This past Thursday, in Brooklyn, NY, a man was stabbed in the stomach in front of his wife and 5 year-old child. “I’m going to stab you because you’re Arabic and deserve it,” his assailant allegedly stated.
Fear of Islam has become more prominent in everyday political discourse than ever before. From last weekend’s nationwide Anti-Islam rallies, the controversy surrounding several mosque zonings, attempts to pass anti-Shariah legislation in 20 states, the arrest of a boy with a clock, and the vitriol coming out of the current Republican primary that questions whether Muslims in office can be trusted–it is obvious that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise.
According to Gallup, 48% of Muslim Americans say they have experienced racial or religious discrimination. We have seen the horrific results of this hate in the execution style murders of three young Muslims in North Carolina, the burning down of an Islamic school in Houston, when two people in Michigan who were asked if they were Muslim and they responded in the affirmative were stabbed repeatedly, and the most recent stabbing in Brooklyn.
Our political apparatus is a key culprit in this state of affairs. Political campaigns have included statements that the US is a Judaeo-Christian country, indicating that Islam has no place here, that a Muslim president could not be trusted, that Muslims should not be included in cabinet positions, and that all mosques should be closed. Essentially, America should exclude Muslims from the definition of what it means to be American.
During president Obama’s last State of The Union address, when he rightly stated that the United States is a nation that will not tolerate anti-Semitism, the entire Congressional body stood up and applauded in support. In his next breath, when the President stated that America would stand against anti-Muslim sentiment, the chamber fell silent. Yet, Muslim American heard this silence, loud and clear. Muslims don’t belong, and our elected officials seem to agree.
This is Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is defined as an unfounded, irrational fear or hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life. This rhetoric aims to exclude Muslims from the public sphere, essentially eliminating Muslims from the definition of what it means to be American.
Yet, this exclusion of Muslim is un-American and the un-American-ness of this exclusion was emphasized in the founding of our nation.
When President Obama was candidate Obama, and running for president, questions that began to arise, Is Obama Muslim? This led to questions of can a Muslim be president, yet this was not the first time in history that these questions were asked.
On July 30, 1788, a Federalist delegate to the North Carolina convention to ratify the United States constitution was among those who wanted to have a religious litmus test in the Constitution that only a Protestant could be president. He projected his fears for the future of the country, stating, “But let us remember that we are forming a government for millions not yet in existence. I have not that art of divination. In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that Papists may occupy that chair, and Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it.” The chair he is speaking of is the seat of the Presidency of the United States. This delegate was vocalizing his fears over a Muslim becoming President.
The debate in 1788 over the ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina turned into a discussion on the possibility of Muslims as American citizens when at the time, most contemporary depictions represented Islam and Muslims as both theological and political threats. And what emerged in the debate over the ratification of the United States Constitution in North Carolina was an agreement that there would be no religious litmus test, and it forced Federalists to defend the future possibility of a Muslim president. And while at the heart of the founding of the US there were questions of identity, equal citizenship of Muslims, these were constitutionally deemed un-American questions.
The ideals that this country was founded on are values that most Americans hold dear. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a country that would be a safe place for people of all religions, a neutral religious ground for Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, Hindus, and Atheists. This was not meant to be exclusionary, but on the contrary, was predicated on state neutrality in matters of private conscience.
However, according to a Pew study conducted last September, 67% of Americans see Muslims in a negative light. This is because those very American values have become increasingly undermined. Islamophobia has led to the return of an exclusionary identity–where Muslims are the threat, and the inclusion of Muslims would mean a redefinition of what it is to be American. This irrationality is the heart of Islamophobia. As toxic and as strong as it is, is not new and it is inherently against American values, as it always has been.
As anti-Muslim sentiment continues to be an accepted part of our political discourse, and Islamophobia continues to rise, we are undermining the core values of our constitution and our founding principles. Continued silence and acceptance of our political candidates engaging in such vitriol is both racist and un-American.
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