At a time of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination, communities nationwide are coming together to push back. This is the third in a blog series titled "Faith Under Fire," which is meant to highlight this fight for equality and religious freedom.
It is seemingly everywhere nowadays. It’s at the center of the conversation during this perpetual election season. It’s a focal point of the anti-refugee sentiment that is stretching across the Western world. It hangs over the interactions of everyday people, those Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim.
Many say that we are living in a time of peak Islamophobia, and public opinion polls would indicate that this is true. Alongside this rising tide of anti-Islam sentiment is the output of Islamophobia: hate crimes, violence, discrimination, and threats against Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians, Arabs, and other minority groups.
Over the past year, anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination have evolved. Muslim Americans had long become accustomed to persistent Muslim-baiting on Fox News. It had become expected that rabid anti-Islam haters like Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, and others would utilize any platform they could to spew hatred for financial gain. While the wave of anti-sharia legislation that swept the nation between 2010 and 2014 had stagnated, Islamophobia was taking new forms.
What is this “output,” you ask? Armed anti-mosque protests, for one.
In Phoenix alone, we saw multiple such protests last year. During these rallies, armed militia members and people affiliated with the Patriot Movement stood with AR-15 assault rifles, screaming epithets and hate toward mosque-goers. Protestors sold “F--- Islam” t-shirts and tried to instigate confrontations with worshippers or the hundreds of people who showed up to counter-protest the event. Other such protests have propped up in many other locations — including in multiple suburbs in the Dallas Fort-Worth area; in Dearborn, Michigan; and beyond.
In many regards, we are seeing an intersection of gun culture and Islamophobia taking place in the United States. Multiple gun shops across the U.S. have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones” — attempting to fan the flames of hate while pandering to increased violent rhetoric.
This bigotry has resulted in very real consequences. One year ago, a man named Craig Hicks shot dead three young Muslims, execution-style, in their apartment. Although not officially deemed a hate crime, an undeniable link can be drawn between Hicks’ anti-Islam views, his obsession with guns, and the devastating violence that took place that day.
Muslims are also bearing the brunt of a constant stream of collective blame when it comes to the atrocities committed by those who claim to be Muslim. In the aftermath of the horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, there has been a sharp increase in the number of violent or Islamophobic incidents in the U.S. Mosques, such as Southern California’s Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, have been firebombed and heavily damaged. Reports of violent attacks against Muslims have sharply increased, as have attacks on Muslim institutions.
This is the output of Islamophobia.
But Islamophobia does not only affect Muslims. It affects many communities, most notably Sikhs. In the past few months alone, we have seen Sikh men being viciously beaten, in addition to a gurdwara — a Sikh place of worship — being vandalized in Southern California. Alongside this unprecedented upswing in violence, there are still those with major platforms — like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who say Islamophobia is not that big a deal.
Obviously, it is a very big deal. In November and December, we woke up on what seemed like a daily basis to new incidents of anti-Islam hate. The governors of more than 30 states declared they would not accept refugees fleeing one of the worst crises the world has seen since World War II. Policy proposals targeting Muslims everywhere were center stage. We at CAIR-AZ — the Arizona chapter of the Counsel on American-Islamic relations — realized something needed to be done.
In the beginning of the latest wave of hate crimes, Twitter seemed to be the best and most efficient way of tracking the attacks taking place. But while activists and journalists did their best to report on what was happening, there arose a demand for a centralized hub to track these crimes. From this need, #HateHurts emerged.
We started the blog HateHurts.net as a platform for documenting the many attacks and bringing light to the stories that were sometimes obscured by the media. We also wanted to humanize these stories, which represent more than statistics or headlines — they are about real people.
In addition to tracking hate crimes and isolated incidents, we are also highlighting stories of individuals who are affected by official policies that adversely impact scores of people. For example, a gaming company banned a professor with the common Muslim name of “Muhammad Khan” from registering on its gaming website because of the company’s attempt to comply with federal guidelines. After the story went viral on Twitter, the company responded with some fixes. Another example is the Sikh actor who was profiled at a Mexico airport and refused boarding for failure to remove his turban. It is our hope that aggregating these stories in one place will help the public better understand what our communities face.
After just two months, the project continues to evolve. Islamophobia has become a global issue, and we are now reporting on and tracking the anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment that is sweeping through Europe and beyond. We are adding more bandwidth for commentary pieces, so readers can gain insight into the feelings that discrimination, political demagoguery, and otherization evoke within members of our community. There will be more multimedia content coming as well.
As we move further into election season, it is clear that anti-Muslim rhetoric is still escalating. To counteract this hate, the first step is education.
Imraan Siddiqi is a writer, activist, and the executive director of CAIR-Arizona. He has been published in a wide variety of outlets on the subject of Islamophobia and American Muslims. He is also editor of the website HateHurts.net – a project to track Islamophobia and its fallout on multiple communities. You can follow him on Twitter @imraansiddiqi.
Read the previous posts in this series: