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Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslim Americans endanger everyone

Updated on February 1, 2012


Is America returning to another period of racial and ethnic strife, reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan era, the detention of Japanese-Americans, or the national upheavals of the civil rights movement?

Widespread racist anxiety over the ascendancy of a black political leader, Barack Obama, to the U.S. presidency has apparently provoked a frenzy of unbridled racism and xenophobia to ooze out of the social fabric of the nation.

This new surge of bigotry sweeping the USA has multiple targets — including blacks, Latinos, Jews, immigrants, and others — but seems to be directed particularly against America's Muslim population. As Robert Steinback has noted in a detailed Summer 2011 analysis in the Intelligence Report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, "in Muslims, those inclined to bigotry may have found their perfect bogeyman."

U.S. Muslims in crosshairs

"Nearly a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new wave of bigotry and discrimination is affecting the everyday lives of many Muslim Americans" likewise warned an article in the St. Louis Beacon (29 March 2011), citing Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and several Muslim leaders. Testifying at a hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, (Democrat of Illinois), Perez noted that "We continue to see a steady stream of violence and discrimination targeting Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities."

Perez went on to describe what he called "a headwind of intolerance" that had descended on many U.S. Muslim communities, prompting "fear of violence, of bigotry and hate." Complaints of harassment against Muslims at school and workplaces had been increasing, he reported; in addition, in 2010 alone, the DOJ had opened 14 investigations into complaints of illegal activity or harassment involving organized opposition to the construction of new mosques.

But the surge of hatred against Muslims, their families, and their communities goes far beyond mere harassment and opposition to new mosques. "Recent news reports strongly suggest a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes" reports Robert Steinback in his above-cited Southern Poverty Law Center analysis, aptly titled "Jihad Against Islam".

"Of course, there has been serious terrorism from homegrown Muslims in this country" notes Steinback. This, plus the lingering anger within much of the American public over the 9/11 attack (apparently instigated by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan), plus recent inflammatory rhetoric and actions by several prominent U.S. politicians, has fueled an impulse to blame all Muslims for the actions of a relatively tiny few extremists.

However, Steinback also cites a study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in early 2011 which found that, of dozens of "suspected plots" by Islamist extremists, described as "foiled before execution", fully 40% were revealed to law enforcement authorities by other Muslims. In a similar vein, Steinback reports, a 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found widespread concern among American Muslims over the rise of Islamic extremism around the world, with 76% "very or somewhat concerned"; in addition, "a similar proportion opposed suicide bombing in all cases."

Steinback further notes that many law enforcement agencies reject claims by Republican U.S. Representative Peter King of New York that the majority of Muslims fail to cooperate with police.

Collective punishment as a form of terrorism

However, there's another aspect to this issue of blaming the entire Muslim faith (and ethnic communities) for the actions of rogue extremists. In doing this, say some observers, the demagogues and racist agitators are implementing the deceptive practice of collective punishment. As described by Wikipedia,

Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people as a result of the behavior of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. In times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and is a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions.

This is a vicious policy that was intensified by the activities of the Nazi-dominated German state, through its police, security, and military forces, both before and during World War II. In fact, it was the application of this policy, following the November 1938 assassination of a German official by a young Polish Jew in Paris, that gave the Nazis the pretext for the horrible anti-Jewish pogroms of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), marking a sinister intensification of the Nazis' persecution of the Jewish population in all of Germany and much of Austria.

The Nazis' indulgence in collective punishment certainly didn't stop there. As the Crimes of War Project website relates,

In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there.

Thus, for the Nazis, collective punishment (and its implicit threat as a weapon) was itself an important and useful form of terrorism. And it's precisely this same kind of policy — with its own implicit terrorism — that America's Muslim-hating politicians and agitators advocate today.

"During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so-charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control" writes Warren J. Blumenfeld, an Associate Professor in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University. In a Huffington Post article titled "Islamophobia Has No Place in the United States of America" (26 Jan. 2012), Prof. Blumenfeld explains that "Islamophobia can be defined as prejudice and discrimination toward the religion of Islam and Muslims who follow its teachings and practices."

Like many Americans, Prof. Blumenfeld is seriously troubled by today's vicious attacks on minority ethnic groups. "I find the current political tenor very disconcerting as candidates attack, demonize, stereotype, and scapegoat not only other candidates, but also entire groups of U.S. citizens whom they blame for causing the problems of our country."

Terror in Norway inspired by American Islamophobia

Already the steady drumbeat of racist agitation stoking fear and hatred toward America's Muslim communities has had murderous consequences ... in, of all places, Norway.

In an August 2011 report titled Fear, Inc.: The Roots of Islamophobia Network in America, researchers for the Center for American Progress (CAP) connect the dots in a chilling tale of horrible mass murder inspired by the virulent hate propaganda of the anti-Muslim network in the USA:

On July 22 [2011], a man planted a bomb in an Oslo government building that killed eight people. A few hours after the explosion, he shot and killed 68 people, mostly teenagers, at a Labor Party youth camp on Norway’s Utoya Island.

Initially, the researchers recount, pundits and much of the news media establishment, including "newspapers of record" such as the Washington Post and the venerable New York Times — themselves caught up in the prevalent tidal wave of Islamophobia — rushed in to speculate that the perpetrator of these terrifying events must surely have been a radical Muslim with Al-Qaeda connections and a “jihadist” motivation. Well, oops...

But by the next morning it was clear that the attacker was a 32-year-old, white, blond-haired and blue-eyed Norwegian named Anders Breivik. He was not a Muslim, but rather a self-described Christian conservative.

Breivik not only claimed responsibility for his terror attacks, but also proclaimed that this kind of violent action was “necessary” to "save" Europe from Marxism and “Muslimization”. Figuring prominently in this case is Breivik's 1,500-page "manifesto", a rambling tract recommending methods of attack with the intent to inspire others to similar extremist violence to combat what he called the “ongoing Islamic Colonization of Europe”.

Breivik’s lengthy tract is packed with references and citations to American anti-Muslim pundits, agitators, bloggers, and other provocative propagandists, all quoted as experts on Islam’s alleged “war against the West.” As the Fear, Inc. report explains,

This small group of anti-Muslim organizations and individuals in our nation is obscure to most Americans but wields great influence in shaping the national and international political debate. Their names are heralded within communities that are actively organizing against Islam and targeting Muslims in the United States.

The CAP report further notes that, on the basis of the "sheer number of citations and references to the writings of these individuals" in Breivik’s manifesto, "it is clear that he read and relied on the hateful, anti-Muslim ideology of a number of men and women ... who work together to create and promote misinformation about Muslims."

By far two of Breivik’s most heavily cited anti-Muslim sources are Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, described as co-founders of an organization called Stop Islamization of America. According to CAP, the Anti-Defamation League has fingered this as a group whose actions and rhetoric promote

a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam. The group seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy “American values.”

"While these bloggers and pundits were not responsible for Breivik’s deadly attacks," observes the Fear, Inc. report, "their writings on Islam and multiculturalism appear to have helped create a world view, held by this lone Norwegian gunman, that sees Islam as at war with the West and the West needing to be defended." The report also cites former CIA officer and terrorism consultant Marc Sageman's warning that, just as religious extremism “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged,” the writings of these anti-Muslim misinformation experts are “the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.” Sageman adds that their rhetoric “is not cost-free.”

Utoya Island massacre (left), Anders Breivik (right). Brevik's terrorism was inspired by U.S. Islamophobes.
Utoya Island massacre (left), Anders Breivik (right). Brevik's terrorism was inspired by U.S. Islamophobes. | Source


Domestic terrorist acts against American Muslims

While the Norway massacres represent the most deadly terrorist atrocity to date that can be linked directly to inspiration from American anti-Muslim Islamophobic propaganda, it doesn't take much imagination to foresee a similar Muslim-hating American terrorist inside the USA, similarly inspired to produce a similar tragedy. This can be inferred from the trend of steadily more vicious hate crimes perpetrated against American Muslims (or individuals apparently mistaken for Muslims because of appearance, such as complexion or dress).

The list below provides just a small sampling of a few of the more egregious hate crimes and vicious acts of harassment against Muslims in the USA in recent years.

• September 2004, Berkeley, California — Eight female Muslim students at the University of California were attacked by three white males who "sprayed water on them, pelted them with water bottles, screamed derogatory statements, and mocked the traditional hijabs worn by some Muslim women" (reported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights). One of the women was called an "East Oakland n----r", and two of them recounted that they experience frequent verbal racial taunts.

• July 2007, Lake Tahoe, California — Two men on a Lake Tahoe beach severely kicked and beat 38-year-old Vishal Wadhwa, causing him to suffer fractures of several facial bones and an orbital fracture in one eye. The men attacked Wadhwa after he approached them when they taunted him, his fiancée, and her cousin as "terrorists", as "relatives of Osama Bin Laden," and with other slurs. The men apparently mistakenly believed the three victims "were Iraqi or Iranian or Middle Eastern", although, in fact, Wadhwa and his family are all Indian-American. (Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights report)

• September 2007, Locust Valley, New York — Zohreh Assemi, an Iranian-American Muslim owner of a nail salon, was robbed, beaten, and called a "terrorist" in what authorities called a "bias crime" (reported in Wikipedia).

Assemi was kicked, sliced with a boxcutter, and had her hand smashed with a hammer. The perpetrators, who forcibly removed $2,000 from the salon and scrawled anti-Muslim slurs on the mirrors, also told Assemi to "get out of town" and that her kind were not "welcomed" in the area.

Assemi's friends and family said the attack followed two weeks of phone calls during which Assemi was called a "terrorist" and told to "get out of town".

• May 2010, Jacksonville, Florida — A bomb was exploded at an Islamic center.

• August 2010, New York City — A taxi driver was stabbed, with his neck and face slashed, after a passenger asked and found out he was Muslim.

• August 2010, Murfreesboro, Tennessee — Four days after the New York City stabbing of the Muslim taxi driver, unknown attackers set fire to construction equipment located at the future site of an Islamic center.

• January 2011, Dearborn, Michigan — Police arrested and jailed on a terrorism charge a 63-year-old Army veteran from California, "for allegedly attempting to blow up the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in Detroit." According to police, the man "had a long history of being angry with the United States government" and was "already known" to law enforcement officials elsewhere. Apparently he drove from California to Dearborn because of its large Muslim population. (Wikipedia report)

• March 2011, Gainesville, Florida — An extremist-right anti-Muslim Christian pastor held a public burning of a Koran; this inflamed religious Muslims in Afghanistan, provoking deadly riots that left at least 20 people dead.

• March 2011, Elk Grove, California — Two elderly Sikh men wearing turbans were shot to death on the street in what police speculate was a hate crime "committed by assailants who mistook their victims for Muslims." This follows a pattern — shortly after 9/11, at least one Sikh was murdered by a man who thought his victim was Muslim, and many others came under attack. (Jihad Against Islam report)

Source


Concluding thoughts

In assessing the background of these incidents and their implicit trend, some final thoughts come to mind:

• As noted in this analysis, to target an entire demographic group — America's Muslim population (identified religiously or culturally) — for the terror acts or other crimes of a few, is collective punishment; and collective punishment is a mechanism of terrorism itself. Therefore, ironically, the array of politicians, demagogues, and agitators stirring up hatred directed against the Muslim community are themselves fomenting terrorism.

• In their crusade of anti-Muslim hate, the network of Islamophobic bigots has proliferated over the Internet. This includes not just their own, individual websites and blogs, but infiltration of general-purpose content providers, E-zines, content aggregators, and article banks ... all in an effort to widen the spread of their campaign of hate and potential terrorism.

• As the Norway terrorist massacre case demonstrates, not just Muslims (or any targeted group) will necessarily be the sole victims of a terrorist act inspired by bigotry and hate, but rather, all of us are vulnerable.

• Undoubtedly, Muslims are merely the targets in the first line of fire from America's newly aroused legion of bigots and xenophobes — because they're clearly the most vulnerable (many recent immigrants, non-Judeo-Christian religion, dark complexion, and of course the cultural taint of Islamic extremism). But a number of other demographic segments are on the hit list of the bigots as well — undocumented immigrants, mostly Latinos, are certainly in the next line of fire, and this same tide of bigotry is lapping up against America's Latino population as a whole. And an ugly resurgence of racist hate against black Americans and Jews is under way.

But other groups are vulnerable too. Who's next — will the inferno of bigotry again roar forth against America's Italian communities? Americans of East European descent? Irish?

Rational, level-headed Americans with a strong sense of decency and justice have a duty to stand up against bigotry, to speak out, and to defend those who are the immediate victims in its target sights.


Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, freelance investigative journalist and analyst, and consultant. His blog is:

http://writingperspectives.wordpress.com

Published: 2012/01/30

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    • The Sun Lady profile image

      The Sun Lady 2 years ago from Planet Earth

      Well-researched and informative. Hopefully it brings some insight into the lives people who have fears, anger, or suspicion against Muslims as a whole population--or anyone with misunderstandings of any type of person--and helps to build a little awareness and peace. I converted to Islam about ten years ago, and my husband is also Muslim, and from the Middle Eastern region. I've been surprised and saddened by experiences of being verbally harassed by others, when wearing a hijab in public, who don't have a true understanding of the religion or the people. These incidents are in the minority, and I like to think that the people who feel a need to act out towards others so boldly are also in the minority; but even a minority of hate is unhealthy for society. I have a predominantly Catholic family, but with some atheists and Buddhists, and a very culturally diverse family. I am involved in a Tri-Faith initiative that works to build unity between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and to provide education to the community on the people and practices of these religions. Having such a diverse background, I feel a passion and obligation to speak up for unity, and it's always a positive experience to find others doing the same. Thank you for the great writing.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      This is a very good and helpful article. The differences in culture even in the Philippines is very clear. But when you relate as people and forget the tenets of faith, friendships are deep and meaningful. The hope is really for integration of moderate muslims into the larger community so that as commonalities are more clearly experienced, so too is understanding.

    • joy4856 profile image

      Shariar Joy 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York

      i loved your hub, i just published a Poll about would americans be comfortable with a muslim president... hope to find the results soon

    • profile image

      I'maMuslim 5 years ago

      Wow that is long, Almost gave up reading it half way. But a very good article. People in Asia already know of how some Americans hate us Asians and Muslims. So many news or forums have been discussing of being harassed. But i don't believe as i work in an American company and all of them are really nice.

      What i want to know is, does it always happen to tourist who visit your country?

    • LHwritings profile image
      Author

      Lyndon Henry 5 years ago from Central Texas

      ..

      Sharon, thanks for the feedback and for sharing your views. Incidentally, during the mid-to-late 1980s I worked in Saudi, based in Jeddah when the Hajj Research Centre still operated there. Also had (Saudi) friends in Dammam on the east coast (and still do).

      I'm wondering whether the U.S. soldier responsible for the recent vicious murder of civilians (including a number of children) in Afghanistan was motivated by Islamophobia (in addition to being demented).

      I agree with your comments on Iran. This drumbeat for war seems designed to alibi a forthcoming Israeli "pre-emptive" attack, but the Obama regime is clearly conflicted. Iran has something like 73 million people, and the entire MidEast-Near East is basically now a political tinderbox. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is clearly crumbling, and now there's this huge push for America to launch war with Iran and Syria as well.

      Unfortunately, the USA, with a deteriorating economic-social system, has probably entered an era of everlasting war.

      Back on the "home front" ... Islamophobia currently can only be expected to spread, especially with what seems like an imminent intensification of war in the MidEast. I see Islamophobia as just one facet of an explosion of bigotry and xenophobia in this country (Jews, blacks, Latinos, all immigrants, and other vulnerable minority groups are also targets). The loss of jobs and growing domestic social-economic crisis are simply driving larger numbers of the population out of their gourds.

      — LH

    • profile image

      SA Sharon 5 years ago

      Very good article, I find it so scary how people can just generalize and box all Muslims as terrorist extremists. Living in SA, with it's large peaceful Muslim community, I still hear people I know being scared of Muslims and think that they are all suicide bombers if it comes down to it- and these are people that I would think of as intelligent and business minded. Although I was raised Christian I still don't get this persecution of Muslims because of a few extremists and compared to the huge community worldwide, they are but a few. What scares me now is it looks like the USA and Israel are just looking for any reasons to attack Iran. No way is Iran the threat to world peace. How many wars have they had against other countries in the last decade? How many other countries have they invaded? Now ask the same about the USA and the facts speak for themselves. Syria will be next no doubt and then it's on to Iran. Then who knows maybe Russia even? When will it all end? Enough is enough of all this fear and hate.

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      Could the new "Red Menace" have a Crescent and a Star instead of a Hammer and Sickle and a Star?

    • LHwritings profile image
      Author

      Lyndon Henry 5 years ago from Central Texas

      John Sarkis — Sorry for the delay in responding. I haven't done a tally to produce any stats. I do know that some Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims and harassed. I think you could figure that the types of people that would engage in racist bashing like that wouldn't really care about getting the religion just right. Anyone with somewhat darker skin wearing clothing even slightly different from U.S. "norms" would be very vulnerable. Nevertheless, I think it can all be counted as Islamophobic acts of hate.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      This is a really excellent hub. Now, you know much more about this than I do, so I'll ask you the question. I heard once that most people who've been victims of these Muslim hate crimes, weren't even Muslims, but individuals whom looked the part. I didn't believe this at first when I heard it years ago. But then, I lived in Encino, CA and noticed that there were many Persians (Iranian) in this area---blond with blue eyes, speaking in Persian. Then it dawned on me that perhaps this comment was correct. So what do you think?

      Very useful - voted up

      John

    • LHwritings profile image
      Author

      Lyndon Henry 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Lawdoctorlee,

      Thanks for your comments. I do strongly agree that "Racist hate, particularly against Black Americans, has always been there and is still there." The USA's historic legacy of slavery remains in the particular oppression of the black population economically and socially.

      I did pause to consider my use of the term "resurgence" as I was writing this article. My basis is mostly impressionistic and anecdotal, but I do think that we've been seeing an extra resurgence of racism at least since the 2008 presidential campaign and the election of a black president. So far, it's mostly been verbal and graphic — overt in some cases, but also in the use of code language (and "code" actions such as the GOP's crusade to suppress blacks' access to voting) — but this drumbeat of verbal hate and top-level rightwing winks and nods to racism almost surely will lead to a resurgence of overt hate crimes. (During my research for this article, I was surprised to find a resurgence also in anti-semitism.)

      In any case, I strongly agree with you that racism remains pervasive in American society. The economic, educational, and social oppression of black people is systemic, and they are particularly victimized by the criminal justice system.

      LH

    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 5 years ago from New York, NY

      LHwritings, this is a great Hub, lengthy, but great! Excellent writing. The only thing I would critique would be your line, which states: "And an ugly resurgence of racist hate against black Americans..."

      I can assure you that there is not a "'RE'surgence." Racist hate, particularly against Black Americans, has always been there and is still there.

      In 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed for his part in chaining James Byrd, a 49-year old Black man, to the back of a pick-up truck and dragging him along a rural road in Texas and dumping the remains of his shredded body near a black church cemetery in 1998. Laws in Louisiana have recently been found by the courts to be racially discriminatory. You may want to read my Hub entitled "The Current Status of Black America."

      I'm a fan :-)

    • Bludwiczak profile image

      Bludwiczak 5 years ago from Western New York

      Your commitment towards studying and researching this topic has really paid off in this hub. In your part on Domestic terrorist acts against American Muslims you did a fantastic job in gathering the whole picture by listing numerous events where many people would have made a sweeping generalization from a few arbitrary case studies. These examples back up all of your points made throughout the hub really completing it.

      Good science leads to a good read. Keep it up.

    • profile image

      GavNugent 5 years ago

      Excellent hub, people need to take religion more out of the equation. People don't commit terrorist acts because they're Muslim, they do it for many reasons, social and economic included. They just happen to be Muslim. Nobody hit back at die hard Christians after Anders Breivik actions in Norway. People are using terrorism as an excuse to discriminate.

    • IndiePharm profile image

      IndiePharm 5 years ago from Niš, Serbia

      This is quite a long and a pretty good Hub about the modern problem. Nobody really understands that the faith isn't guilty if someone is bad. And when I tell bad, I think about every person who doesn't behave in good manners, no matter which fate he/she is.