The Future of Islamaphobia

Originally Published April 30th, 2011:

September 11, 2001, marks a day of sorrow that resonates in America’s history. Four flights hit into the world trade center, the first struck at 8:46 am and the last at 10:03 am. Over 3,469 people lost their lives within a matter of one hour and seventeen minutes, including passengers of the flights, civilians, New York police and firefighters, and nineteen hijackers. Although it was mostly Americans who died, there were also 327 foreigners from 53 different countries. 9/11 was felt worldwide.

The repercussions of this horrific event were also felt worldwide. Only months after 9/11 came the accusation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Although these claims were unverified, they prompted military action. In March of 2003, hundreds of thousands of US and British Military troops headed to Iraq, and the UN Security Council issued an inspection of Iraq for WMDs.
Although there was and still is a war happening between Iraqi insurgents and international forces overseas, the United States’ troubles weren’t going anywhere. The US was on what seemed to be  a “patriotic high.” With all fingers pointed to Iraq and the nineteen hijackers believed to be Muslims, a new word was developed, “Islamophobia,” a noun meaning hate or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture. 9/11 was a driving force of a newfound hate of Muslims. Thousands of unjust and unexplainable arrests and murders were emerging, most for the simple fact that someone “looked Muslim.”

In 2003 Abdullah Al-Kidd was arrested at a Washington D.C. airport, detained and suffered numerous incidences of humiliation. The Kansas-born Muslim convert has yet to be informed of what he was charged with

In 2008, the war had expanded to Afghanistan, and the US had elected a new President. Barack Obama was the new official Executive and Chief of the United States of America. But this didn’t come without resistance. It’s sad that his main opposition didn’t only oppose his politics, platform, or his choice of ties, but rather his middle name. Barack Hussein Obama’s optimistic message of change was immediately ignored by a large percentage of the US population. Though a declared Christian, Obama had to work through the accusations of Islamic affiliations. I find it funny that the main concern wasn’t “oh my goodness he’s going to try and socialize medicine” but rather “oh my goodness his middle name sounds Muslim.”

Islamophobia hasn’t faded in the least, in fact, if anything, I’d say it has a stronger wave than before. The idea of “American Muslims” has become unrealistic; you are either an American or a Muslim. We’re forgetting that the immigration of Muslims to the US started in the 1880’s, during the first wave of major migration. So although American Muslim isn’t a new concept, Islamophobia is, so new that my spellcheck doesn’t recognize it as a word. “Islam” and “Muslim” were once terms that were described in a religion, but now they are tied to words like “terrorism” and “suicide bomber.”

We are reminded of this long lasting grudge when we hear of priests hosting “Burn the Quaran Day” in cities across the country, or when Masques are vandalized or burned down or mass demonstrations to protest the construction of Islamic Community Centers in places like Tennessee and New York.
Ann Arbor is only a half hour west of Dearborn Michigan, home to the largest population of Arabs and Muslims outside of the Middle East. Dearborn is also home to the only Masque in the entire United States that has a public call to prayer, known as the “Athan.” The call to prayer is recited over a loudspeaker for all nearby neighborhoods to hear. The Masque faced many court cases to make this possible; several neighboring businesses complained that the call to prayer would be “disruptive.”  I don’t see how a two-minute long call to prayer is any more or less disruptive than Church bells, whom I’m pretty sure didn’t have to go through many courts to be able to ring. In numerous countries, this public call to prayer is normal; in fact you’d have six or seven Masques call to pray within a few blocks of each other, five times a day, every single day.

According to CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, there are over 5.78 million Muslims living in the US to date. To have a multi million-person population and have only one Masque be “given permission” to do something that is commonly done – in variation – for other religions, is quite embarrassing.

Our experience with the idea of Islamophobia doesn’t even take us as far as a half-hour east of Ann Arbor but rather in Ann Arbor itself. In fall of 2010, my mother and I were walking through a market when a man asked my mother why she wears “that thing” on her head. He was referring to my mother’s headscarf, known as a “hijab.” Hijab is a display of modesty that many Muslim girls and women find as an obligation to wear. My mother replied with asking the man, “why do nuns cover themselves?” He had no response, but in many ways, several religions have a common characteristic of modesty, it just so happens that in Islam it is the hijab    

In 2009 a number of students attending Skyline High School were riding the bus on their way home. Harsh words were exchanged between a Muslim girl and a group of students. Once they arrived at their stop, it was reported that she was dragged off the bus, taken to a nearby home, and physically harassed. When her brother got wind of the situation, he tried to come to her rescue, but he was also harassed. Her injuries resulted in 6 stitches in her face. Police were told that the group of students were yelling things like “you dirty Muslims go back to where you came from.” While this story is surrounded by a significant amount of hearsay and it is impossible to know what really happened, the nature of this act is a micro example of Islamophobia in our society. If a group of students, in our very own community, can take this idea of “Islamophobia” into their own hands, and come up with such a negative outcome, I am fearful to imagine what is yet to come.