Islamophobia: Insight Into the Prejudice Muslims and the Religion of Islam Face in the United States
By: Karen L. Hernandez-Andrews
Prejudice sentiment in America is a very delicate subject. With so many issues surrounding prejudice today, involving so many different people from varied backgrounds, it seems to always be at the forefront of our society. From the election of our first African American President, to the immigration issues surrounding legal and illegal immigrants in to the United States, prejudice has changed, increased, and in some cases, decreased, around many groups of people.
Before moving on, it is important to have a common, simple definition of prejudice. Prejudice is defined as, “Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.” When referring to this definition, prejudice in America began long ago, with the colonizers who first came over from across the Atlantic. Beginning with slavery; then with the decimation of the Native American people, forcing them from their land to live on reservations; to segregation of blacks; to internment camps of Asian-Americans during World War II - the groups that faced and face prejudice today are Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans and many other immigrant groups. The violence these groups faced and still face today, range from lynchings, to mass killings, to blatant hate crimes involving not only death by guns, but also by rape, torture, dragging deaths, bombs, and burning people alive.
Since the 1970’s, when America began to see the first massive influx of immigrant Muslims, many who fled Afghanistan after the Russian invasion in 1979 - the fear of and prejudice against Muslims and the religion of Islam has existed in the United States. With different clothing, a different color of skin, different foods, different cultural customs and several different languages, it is safe to say that this fear, now coined as “Islamophobia,” has existed in America for quite sometime, and since 9/11, Islamophobia is at its highest awareness ever.
Many may wonder - what is Islamophobia? Where does this term stem from? The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) states, “Islamophobia refers to unfounded fear of and hostility toward Islam. Such fear and hostility leads to discrimination against Muslims, exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political or social process, stereotyping, the presumption of guilt by association, and finally, hate crimes. In twenty-first century America, all of these evils are present and in some quarters tolerated.” CAIR continues by stating, “Islamophobia as a term and as a phenomena gained currency in part due to the popular thesis developed by Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington that argued about an impending clash of civilization between Islam and the West. When 9-11 happened, the people, already predisposed to viewing Islam with suspicion, jumped on this bandwagon and through a multitude of outlets have been successful in creating a climate of extreme prejudice, suspicion and fear against Muslims.” CAIR further explains that Islamophobia has resulted in the general and unquestioned acceptance of the following:
Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities.
Islam does not share common values with other major faiths.
Islam as a religion is inferior to the West. It is archaic, barbaric and irrational.
Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism.
Islam is a violent political ideology.
The fear and prejudice of Muslims and the religion of Islam that grips America is a fear that is brought on by many existing factors. It is my opinion that mass media is one of the biggest parties in the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims. When I refer to mass media, I am referring to everything from news shows, to television shows, films, images and even the internet. The fact is that it is almost impossible to not turn on the television every night and hear of yet again, another terrorist attack or suicide bomber. What we don’t hear along with this report is the moderate Muslim speaking out that day, condemning terrorism, in many places around the United States and the world, issuing statement after statement – statements that are rarely and mostly never carried in the news. My reaction to this is that reporting on the existing “War on Terror” and the killing of innocent people in the name of religion is much more “sexy” than the Imam, the CAIR representative, or the Muslim woman activist talking about how Islam does not justify the killing of anyone - ever.
In her book, The Muslim Next Door; The Qur’an, The Media and that Veil Thing, Sumbul Ali-Karamali writes about the several things that lead people to react with Islamophobic tendencies. One of her top reasons, as I have already pointed out, is the media. She states, “The media constantly gives a disproportionate airing to the miniscule percentage of extremist Muslims so that we get the impression that all Muslims are just like them. After the September 11th attacks, twenty hijackers illogically became the symbol for the religion of some one billion, four hundred million people. When non-Muslims commit crimes, we do not assume all their co-religionists are criminals.” Incidentally, it’s important to recognize that Ali-Karamali’s book is listed on jihadwatch.org - a site that is probably one of the most Islamophobic websites on the internet. There is a section devoted entirely to her book, called “Ten Questions for The Muslim Next Door.” After a list of questions and assumptions, trying to prove the book to be another, “deception” about Islam, there are several comments below from readers that are frightening and unquestionably prejudice - one example being, “This veil-less chick reminds me of when it was reported that the [KKK] had dumped the white sheets for business suits to seem more modern and less threatening. Just lipstick on a pig.”
The media is extremely good at distorting images and making situations seem what they are not. A prime example, are the images out of Palestine after 9/11 that showed a crowd of Palestinians jumping up and down celebrating what occurred here in the United States. One headline read, “Muslims all over the world celebrate attacks.” Ali-Karamali points out that the reality is that this was one, very small group of people, in a small village, that was under siege by the Israeli military, brandishing American-made weapons. This in no way condones their celebration of the death of thousands of people, but the reality is that Muslims were not celebrating all over the world as the media led people to believe. No, in fact, there were at least one-hundred responses from the Muslim world condemning the acts of terror. In the United States Institute of Peace Special Report, Islamic Peacemaking Since 9/11, released in January 2009, we are reminded how the Muslim world responded and how they keep responding to Islamic extremism. Right after 9/11, several organizations and Muslims spoke out, condemning the acts of terror as vicious, cowardly, barbaric and un-Islamic - most notable were the Council for American Islamic Relations, the Fiqh Council of North America, (the highest judicial body for Islam in the US), the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia - Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, (a prominent Islamic scholar), Chief Islamic Justice Sheikh Izz-Eddine al-Khatib al-Tamimi of Jordon, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, former Iranian President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. As the War on Terror has progressed and Islamic extremism has spread to such noted places as Bali, Madrid and London, the condemnations continue to come from the Muslim world as well. In 2004, King Abudullah II of Jordon in his Amman Message declared, “On religious and moral grounds, we denounce the contemporary concept of terrorism that is associated with wrongful practices, whatever their source and form may be. Such acts are represented by aggression against human life in an oppressive form that transgresses the rulings of God, frightening those who are secure, violating peaceful civilians, finishing off the wounded, and killing prisoners; and they employ unethical means, such as destroying buildings and ransacking cities: ‘Do not kill the soul that God has made sacrosanct, save for justice.’” (Qur’an 6:151).
The most recent nationwide case of an Islamophobic reaction in the media was last February, when Aasiya Zubair Hassan was brutally murdered by her husband. As the news hit the airwaves, the fact that Hassan was Muslim did too. Suddenly, within a couple of days, the killing was an “honor killing” and many were spouting that Islam is a religion of violence and Hassan’s death is just another facet of this violent religion. The fact is that Aasiya Hassan’s murder was not an honor killing - it was domestic violence, plain and simple. We did not hear of the other twenty or so women in the US who lost their lives that week due to domestic violence. Yes, every day, an average of three women die at the hands of their spouses or boyfriends across the United States. They are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, Ba’hai, and yes, Muslim, but religion is not what causes domestic abuse. As Daisy Khan, Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement in New York City wrote in the On Faith column in the Washington Post dated February 27, 2009, about Aasiya Hassan: “While I would unequivocally assert that domestic violence and religion share no connection, that religion encourages harmonious relationships in the home, nonetheless, we would be naïve to ignore the fact that some men use religious justifications to spread hate in the home. Their actions stem from other factors, namely psychological problems (a superiority complex), cultural distortions of religion (withholding rights and dignity from women), and other, economic or personal factors (frustration and anger taken out at home). But this is not religion. The apt question, therefore, is not “Is there a connection between religion and domestic violence,” but rather, what are religious leaders and laypeople doing to combat these practices? Our leaders must unequivocally deny these actions, both from within the faith and the law of the land; furthermore, they must take proactive steps to tackle the issue within our communities, whatever its many causes.”
Back in September, there was a massive Islamophobic campaign. The Clarion Fund, a 501c(3) non-profit that is said to have supported John McCain, paid newspapers all over the US, mostly in swing states, including Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, to distribute the anti-Islamic documentary DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. With at least twenty-eight million DVDs sent to over seventy newspapers, people received their weekend paper with the DVD bundled up inside. Shown originally on Fox news, the film goes as far as to cut between scenes of the Holocaust and Muslim children as suicide bombers - as if the comparison is unquestionable and natural. There are infamous “Islamophobes” in the film such as Daniel Pipes, was quoted quite a few years ago saying, “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene…All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.” (quoted in the National Review, 1990). Walid Shoebat is also in the film. Shoebat argues that parallels exist between radical Islam and Nazism. As I researched this, I wondered if any of the newspapers distributing the DVD questioned the content of the material and the blatant prejudice and racism of the film. On Huffington’s Post, I found this: “The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer reported yesterday on its ”Under The Dome” politics blog, that the paper is preparing to bundle copies of the DVD with this Saturday’s newspapers. Jim McClure, vice president of display advertising for the News &Observer, said the “ultimate decision” to distribute the DVDs had been made by publisher Orage Quarles, and compared the propaganda to harmless household samples. Quote, ‘Obviously, we have distributed other product samples, whether it’s cereal or toothpaste,’ he said. He declined to say how much the agency paid.” It is good to know, however, that readers, of at least this newspaper, were voicing their disdain for the film, with one writing in and stating: “A box of cereal? Toothpaste? Does a box of cereal or a tube of toothpaste encourage me to look with hatred and suspicion on my law abiding neighbors who have a different religion than mine? Does cereal and toothpaste lead to pogroms, religious harassment, fear and intimidation? The trailer for this video is about hate, pure and simple, and shows the video has only one goal - to instill fear and hatred of neighbor against neighbor. If I receive this DVD in my paper, that day, after twenty-two years of receiving the News & Observer, will be the last day of my subscription. Please, please reconsider this decision!”
Unfortunately there are many organizations and groups that support and encourage Islamophobia in the US. An event sponsored by one of these groups is held on college campuses around the nation. Called, Islamofacist Awareness Week, this is an in-your-face event, meant to slur, promote hate and exacerbate prejudice about Muslims and the religion of Islam. Sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center – which is also the creator of the Terrorism Awareness Project, which formed in response to 9/11, the Terrorism Awareness Project was created as the umbrella organization to run Islamofacist Awareness Week. In regard to this, The Freedom Center states: “After conferring with students from several universities who were concerned about both the ignorance about the objectives of Islamic fascism among their fellow students and also the “unholy alliance” between campus leftists and jihadists seeking to undermine the War on Terror, the Freedom Center has launched a Terrorism Awareness Project.” It further explains the project by stating, “This Project will provide conservative students with an intellectual toolkit containing all the elements of the truth about jihad: a speakers’ bureau featuring figures such as Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer; DVDs of films such as “Obsession” that dramatically underline the threat we face; printed material about the Islamists’ objectives and the successes they have had in penetrating Western culture and its institutions. The Terrorism Awareness Project will work in cooperation with Students for Academic Freedom, which now has chapters in over 150 college campuses, to help conservative student activists to demand equal time—in the classroom as well as at campus-wide events—whenever the left presents its propaganda about the war and the intentions of those who regard America as ‘the Great Satan.’”
On the Terrorism Awareness Project website, in the About Us section, it states, in part: “The war against the Islamic jihad and its religion of terror will be decisively won if we both understand the nature of the threat that confronts us and have the will to face it. The Terrorism Awareness Project will assist in achieving both these objectives. Under its banner, college students across America can take their place in defending America, which is under siege both abroad and at home.”
Last October, seventy-nine universities (some as far as the United Kingdom), took part in Islamofacism Awareness Week. In the update available online, the Terrorism Awareness Project states: “Our two previous IFA Weeks included demonstrations that involved thousands of college students, and it became evident how deeply embedded pro-Islamist Muslim student groups had become and how influential they were in making sure there was no meaningful dialogue on the War on Terror in our universities. Therefore, the Terrorism Awareness Project decided to focus Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week III on how to ‘Stop the Jihad on Campus.’ In particular, we wanted to educate others about danger represented by the growing power of the Muslim Student Association, a group which, as documents captured by the FBI have shown, is part of a network of ‘front groups’ established in this county two decades ago by the Muslim Brotherhood (godfather organization to al Qaeda) to wage a ‘stealth jihad’ of subversion against American institutions paralleling the armed jihad it was waging against American troops abroad.”
Prejudice is defined as, “Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.” As illustrated above, the prejudice that Muslims face in the United States is “Islamophobia” at its worst. Islamophobia is real; it is tangible; it is ugly. Until we, as human beings, see beyond the labels, see beyond our own fears, and see beyond our own insecurities and view our neighbors as human beings regardless of the color of their skin and their religion, our society will remain in this status quo of prejudice and dehumanization. I find that unacceptable. I hope you do as well.
Karen Hernandez-Andrews graduated from Andover Newton Theological School in 2007 with an M.A. Theological Research in Christian-Muslim Understanding. Her thesis entitled, Christians and Muslims: Their Tumultuous Historical Relations, Their Theological Differences and Their Inherent Beliefs—What Does This Mean for Our Future? includes her field work in India where she lived for two months in the Summer of 2006 researching Christian-Muslim relations in Banaras. Karen graduated from Wellesley College as a Davis Scholar in 2005 with a B.A. in Peace and Justice Studies with a concentration in Islam. At Wellesley she studied Islam extensively and wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and how they misuse religion for political gain. Currently, Karen teaches and lectures at colleges, high schools and churches, as well as with various organizations about Islam, global Christian-Muslim understanding and relations, Al Qaeda, Theological responses to terrorism, Islamophobia, and Discrimination Against Muslims Post 9/11. In March, Karen traveled with a peacemaking delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams to Israel and Palestine where she learned first hand about the efforts on the ground to end the conflict. Karen has authored and published an academic paper for the Women’s United Nations Report Network entitled, Talaq, Talaq, Talaq-Women Suffering In India Because of the Misuse of Triple Talaq, and she is also working on publishing a curriculum on Islam. In September, Karen begins work on a Master of Sacred Theology in Religion and Conflict at Boston University School of Theology, where she plans to develop a theory on theology and conflict that has yet to be explored. In her “spare time” Karen is a choreographer, loves to row, hike, swim and more, loves spending time with her daughter.