How American Muslims Are Countering Islamophobia and Getting It Right

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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.

For the full article, visit Cornerstone.

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