Muslim in Fatih, Istanbul. Image by Frank van Leersum via Flickr Creative Commons.

Islamophobia | The Current Face of Racism in America

By Dan Yaseen

Islamophobia translates into fear of Islam. Some people may object to calling Islamophobia racism because Islam is a religion, not a race. Yes, Islam is a religion, but Islamophobia is not attacking Islamic theology, it is attacking Muslims. Discriminating against a group of people because of their religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or skin color is unacceptable. Islamophobia is racism.

The 17th-century concept of defining race based on physical and genetic variations is no longer accepted by many anthropologists, biologists, and sociologists. They now consider “race” as a cultural construct.

Wikipedia defines race as a noun, “A classification system used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, or social affiliation”.

The term Islamophobia as it is currently used, includes profiling of Muslims, discrimination against Muslims, and of Muslims. Islamophobia manifests in attacks on Muslims or people who can be perceived as Muslims. People from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries have been targeted and their places of worships have been desecrated and vandalized. So it’s not only Muslims; Sikhs and Hindus have also been attacked.

Islamophobia has existed for many decades in Western Europe and the United States. There was an increase in attacks on Muslims and people who look like Muslims after 9/11; these attacks have spiked since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times higher today than they were before 9/11.

The year 2015, which began with Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January and ended with San Bernardino attack in December, turned out to be one of the deadliest years on record for American Muslims. There were 63 reported attacks on mosques, three times the number in 2014. In February 2015, three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in what was first attributed to a “parking dispute” but was later deemed a hate crime.

Islamophobia has gone viral since presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering United States in December, in March Ted Cruz advocated “securing” Muslim neighborhoods, and in July, 2015 retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark called for “internment camps” for radicalized Americans to combat Muslim extremism. The top Google search in California in the week following the San Bernardino attack with the word “Muslims” in it was “kill Muslims”. There is a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

In his December 17, 2015 article, “A Shame on America: Hate Attacks on U.S. Muslims are Spiking – and where’s the Outrage?” on salon.com Ben Norton wrote:

“Far-right “patriot” groups have organized several hate demonstrations in which dozens of heavily armed white men stand outside of Islamic community centers with anti-Muslim paraphernalia. Photos have circulated widely online of muscular rifle-clad white men following around Muslim women outside of local mosques.

At what other place of worship would this be tolerated? If people with assault rifles stood outside of a Christian church or Jewish synagogue, Americans would explode in fury. Those with the assault rifles might be arrested for threatening worshipers; they might even be shot. When it is Muslims that are threatened, dare I say terrorized, by heavily armed Islamophobes, on the other hand, suddenly the problem is framed as a First Amendment issue.”

Why aren’t we speaking out? Why aren’t we standing up for Muslims? They are fellow Americans; they are innocents.

There is definitely some resemblance between the Islamophobia in America now and the anti-Semitism in Germany in 1930’s. Most of us understand Nazi anti-Semitism of the ‘30’s as racism because the whole premise of Hitler’s anti-Semitism was based on Aryans being a superior race compared to Jews. We all know the result was the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945. Some people have wondered how ordinary Germans could stay silent while Jews were targeted. Many Americans today are silent when their fellow Muslim, Sikhs, Arabs and South Asian Americans are being attacked.

There is a long and sordid history of racism in America and it continues today. It began in the colonial era when legal and social rights and privileges were only given to White Americans.

Before delving into this history, it’s important to consider “institutional racism.”

From Wikipedia:

Institutional racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions, as distinct from racism by individuals or informal social groups. It is reflected in disparities regarding criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, and education, among other things.

To understand the history of racism and the racism in America today we need to distinguish institutional racism from the racism of individuals and informal groups. The more onerous of the two is institutional racism. It is ingrained, impacts more people, can be difficult to identify, and requires political will to correct.

Racism against Native Americans:

With the advent of European colonization of North America in 17th Century, Native Americans became the first victims of racism. Institutional racism was implemented through segregation, reservations, residential schools and “Indian Wars.” Today, alcoholism, diabetes, and suicide rates among Native Americans have reached epidemic proportions.

Racism against African Americans:

With the arrival of African slaves in early 17th Century, racism against African Americans became institutionalized. In 1863, slavery was outlawed by the Emancipation Proclamation, but racism continued during the Reconstruction Era and beyond. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s gave more rights to African Americans. Yet today, 150 years after President Lincoln issued Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after Civil Rights Movement, racism against African American still persists. If it didn’t we wouldn’t need the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism against Latino Americans:

When Mexico lost the Mexican– American War in 1846, it ceded to the U.S. ownership of California and a large area comprising roughly half of New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. This marks the beginning of institutionalized racism against Latinos, between 1848 and 1923 at least 600 Latino Americans were lynched. Discrimination against Latinos continues, especially against recent immigrants.

Racism against Japanese Americans:

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary of War to make certain areas military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to the concentration camps. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to these camps. The majority of them were born in the United States and had never visited Japan. Half of them were children.

Racism in America has not been limited to the four groups mentioned above:

Many immigrants have been targeted by Protestant Anglo- Americans, including Asians, Jews, non-Protestants Europeans, Irish, Italians, Germans, and Poles. Racism has spiked many times in American history. And, now it is happening again.

What can we do to stop Islamophobia? We must reach out to Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs and South Asian Americans. We must stand up, speak out or shout if necessary. If we have any hope of stopping Islamophobia.

*****

Dan Yaseen is on the editorial board of the Community Alliance and president of Peace Fresno. He can be contacted at danyaseen@comcast.net or 559-251-3361

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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