While Sept. 11 is most often remembered as a day that drastically changed U.S. foreign and domestic policy, particularly due to the advent of the never-ending “War on Terror,” many American Muslims look back on the event as a major turning point in the national perception of their religion. Islamophobia, although undeniably existent prior to the attacks, began to surge throughout the United States, later spreading to other countries throughout the Western world.
Now, nearly 16 years later, Islamophobia is more prevalent than ever, thanks to years of propaganda justifying the bombing of Muslim-majority nations and the Muslim migrant crisis in the European Union, among other factors.
Indeed, 2017 – after just two months – has already become a year of high-profile Islamophobic incidents, some of which turned deadly. The most recent of these took place last week, when a man in Kansas shot two Indian men, one of whom was killed. The attacker, upon confessing to the crime, stated that he believed his victims were not Indian, but Iranian. A month prior, a Canadian man opened fire in a mosque, killing six people and wounding 19 others.
Mosque burnings have also been surprisingly common in 2017, with four mosques destroyed just in the last seven weeks. The first took place on Jan. 7, when the uncompleted Islamic Center of Lake Travis in Austin, TX caught fire and “burned to the ground.” A week later, an Islamic Center in Bellevue, WA was badly damaged by a fire confirmed to be the work of an arsonist.
On Jan. 27, another Texas mosque was destroyed by fire, this time an Islamic Center in Victoria, TX. More recently, on Feb. 24, a fire broke out in front of the Islamic Society of New Tampa. This fire was also attributed to arson.
This has not been terribly surprising in light of the fact that 2016 was one of the worst years on record for Islamophobic acts. Last September, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stated that 2016 was set “to be one of the worst years ever for anti-mosque incidents.” A CAIR survey conducted around the same time found that 85 percent of Muslim voters believed that Islamophobia and general anti-Muslim sentiment had increased within the past year.
The Huffington Post’s Islamophobia tracker registered a total of 385 anti-Muslim acts over the course of last year, while the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 112 anti-Muslim incidents just between Nov. 9 and Dec. 12 last year.
Despite the fact that 2017’s anti-Muslim violence has been part of an existing trend, American Muslims and their advocates have been stunned nonetheless by the uptick. “In normal times, I will see one to two mosque incidents of any type per month, and rarely is it arson,” Corey Saylor, director of CAIR’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia, told Buzzfeed.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, echoed Saylor’s words, stating that “We’ve never seen four mosques burned within seven weeks of each other. It’s part of a whole series of dramatic attacks on Muslims. […] The short answer is we haven’t seen anything like this in the past.”
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