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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

The Summer of Islamophobia and the November Election

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The fiercely contested 2012 US presidential election is gathering steam, with less than two months remaining until Election Day. While endless partisan bickering over policy issues typically dominates the echo chamber characterizing the summer news cycle, some of the major headlines this summer illustrate the growing antipathy toward religious minority groups – particularly Muslim Americans. With events such as the mosque burning in Joplin, Mo., the false allegations of infiltration against Muslim public servants, and the widespread political acquiesce toward the illegal surveillance of Muslims, the increasingly visible profile of Muslim life in America is being challenged. While some may dismiss this observation as alarmist, evidence suggests that these ideas of intolerance, hitherto espoused by fringe elements of society, are seeping unmistakably into mainstream politics.

No sooner had the Joplin mosque been burned to the ground than did support from the broader Muslim American and non-Muslim community pour in. Within a matter of days, the mosque was able to raise more money than it had anticipated.  The rapid response toward this act of violence demonstrates the vitality of the Muslim community in responding to national tragedies targeting their places of worship. Although the arsonist hasn’t been caught, and the motives are unknown, the destruction of property in this case is part of a rising trend of hate crimes that have swept the nation since the election of Obama, as documented by anti-hate crime organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Amidst the dismaying reality of mosque burnings taking place in the year 2012, in other news, a positive turn of events have resulted after the two year struggle to open the mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Since the Islamophobic fallout from the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy in the summer of 2010, the Muslim community behind the Murfreesboro mosque has fought grassroots and national opposition in order to build and worship in their mosque.  In a blow to religious intolerance, local authorities granted permission for the community to occupy the mosque. Across the nation, while the construction of Muslim places of worship continues to be challenged, the successful ending for the mosque in Murfreesboro illustrates that Islamophobia can only be confronted with a united Muslim front, the irrevocable commitment to not back down in the face of hate, and the hope that common sense will prevail in the justice system.

Not only have virulent attacks been waged at Muslim private property this summer, but even the participation of Muslim Americans in public life – particularly in government, has been contested. The most prominent victim of the right-wing’s fear mongering over the steady creep of “sharī‘ah” into the US government has been Huma Abedine, a longtime Hillary Clinton aid and wife of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. In June, Michele Bachmann, a conservative Tea Party congresswoman from Minnesota sent a letter to the State Department claiming that Abedine has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the flimsy accusation, high level government officials from across the aisle, such as president Obama and John McCain came to Abedine’s defense, citing her good character and stellar record as a government employee.

As can be recalled, this is not the first time Obama has been confronted with the opportunity to distance himself from Muslims (see here and here). Since the early days of his campaign, elements of the right wing and the mainstream Republican Party have wanted to label him as a foreigner, whose very legitimacy as president can be questioned. Since the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, coordinated efforts by well-funded right wing groups have been fanning the flames of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and if they continue to have their way, witch hunts such as those which have targeted Abedine and others will become more commonplace.

While the mosque burning in Joplin and the Abedine affair have received some attention in the mainstream media, one other issue of great consequence to Muslim Americans has gone under the radar. After it was revealed earlier this year that the NYPD had launched a six-year long surveillance of Muslim communities across the East Coast, this month the NYPD admitted that this spying program lead to no leads or useful intelligence on terrorism investigations. After secretly tracking the mundane activities of countless Muslims, including the activities of Muslim Student Associations, it is no surprise that the NYPD came up with no leads. That’s because numerous studies have found that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens who do not sympathize with terrorism.

Rather than devoting their resources toward combating the real threat of white supremacy movements, taxpayer money was wasted on the illegal surveillance of an innocent community. Imagine the outrage by politicians if any other community (read: those whose votes are of consequence to the reelection of politicians) would have been targeted by this extrajudicial spying. Take for example, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who in the past defended the appointment of Muslim judge Sohail Mohammed to the state bench against sharī‘ah fear-mongerers. However, almost a year later, with regards to the NYPD’s Muslim spying activities in his state, not only does Christie believe it to be legal, but the governor has only tepidly criticized the program. Unfortunately, the American political establishment remains slow in questioning the surveillance tactics being deployed by national security entities, which disproportionately target Muslims. For more on the shockingly public assault on Muslim civil liberties, listen to a segment of NPR’s ‘This American Life’ featuring a tell-all by an undercover FBI informant  (aka “mosque crawler”) spying on Muslims in a Southern California mosque.

As it currently stands, Muslims have become fodder for both political parties in the US. For the Democrats, any factor connecting Obama to Muslims is political kryptonite, especially given that this is an election year. Meanwhile, the Republican Party establishment is becoming ever more co-opted by ultra-nationalist right wing personalities, who have benefited politically from engaging in Muslim bashing. For those doubting that these voices of intolerance are having success in mainstream parties, there is reason to believe that the GOP will include an anti-sharī‘ah stance in their party platform at this year’s Republican national convention. Extremist ideas are steadily morphing into acceptable political dogma, with no end in sight.

While the political marginalization of Muslim Americans is certainly bi-partisan, it comes as no surprise that a recent poll conducted by the Arab American Institute found that compared to Democrats, Republicans feel least favorable toward Muslims and Arabs, and are more troubled of the idea of these groups in government. The results of this poll illustrate that public opinion and the action of political leadership exist in tandem – so long as political leaders remain irresolute about protecting minority rights, the opinion of the masses will follow suit. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle continues to be fed during each election season.

Safia Farole is a second year PhD student in the department of Political Science at UCLA. She studies in the areas of Comparative Politics and Race, Ethnicity and Politics, focusing specifically on the politics of identity, public opinion, and immigration and integration in Western democracies.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    September 10, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    DeleteDelete

  2. Avatar

    Nahyan

    September 10, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Unfortunate reality is no one’s trying to gain the Muslim vote, ie. looking into our community interests/rights. We’re just collateral damage from them flexing their political muscle.

    ps. Very well written article mashaAllah, impressed by how many ideas/references it encompassed.

  3. Avatar

    Waleed Ahmed

    September 10, 2012 at 9:40 PM

    Well written and well said : )

  4. Avatar

    Zorro

    September 13, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    So which American diplomat do you want to kill next, in the name of…

  5. Avatar

    Anon

    October 30, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    Such incidences will only increase. Muslims will never be integrated into the West as its prevailing culture – or at present, lack thereof – is anathema to Islam.

    This may be seen as “sad”, and certainly from the point of view of Muslims in the West, it is. However, Islam is a strong religion which stands out from what it is not, and cannot be ‘assimilated’ into Western culture without losing its identity.

    This is laudable, and shows that our deen is complete, and not an accessory to add on to your personality. It may mean that in 100 years Islam is kicked out of Europe and America. If it means that it becomes more distinguished from other religions and cultures, so be it. I’d rather have the true Islam , than a watered-down, liberal version of it.

    Muslims currently living in the West can always relocate. Their families did it before them, and they can do it again, if needs be.

  6. Avatar

    One United Ummah

    December 20, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    mashaalh Anon you said so perfectly.

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#Current Affairs

Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks

Hena Zuberi

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In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.

The statement reads:

“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!

Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”

Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.

The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.

Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy.  Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam  Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.

“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan

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Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar

JazakAllahuKheiran


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com


Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News


Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc


Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News

 


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center


Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN

 

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#Current Affairs

From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction

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This article was originally published on Groundviews

 

As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.

Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.

Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.

A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity.  A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.

The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.

What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.

No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.

How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?

It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.

To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.

The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.

Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.

The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.

If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.

Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.

Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.

This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.

Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.

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