How the rise of Islamophobia has undoubtedly disrupted the identity and way of life of Muslim Americans in the last decade and a half.
September 11, 2001, marked the start of a new era for Muslims in the United States. Shortly after al-Qaida terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon building, many Muslims, as well as other Arab Americans became the targets of racism, violence, and anger.
The events of this day have reshaped the country for many individuals, and its impact is still prevalent among Muslims American communities, over a decade later. For the majority of Muslims living in America, the aftermath has led to widespread harassment, dehumanization, discrimination, and disempowerment which have been largely normalized through mass media and governmental policies in the United States.
Islamophobia as a Political Tool
President Donald Trump made explicit Islamophobic policies and sentiments a cornerstone of his political platform. During his administration, Trump signed an executive order on January 27th, 2017, that banned citizens from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States. These countries included: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Somalia, and Libya.
This executive order, which became known as the “Muslim Ban,” intended to halt Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely, and criticism from members of the country and fellow politicians followed. The Federal Court suspended this controversial ban on February 7th, however, the Trump administration unveiled a new travel ban on March 6th, which eluded Iraq and barred foreign nations from the other six countries from entering the United States for 90 days, and Syrian refugees for 120 days.
Hours before the second travel ban was set to begin, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii blocked the order nationwide, stating that the executive order disfavors the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.
In May 2017, the federal appeals court decided that Trump’s revised travel ban would not be reinstated, as it violates the Constitution.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has sent ripples through the Muslim American community, and this anti-Islamic sentiment reflects the pervasiveness of xenophobia and Islamophobic perspectives in the United States. It also shows the normalization and acceptability of overt discrimination as evidenced by Trump’s policies.
This normalized ideology has allowed for the rise of hate crimes against Muslims and other marginalized communities throughout the United States.
A phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, often illogical fear of a particular object class of objects, or situation. In recent years, a specific phobia has gripped Western societies – Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is the exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslim peoples, that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in the marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion of Muslims from social, civic, and political life.
In post-9/11 America, Muslims have been inextricably linked to terrorism in the public imagination. Americans have consumed headlines about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Patriot Act, violent extremist organizations, and the Muslim ban, all of which have perpetuated the discriminating association between Muslims and terrorism.
Although Islamophobia existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this anti-Muslim sentiment increased sharply in the past decade. In a 2001 meeting, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, as well as the League of Arab States, identified Islamophobia as an important area of concern.
Like other forms of intolerance, however, Islamophobia can be objectively assessed. Empirical studies have proved to be an effective means of showcasing this prejudice, one that plagues both sides of the spectrum.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported that in the six months following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, 1,717 hate crimes were committed against Muslims. Immediately following these attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that violence against Muslims had increased by 1600 percent.
As the years passed, the number of hate crimes dropped, according to the FBI, but the damage was already done. For years, Muslims in the United States felt unsure about their place in American society, according to the research initiative by the University of California, Berkeley, entitled “Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project.”
Almost 80% of Muslim Americans surveyed said they feel at least somewhat worried about the safety of their family in the United States.
After each election cycle, that uncertainty and worry were only exacerbated, as Islamophobia has become a political tool, with public figures and media using the fear against Arab Americans and Muslims to rile up their bases.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment were used against former President Barack Obama during both of his presidential campaigns, even though Obama is a Christian. Xenophobic and racist rumors about his religion and birthplace were used to stoke mistrust and outrage against Obama, which only weaponized pre-existing fear towards Muslims.
Opponents doubled down on conspiracy theories about Obama concerning his religion and nationality, falsely claiming he was not born in the United States or that he secretly practiced Islam.
Anti-Muslim sentiment continued during the 2016 election cycle, during which Islamophobic hate crimes surged once again.
In 2015, there were 257 hate crimes against Muslims, and 307 in 2016. Experts link the rise in hate to the anti-Muslim community being espoused on the political stage.
Overall, the main assertion that Muslims largely support extremist violence, is groundless. Islamophobia distorts the western image of Muslims, as Islamophobia attitudes have gripped the West since 9/11.