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Leading US Presidential Candidates Normalize Anti-Muslim Sentiment

In A Measure of Islamophobia, published by the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at UC Berkeley, author S. Sayyid contends that to label something as being Islamophobic “is a constitutive act; it enables the gathering of disparate elements into recognizable formations of cruelty and injustice, which is the first task of making demands for their rectification.” Sayyid goes on to suggest that Islamophobia should be understood as “belonging to a family of racism.” and that marking something Islamophobic allows us to see what he calls “the persistence of the racial in the post-racial.”

Sayyid later poignantly notes that Islamophobia continues to be viewed as being almost fantastical in nature. An example of this is a statement delivered by then-presidential candidate Marco Rubio during a Republican debate in February wherein he claimed that it’s “fiction that there’s widespread discrimination against Muslim Americans.” Rubio’s dismissal of pervasive bigotry against Muslims is its own kind of gas-lighting—telling victims that what they are experiencing is simply not real.

In recent years, months, and weeks, we’ve witnessed what can best be described as a formulaic normalization of anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by leading political personalities, and candidates running for president of the United States of America.

Presidential front-runner Donald Trump recently argued during a Republican debate in Florida that the religion of Islam, and by extension its adherents, has a problem with the United States, saying that “Islam hates us.” Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz has called for law enforcement to monitor and patrol “Muslim neighborhoods;” Cruz, much like other Republicans and conservative pundits, never misses an opportunity to use terrorism mythology in order to promote hyper-militarized domestic and foreign policy.

The specter of terrorism, embraced in part by the media’s stenographers of power, is not without consequences. In November, the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg in Florida received a threat on their voicemail that was so specific and so chilling that the FBI was called. The individual left a voicemail saying he had a militia that was going to come down to the mosque and firebomb attendees and “shoot whoever’s there on sight in the head.” “I don’t care if they’re (expletive) 2 years old or 100,” he said.

Last December, the Islamic Society of Palm Springs, located in Coachella, California, was firebombed by 23-year-old Carl James Dial. According to a report by KESQ News, the man had thrown a “molotov cocktail-like device” at the mosque, causing a fire and smoke damage. This hate crime came nine days after the attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Dial was later sentenced in February to 6 years in state prison.

Saleh Saleh, board president of the Islamic Society of Palm Springs, told Shadowproof that the attack on the mosque in December was not the first terrifying incident for the house of worship. “There was an individual who left hateful messages before the attack, and they were given a warning by authorities. And six months before the fire, someone shot at the masjid during fajr prayer. It was a drive-by shooting. The gunshots hit the masjid and a vehicle in front of the building. They were never caught.”

Four people were inside the mosque at the time. When pressed about the media’s portrayal of Muslims, Saleh says there’s a campaign targeting Muslims in the United States, and “the media is making people hate each other.” “There always needs to be an enemy for them,” Saleh went on to say. “And now, they’re making Muslims into enemies. But thankfully the local community that knows us is good to us.”

Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of CAIR-Arizona, says that in the wake of multiple armed mosque protests in Phoenix they received online threats targeting the CAIR office. “There have also been hate phone calls and letters sporadically, usually as anti-Islam rhetoric amps up,” Siddiqi said.

“There’s always a consistent flow of hate that you receive when you’re a prominent Muslim organization that speaks up on behalf of the Muslim community. Sadly, anti-Islam groups—including some groups run by Muslims—are consistently engaged in a campaign of trying to smear and undermine the work of Muslim activists and organizations. The output of this is an increase in hate messages and calls. At the end of the day, it’s just noise and we push forward.”

One way in which Siddiqi is pushing back is through not only his work at CAIR-Arizona but with a new project called Hate Hurts, which tracks and deconstructs Islamophobia.

While Islamophobia is arguably presented as being more of a “U.S problem,” anti-Muslim violence has been widespread internationally. After the attacks in Paris last November, there was a terrifying increase in the number of assaults on Muslims in Canada, for example: the sole mosque in Peterborough, Ontario was deliberately set on fire, causing $80,000 in damage, leaving it completely uninhabitable; in Toronto a Muslim woman wearing the hijab was punched in the face and stomach by two men who called her a “terrorist” and told her to “go back home.” Her brother later told reporters that his sister was “scarred for life.”

In Australia, a severed pig’s head was left in the bathroom near the mosque at the University of Western Australia, and in Blackburn, Lancashire, there were two pig heads left outside of the Markazul Uloom School, which was also vandalized with the words “no mosque.”

The victims of anti-Muslim sentiment and policies are many, and they often include those who have the misfortune of looking Muslim. Similar to the contagion-like Red Scare, what Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, aptly called the “Green Scare” remains a powerful driving force moving the military industrial complex forward. Until Islamophobia is acknowledged, at the very least, as an extension of racist orientalist attitudes then there can be no resolution. And, in order to fight back against this wave of anti-Muslim violence, we must first accept this violence exists.

Drew Franklin (Screen shot from Drew for D.C. website)
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.