“I have never felt more at risk for myself and for others who identify themselves as Muslims,” says Sheikh Ali K Mashhour, Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.
Hate crimes against Muslims in America went up by 67 per cent in 2015, according to FBI’s latest report released in 2016. In 2014, this number went up by 14pc.
So, what are the reasons for this increase in Islamophobia? Mashhour blames American politicians and the news coverage of Muslims.
“Journalists are telling us what Islam is, what to think of Muslims,” he complains, referring to the coverage of violent extremism in the US.
President-elect Trump called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings in December last year. Since then, Trump has altered his statement and softened his stance on banning the entry of all Muslims. Instead, he now supports banning the entry of Muslims from “terrorist states”.
Nonetheless, Trump’s statements have only fuelled fears in the American-Muslim community.
Imam Mashhour says Trump was a “lead reason” for this otherisation of Muslims in America. “It has become, ‘If you are truly an American, then you would support these ideas,’” he believes. “One of those ideas is that these people [Muslims] are our enemy.”
Albert Cahn, director of strategic litigation at non-profit CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), sees this as a “disturbing normalisation of Islamophobia by people at the highest levels of American politics”.
Clinton also talked about this polarisation during her unsuccessful run for presidency. “He [Trump] is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” she said in a primary debate last December. “They are going to people, showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit,” added Clinton. She repeated these sentiments this year in the second presidential debate in St Louis, Missouri, on Oct 9.
“Extremists on both sides feed from each other,” says Mohamed Khater, president of the Islamic Society of Central New York. “This rhetoric, when it goes to people like ISIS, they say, ‘See, we told you that the west is against Islam.’”
Khater adds that an “industry of Islamophobia” has begun to rise in the US and that some people are being funded to spread disinformation about Islam.
74 groups were identified as actively promoting Islamophobia according to a report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender. Of these 74 groups, the report alleged that 33 had access to funds close to $206 million between 2008-2013.
To deal with these rising tensions, community leaders and organisations in Islamic centres are making a cautious effort to educate both the Muslim community and the American people to counter negative sentiments attached with Islam and Muslims.
In Syracuse, New York state, for example, representatives of the Islamic Society have gone to multiple churches and three synagogues to answer questions about Islam, jihad and violence.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York City, offers a variety of workshops to educate members of the Muslim communities about their constitutional rights, interactions with law enforcement and responding to discrimination.
The Islamic Cultural Center of New York uses the weekly Friday congregation prayers, where roughly 3,000 Muslims show up on average, to encourage Muslims not to feed into the hatred and instead create a positive impact on a personal level, says Mashhour.
As Trump prepares to take over as America’s 45th president, Muslims in America will have to wait and see if he can counter this wave of Islamophobia—and, indeed, if he has any interest in doing so.
Published on Dawn.com on January 21, 2017.