Trickle-Down Bigotry Abounds

What does it mean to be a Muslim in the United States? For many of us, that includes some form of consistent discrimination or prejudice, whether on the streets or in the classroom. Islamophobia has become one of the most poignant issues for Muslim Americans, a community that makes up less than 1 percent of the American population. According to a 2015 Brookings Institute poll, 61 percent of Americans held an unfavorable opinion of Islam. Dealing with the consequences of consistent anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and in politics, Muslims’ struggle for an acceptance into the broader American community has been exacerbated by the most recent election cycle.

Awareness about Islamophobia arguably took off in 2015 after the Chapel Hill murders of Deah Baraka and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha in what was reported to be a “parking dispute.” Muslims around the United States, myself included, held vigils and protests to raise awareness about the largely unaddressed yet prevalent Islamophobic culture present in America. Islamophobia has become increasingly discussed in the media here in the United States and in other countries such as Britain and France.

One of the largest sources for the rise of Islamophobia has been domestic politics and the media’s portrayal of the violence in the Middle East. With terrorist organizations and militancy movements throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa, media reporting has caused the religion of Islam to be closely tied to groups such as Boko Haram, the Taliban and the Islamic State Group. These two things have been so closely tied together that Sheldon Adelson’s famous quote, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Islamic” has taken hold in much of the American psyche.

Others have gone even further, as the Republican presidential candidates seemingly took up a competition to make the most Islamophobic statements. When all the frontrunners of the 2016 Republican Party start saying that the United States should never have a Muslim president — Ben Carson — or that police should “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” — Ted Cruz — we know there is a problem.

No one has made the issue of Islamophobia bigger than Donald Trump. By calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants and the registration of Muslim-Americans into a database, Trump’s bigotry and discourse on “radical Islam” provides some Americans with a justification for displaying their discomfort toward Muslims. Many see Trump as the symbol of free speech, and with his attacks against Islam, supporters are more emboldened to act.

Such a rise in Islamophobia stems from the effect of “trickle-down racism.” It does not even matter if Trump wins the 2016 presidential election; the rhetoric and statements have already caused current and future damage. By becoming the American symbol for a pattern of xenophobia, he has already begun a movement that will impact the United States for years to come. With every statement directed against Muslims, the more and more the average American citizen will begin to believe such things to be fact. This does not just apply to Muslims either; whether it is the comments about Mexicans or the LGBTQ community or women, the fact that Donald Trump is able to say these things without consequence results in others believing they can and should do the same.

The second thing is that this rhetoric causes “normalized Islamophobia” in politics, media and culture. Awareness of Islamophobia has definitely increased in this past year, but at the same time, so has Islamophobia in general. Consistently pairing terrorism and Islam together causes an association and, over time, people forget there is a difference. Media groups ranging from Fox News and Breitbart News Network talk about Islam in a negative light over and over again, causing people to be more readily used to Islamophobia and less willing to speak out against it.

Although Islam’s image has become increasingly negative over the past few years, many more people have also developed strong interests in learning about and studying the religion, culture and society of Muslims. There is now also more potential in raising awareness about the issues of Islamophobia. Georgetown has been doing work in this field through the Bridge Initiative, a research center established in April 2015 that seeks to educate American society about Islamophobia.
Yet at the end of the day, the pervasive effects of the normalization of prejudice will permeate long after “The Donald” fades from the stage, and combating Islamophobia will likely turn into a lengthy struggle as opposed to a simple flashpoint of this election.

 

Saad Bashir is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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3 Comments

  1. The murders of Deah Baraka and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha were not the result of Islamophobia or Republican or conservative rhetoric.

    If you actually read about the killer, you’ll learn he was a liberal Democrat, and that the killings had to do with having many run-ins with Deah concerning a parking space. The fact too was that the killer was a Democrat whose FB page showed him to be a fan of Rachel Maddow and the Huffington Post.

    When the killings happened because the victims were Muslim we had Muslim advocacy groups try and promote it as a hate crime just like the BLM crowd does every time a black guy gets shot by a cop, no matter the circumstances. Instead, this was a case of an amoral jerk, emotionally unstable person, or just some guy who temporarily lost it. The case got a lot of attention and was properly investigated and the conclusion was it wasn’t a hate crime.

    I understand the need to play the identity game on campus in order to compete for attention and special funding or programming, but if you really want to contribute to society you’ll avoid the dishonest rhetoric.

    If you’re really concerned about improving the views of Muslims in the world, how about you write something about the genocide of the Yezidi and the many female sex slaves they continue to hold or the extermination and displacement of may Christian communities throughout the Middle East (Assyrian, Chaldean, Coptic) whose ancestors have been there thousands of years? Sadly, I’ve not once heard you or any other Muslim at Georgetown speak out about that.

    But hey, I get it. You’re competing in the Oppression Olympics to see who gets to be the Hilltop’s biggest victim group.

  2. Saad,

    You imply in your first paragraph that you have been the victim of consistent discrimination in classes on the Hilltop. Can you please give us some examples? And have you contacted anyone in the administration or filed a complaint? This is a serious issue.

    I’m interested too in hearing whether or not you’re actually experiencing bigoted behavior or just have people disagreeing with your views, and that as a result you are falsely accusing them of being “Islamophobic” when the reality is they’re not scared of you or other Muslims, they just happen to think differently.

    Thanks!

  3. The first response to any opinion should be to take a breath. The first response to an opinion you disagree with should be 5 breaths. And the first response to an opinion you read online should be 10 deep breaths, a walk around the block, and if you have a puppy in the vicinity, perhaps some quality playtime. Having no puppy, I hope this response comes across at best as thoughtful and at worst as calm.

    When our first response to a call to notice oppression is to find disagreement with either the author or the story, we all lose. Unfortunately, at least to me, these two comments fall into that trap. I am not saying that there cannot be disagreement or debate, the opinion section of a paper exists for that sole reason, but when our disagreement stems from our own opinions that we hold on to so tight we can never accept another view, or even acknowledge it, there can be no growth. Here, I (emphasis on I) see that in two comments whose first reaction is to question specific assertions by the author in an attempt to discredit his whole premise, which—by my subjective view—is when the leaders and powerful members of our society use hateful rhetoric, it normalizes prejudice and bigotry.

    Yes, many people may claim a feeling of oppression when it does not exist, and we have to be wary of always coming down on the side of a victim, but when we can point to evidence that supports a statement, there needs to be an acceptance that maybe the world is a little different than I first thought. What makes me most sad is how often we discredit victims simply because we use our own life as a meter by which to measure others. Every life has a dignity that comes from its uniqueness. My experience going through life is not wholly representative of any other, so when someone comes to me and says, “Look here. This is not right.” my first response is “Tell me more”. Even if the person bringing it my attention has not experienced it themselves, compassion calls me to listen. And from there, my own investigation can lead me to a new opinion or to a rational strengthening of my old one (with, of course, an acknowledgement of that dangerous pitfall, confirmation bias). Jan Karski was not Jewish, but he still could speak on their behalf.

    In the case of this specific piece, we run into the debate over Islam and its relationship with violence. For me, I have seen hatred and evil from practitioners of all religions and do not believe that Islam calls for violence more than any other. I cannot support that assertion here, but I have faith in the goodness of people and believe that when that is coupled with rational thought, almost any religion can bring brightness to the world.

    So I simply ask that we refrain from discrediting a call to notice oppression simply because we disagree with the caller or their personal experiences. This piece and the responses have led me to think critically and has brought to my attention an event I didn’t even know occurred. So I thank Saad and the two commentators before me.

    I also leave here an article that Saad’s words led me to. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/22/the-story-of-a-hate-crime

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