Islamophobia in America, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Islamophobia
The section courtesy of Dina Malki

Do you want to discover what America is? Then watch its popular comedy “The Simpsons.” Do you want to know how Islamophobia affects life in the USA? Then watch “The Simpsons” December 2008 episode, “Mypods and Boomsticks,” where Bart Simpson befriends a Muslim boy, Bashir, who had recently moved with his family to Springfield. His dad, Homer, wrongly suspects the Muslim family to be planning a terrorist plot. Mixing humor with American cultural reality, the episode represents deep concerning issues: those of profiling, bashing, and lumping all Muslims into a “terrorist” stereotype. Its broadcast during the heat of the 2009 Presidential campaign is significant to the false accusations against President Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim.

Once you live in America, you will come across the term that was born in the 1980s. Islamophobia refers to the irrational fear that connotes a social anxiety, discrimination, and prejudice against Muslims and Islam. This anti-Muslim racism leads to the exclusion of Muslim citizens from mainstream social and political America, the marginalization of their communities and institutions, and the presumption of their guilt by association which fuels hate crimes.

But, you may wonder, since America is a land of freedom and constitutional rights, how did a new form of racism appear in the aftermath of the civil rights movements earlier in the Twentieth Century? You may personally come from a Muslim country or a country that has no prejudice against Muslims, and then you will wonder what is wrong with being Muslim in the first place. How has it become slander to call someone Muslim? Don't Muslims include good as well as deviate members just like any other ethnicity?

The roots of Islamophobia in America date back to the 1960s and the 1970s, when Hollywood and television shows depicted offensive images of Arabs and Muslims. Pejorative language using terms like “camel jockey” reflected a progressive contempt towards that minority group. Come to the 1980s, the American worldview reflected the theory of “clash of civilization,” and when the political scientist Samuel Huntington promoted this post world war vision in 1993, it jumpstarted a mainstream fear in the American public. The terrorist attacks on American cities on September 11, 2001 confirmed this fear and sent it to sky-rocketing rates.

To put things into perspective, consider how the Simpsons were divided in regards to their sentiments towards the Muslim family. Similarly, not all Americans discriminate against Muslims. According to a 2009 Washington Post- ABC news statistics, almost 48 percent (a shift from 24 percent in 2002) of Americans have unfavorable attitudes towards Muslims.

When you live in the United States, you realize you need to learn its language, culture, history, and dynamics. These are key elements for anyone who wishes to live and interact inside the American society. Likewise, it is necessary not to take headlines and Islamophobic commentators for granted and adopt a stereotypical opinion without first educating yourself about Muslims in America. Muslims are part of the American thread and deserve a chance to fair judgment based on individual communication, and not on collective guilt by association. Individuals who don't question fallacies like the one assuming Islam does not share common grounds with the West, or that Islam is a violent religion often end up with the right American extreme, who with their unfavorable attitude towards Islam and Muslims aim at making anti-Muslim sentiments an American national call.

So how exactly can Islamophobia affect your everyday life in America? You may encounter an incident where a person slanders another person identified as Muslim. Or you may witness a salesman denying service to a Muslim woman who wears the traditional head scarf. You may be surprised how other by passers and witnesses may not interfere to lend a hand to the Muslim victim. You may even be shocked to hear people calling someone who stands up for Muslims, like Bart did, “un-American.”

When you turn the radio on, you may hear disturbing rhetoric from right-wing political activists, authors, and media anchors slandering Muslims publicly. The more accommodations public or private entities provide Muslims with, the more inflammatory rhetoric right-wing media commentators use. They use terms like “Islamic terrorism” and “violent Islam” to portray Islam as a barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist religion. Several websites have been developed to watch for media news and catch an early bird opportunity of any Muslim event or announcement. They smirch and smear Muslims, and even oppose any Muslim efforts of reach out to the American community, like Muslim Awareness Day, etc… They muster increasing hostilities by insinuating to the American public that all Muslims are related to violent groups who want to take over America and hate everything America stands for: principles and values.

Muslims, who only represent 0.6 percent of the American population, are not one bloc of homogeneous people. In fact, radical Muslims represent a minority of the over one billion people who share this faith globally. Yet, those extremists get most of the media and public attention. Muslims believe that all people, including women, are created equal before God. They are required to be peaceful, and most of those who live in America chose this country for the values and freedom it stands for. They dream to raise their children in a civilized country where they don't have to compromise their religious values. Hence, Muslims as well as Muslim majority countries are diverse and cannot be treated as one big lump.

Islamophobia is a political, social, and cultural challenge in today's America. It represents a breach on the constitutional rights for the freedom of choosing and practicing the religion one wishes to follow. It downgrades the principles of social and personal justice which leads to negative effects on the civility inside society at large. It threatens the integrity of America as a nation as it has become a manipulative tool used for lobbying. Yet, in 2009, President Barack Obama assumed office and promised America change; a change that will encompass all social, economic, political, organizational and educational flaws. He often refers to the bridge of communication that America plans to extend to the Muslim world. In his inaugural speech, he announced what may be a long awaited inclusion and acknowledgement for many American Muslims: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” He pleaded: “We cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve.”

This declaration of toleration follows the footsteps of American heroes like New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who pleaded to an angry crowd in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 4, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “You can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization.” He then said, “or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend.” Indeed, toleration, forbearance, compassion, and unity have been the pivots of the American legacy. These are the elements you will need to challenge Islamophobia with when you choose to live in this great country.


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