entry into Europe and the United States. Scapegoating innocent immigrants in a climate charged with fear is nothing new. Recall, immediately following the tragic events of 9/11, Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrant men bore the brunt of that backlash.

Post 9/11 immigration policies included secret detention and proceedings; secret evidence withheld from defendants and their attorneys; a special registration program targeting males from 25 predominantly Muslim countries; new data collection programs; and the REAL ID Act making it tougher for persecuted men, women, and children to seek refuge in the United States, among other laws and policies.

Sadly, the political rhetoric on the current refugee crisis has again devolved into sheer Islamophobia.

From a dozen armed protesters denouncing the “Islamization of America” in front of a Texas mosque to US presidential hopefuls Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee engaging in irresponsible political rhetoric demonizing American Muslims; from social media posts advocating the legal, political, and social marginalization of—if not violence toward—a minority faith group to a local Kansas politician showing a “warning” slideshow of criminals named Mohammed; from a Rhode Island senator sending an anti-Muslim email to a mayor in Virginia suggesting the internment of Syrian refugees, Islamophobic speech has reached a crescendo in bigotry since last week’s terror attack.

As Rep. Honda notes, such hysteria has dire consequences. Myriad expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment not only marginalize the minority faith group politically while stigmatizing it socially, but they potentially make American Muslims, their homes, and places of worship more likely targets for violent attack.

While Islamophobia has in fact intensified this past week, such vitriolic speech is nothing new. Since 9/11 and our wars abroad, American Muslims have worked hard to counter such bigotry. Here’s what they’re getting right:

American Muslims Persevere

While Islam is wrongly perceived as encouraging violence, American Muslims almost always respond to bigotry and hatred in peace.

When thousands of protesters held signs outside of an Islamic conference in Garland, Texas, earlier this year, for instance, Muslims persevered. They requested police protection for participants and proceeded undeterred by those who would interfere with their First Amendment rights.

When Muslims headed to the Oklahoma capitol building to learn more about local government, 50 protesters condemned them, attacking their faith and religious identity. Interfaith volunteers escorted Muslim attendees into the building where they sang the American national anthem. Participants then learned about the First Amendment and the significance of civic engagement. In the face of hate, American Muslims persevere.

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