Islamophobia in Contemporary US Culture

Islamophobia in Contemporary US Culture

Amanda Allen, December 2016

“All conflicts involving Muslims [is] the fault of Muslims,” Stephen Schwartz states to explain the thought process behind islamophobia. [1] Those who hold a fear against Islamic religion see terrorism of Al-Qaida as a product of the practice. The assumption that this religion is violent and motivated by holy war (jihadism) links Muslims to this ideology and absolute evil. [1] The word islamophobia itself can be argued as racist and discriminatory. The fact that there is a fear of a religion goes against everything that America is supposed to believe in with the First Amendment. It is there to protect religious freedom, yet there was a word created to persecute those who practice Islam. This “islamophobia” creates a hysteria towards all Muslims when only a small amount are extremists. [1] Stephen Schwartz defends how most Muslims follow religion just as Christians, Buddhists, and Jewish faiths would, without being “summoned” to carry out extremist actions. September 11, 2001 started an epidemic of islamophobia that spread rapidly across the nation. Recent events and media have hyped up anti-Muslim feelings with their propaganda to convince citizens that they are a threat to the U.S. This phobia sees Islam as a “religion seeking world domination.” [2] Yaser Ali believes that Islamophobia is the new intolerance replacing orientalism.[3]

The civil rights of those who appeared to be Muslim were frequently violated after the attacks on September 11. The Patriot Act was put in place which allowed the federal government the authority to invade the privacy of those who were perceived as “terrorist threats,” along with unwarranted wiretaps, and phone tapping. After 9/11, average Muslims were seen as a threat and potential terrorists. A poll was taken after the attacks which revealed that more than half of those who participated believed that American Muslims were not loyal.[3] Muslims were soon to be seen as complete outsiders and believed to be noncitizens. More than 1,200 people, mostly those from the Middle East, were detained and searched within two months after 9/11. More intensified immigration requirements were put in place, targeting the Middle East. Before the attacks, President Bush and most Americans were opposed to racial profiling within airports, but in a post 9/11 poll, more than 50% of Americans approved of it. This became so severe that Muslims or those who appeared as Muslims could be removed from airlines without reason, secretly arrested, or immigration enforcement towards this group could be selective.[3] There were two particular cases in which Americans supported islamophobic tendencies in airports after September 11. One was when a pilot refused to fly the plane until an Egyptian named Mohammed was removed. The other was when the passengers on a plane applauded when two Pakistanian men were taken out.[3]

Donald Trump has called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States during a rally in South Carolina. There have been reports of the KKK recruiting people to Alabama to try to “fight the spread of Islam in our country.”[7] These islamophobic tendencies put Muslims at risk for death threats, hate crimes, and discrimination. Attorney General John Ashcroft was a critic of Islam who, after the attack on September 11, stated “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.”[3] Senator Saxby Chambliss encouraged homeland security to “arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line” These demonstrate the intensity of Islamic intolerance growing throughout politics and soon throughout the nation.

In November of 2010, the “Save our State Amendment” was passed in Oklahoma. This Amendment banned the Sharia Laws which was specific to Islamic religion. Oklahoma put this option on the ballot and it passed through Congress. Many Muslims fought this Amendment stating that it was infringing the Establishment Clause which said that Congress can not be involved in religion. Yaser Ali believes that this Amendment deemed Muslims a second-class citizen due to the fact that they did not earn the same rights and privileges citizens of the nation who practice different religions are entitled to.[3]

Islamophobia was shown in the 2008 presidential election towards (then) Senator Barack Hussein Obama. In an effort to insult Obama, his opponents used the term “Muslim” as a slur. The opponents in the campaign were using this tactic to suggest that a Muslim would be less fit for office regardless of the fact that he is a citizen of the United States, met the requirements for running for office, and was well qualified. America’s fear and distrust of Muslims after the attacks on 9/11 were used to the advantage of President Obama’s running mates.[3] By making these accusations, his opponents were showing the American citizens that there should be a division against this group, they should be viewed as a threat to the nation, and they especially should not run the nation. By utilizing the pre existing prejudices of the citizens, Obama’s challengers were creating an even larger group of islamophobes.

The fear that Muslims will cause a disturbance or be a threat to the nation, resulted in a protest occurred in Missoula, Montana over the resettlement of Muslim refugees from Syria. Many citizens in the area demonstrated islamophobia by stating that the Muslims will upset their way of life and religion, especially Christianity. One citizen, Pat Arnone, proclaimed that “they want to convert us or they want to kill us.”[4] This goes to show how ignorant American’s thinking is toward Islamic people as a whole rather than the few that are extremists. Ray Hawk, a citizen of Montana, compared bringing in a group of refugees to someone handing you a bowl of jellybeans, telling you to help yourself, but two of them have cyanide.[4] He made this comparison to show that the United States does not know who they are bringing in, insinuating that some of those refugees could secretly be there planning a terrorist attack on the country.

A hate crime can be defined as a crime driven by a racial discrimination. Islamophobia throughout America has been taken as far as emotionally harassing or physically abusing those who are Muslim. Personal accounts of this happening are all too familiar to individuals who are Muslims living in the United States. One Muslim family (the Usmani’s) from North Carolina have stepped out to talk about the incidents of prejudice their family has faced. Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani came forward with times in which his family was attacked for their race and ethnicity. Usmani’s 8 year old son came home one day after being told that his father was terrorist. Even though Usmani was born and raised in America, the accusations still drove his son to inquire about his father’s religious intentions. This led him to remove his child from school. After multiple threats from their neighbor, police intervention was required for their safety.[5] The Usmani’s mosque was threatened one day by a man who showed up with multiple weapons and an intent to harm them. This man left bacon on the steps leading into the mosque, an obvious insult towards Muslims, as their faith does not allow them to eat pork. When police arrived, they found 500 rounds of ammunition inside the man’s truck.[5] The Usmani’s are not the only Muslims to face hate crimes in the United States with growing islamophobia. On a Southwest Airlines flight, a 37 year old man Gill Parker Payne ripped a Muslim women’s hijab (a religious headscarf) off after insisting multiple times that she needed to remove it. Later in court, Payne remembered saying to the women, “take it off, this is America!”[6] This man was sentenced to up to one year in prison with a fine reaching $100,000 for obstructing the woman’s right to exercise religious beliefs. According to the FBI, hate crimes towards every racial group declined from 2004-2014, except anti-Muslim hate crimes which remained almost the same (154 in 2014).[6] Anti-Muslim hate crimes continued to progress after the attack in Paris.[7]

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told his story of being an American Muslim. He states, “I’m a devout Muslim. I pray five times a day, sometimes more, if I can… And I’m also a proud American citizen. Let no one forget that….I pledge allegiance to the flag.”[8] Although Rauf has seen and felt islamophobia throughout his life in the United States he has hope that one day this irrational and ignorant fear can be overcome. Rauf discusses how Jews, Catholics, Irish, Italians, blacks, and Hispanics have all been in the same place and are accepted in society today. He goes on to explain how every religion has extremists, but these small numbers should not be reflected on the group as a whole.[8] He believes these individuals distort the religion to fit their own goals while disputing the assumptions that Islam is a religion focused on domination and killing. Rauf states ‘terrorists violate the sanctity of human life and corrupt the meaning of our faith. In no way do they represent our religion, and we must not let them define us.”[8] Rauf’s hope for overcoming islamophobia is encouraging. He suggests that rather than fighting and being fearful of each other, we should focus our collective strengths on all religious extremists to break the cycle together. Before more people are injured due to hate, it is imperative that the nation overcomes islamophobia by realizing that every Muslim is not an extremist.


[1] Schwartz, Stephen. “Islamophobia: America’s new fear industry.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 90, no. 3, 2010, p. 19+. Academic OneFile.
[2] Mohiuddin, Asif. “Islamophobia in America: The anatomy of intolerance.” Ed. Carl W. Ernst. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 23, no. 1, 2013, pp. 212, ISBN: 978-1-137-32188-6.
[3] Ali, Yaser. “Shariah and Citizenship—How Islamophobia Is Creating a Second-Class Citizenry in America.” California Law Review, vol. 100, no. 4, 2012, pp. 1027–1068.
[4] Refugee Resettlement Evokes Fear, Debate in Montana. Washington, D.C.: NPR, 2016. ProQuest. Web.
[5] Mathias, Christopher. “Islamophobia Just Drove This Boy And His Family Out Of America.” Oct 12 2016. Web. ProQuest. 31 Oct. 2016.
[6] Chokshi, Niraj. ‘Take it Off! this is America!’: Man Who Yanked Hijab Pleads Guilty to Religious Obstruction. Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, 2016. ProQuest. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[7] Miller, Michael E. Attacks on Muslims Across the Country as Trump Rhetoric Puts them in ‘the Line of Fire,’ Congressman Says. Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, 2015. ProQuest. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[8] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. “Ground Zero and Islamophobia in America.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 29.8 (2010): 18-21. ProQuest. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Further Reading
Dobkowski, Michael. “Islamophobia and Anti‐Semitism.” Cross currents, vol. 65, no. 3, 2015.
P. 321-333, ISBN: 0011-1953.

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