By Lena Allon
In the wake of 9/11, the Muslim community in America was targeted by both law enforcement agencies and angry American citizens. Some Muslims were deported or victimized by hate crimes. All faced a new level of prejudice. Now, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, a new wave of Muslim bashing and Islamophobia has swept the nation. While many Americans are unaware of this issue, this prejudice is very real and prevalent in the lives of many Arab-Americans and Muslims.
On November 18th of last year, Beacon hosted a Take On Hate workshop regarding Islamophobia. The speaker, Aber Kawas, started with the fundamentals: What does Islamophobia mean? The dictionary definition is a “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” Like other phobias, it is a fear that often turns to hate. Even those who are incorrectly identified as Muslim, like Sikhs, are sometimes viciously assaulted.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris, a number of Republican presidential candidates made Islamophobic statements, many of which related to the current Syrian refugee crisis. Donald Trump called for the creation of database tracking the movements of all Muslims in the U.S. and falsely claimed that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks. He also called for a ban on all Muslims entering this country. Ben Carson even compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.”
Hebh Jamal, a junior at Beacon, organized the Take on Hate workshop. On December 24th of last year, she was quoted and photographed for the New York Times front page article “Young Muslim Americans Are Feeling the Strain of Suspicion.” When she hears remarks like those of Donald Trump in the news, she feels “incredibly sad” and “incredibly humiliated.” She says, “I am forced to continue to think about whether I am the enemy. [These comments] make you question everything you believe in.”
While these recent events are deeply offensive and unnerving, unfortunately, Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon and the views held by these politicians are all too common. Many Americans have come to link terrorist attacks with the practice of Islam, and they assume that all Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers when this could not be farther from the truth. In fact, according to data from the New America Network, right wing extremists have carried out twice as many lethal terrorist attacks as Islamic jihadists since 9/11. Christian extremists also carry out many terrorist attacks—including a recent shooting at an abortion clinic—but often, they are not labeled as terrorists and there are no politicians trying to ban Christians from entering the country.
Furthermore, the media often perpetuates Islamophobia. For example, the TV show Homeland reinforces stereotypes by portraying Muslims and Arabs as untrustworthy. It is also filled with basic errors about Islam and the Middle East, which has generated a lot of anger. These mistakes include lumping together various Middle-Eastern, Arab, and Islamist groups from al-Qaeda to Hezbollah. In one highly publicized incident, Arab graffiti artists were hired to make the set of the show look more authentic. Instead, they scrawled at least half a dozen messages slamming the show in Arabic. One said “Homeland is racist.” Ironically, the producers of the show had no clue as to what the graffiti really said because they were unable to read Arabic.
Sadly, Muslim people across the nation have been targeted by those who buy into these harmful, inaccurate stereotypes. Muslims have been physically attacked, emotionally traumatized, and politically disenfranchised. The number of attacks on mosques has drastically increased, as has the number of violent attacks on Muslim women wearing hijabs. But recognizing the prejudice and danger Muslims face every day isn’t enough to prevent further stereotyping and violence. How can we all, as Beacon students, take on hate and work towards greater peace in our school and in our communities?
Aber told Beacon students what they can do to fight Islamophobia in the Take on Hate workshop. She said we must continue to educate ourselves and our peers on the topic and of course, always question what we see in the media or what we hear politicians say. “Even people who fight against Islamophobia [sometimes] don’t really know why [they fight this] other than ‘it feels wrong.’ That should be reason enough,” says Hebh Jamal. “But unfortunately, it cannot be enough.” Increased awareness of Islamophobia is just the first step. Understanding why prejudice exists and how we can combat it is just as important. Only then can we truly take on hate.