A phobia refers to an unexplainable, disproportionate, and marked fear reaction towards something. An individual can have varied and understandable reactions to fear: avoidance, denial, sadness, hurt, etc. Fear, on a group level, elicits varying reactions as well: panic, confusion, anger, hostility, etc.
In recent years, group-level fear towards Islam and Muslims has taken an ugly turn. What makes this fear irrational and dangerous is that it is mostly targeted towards regular Muslims, the vast majority of whom are peaceful and exemplary citizens who pose no real or conceivable danger to anyone.
Islamophobia now regularly rears its head in the form of discrimination, marginalization, hateful rhetoric, and violent acts towards Muslims. In Canada, hate crimes against Muslim individuals, families, and communities doubled between 2012 and 2014. In the US, the rate increased by 80% from 2014 to 2015, a rate not seen since 2001.
In fact, there is now undeniable evidence that a US network of foundations, religious right groups, and wealthy donors fund media avenues to spread misinformation and misrepresent Islam in order to perpetuate Islamophobia.
The Donald Trump rhetoric
In an election result that has left many aghast and at a loss for words, the next Leader of the Free World is going to be Donald J. Trump. Consequently, one of the new “freedoms” that we can anticipate being exercised more often is people with insidious beliefs, biases, prejudices, and ill-will towards Muslims being more free than ever to act upon them. There is good reason that Donald Trump’s election win strikes fear in the heart of many, including women, the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, ethnic minorities (e.g. African-American, Hispanics) etc. The reason is that Trump has been allowed to speak in the grossest of terms towards all of these groups with little or no consequence. The reason is that he has even baited some of his supporters to lash out at their whim, instead of discouraging or condemning such action. It begs the question, how far can this way of thinking and speaking go?
During his campaign, Trump passively accepted the support of groups such as neo-Nazi’s and the Ku Klux Klan, always tiptoeing around the question when asked by the media to condemn these groups. Now, these groups do not have reason to tiptoe around. A very real fear is that Trump’s election is symbolic enough for these groups to be validated and vindicated in their hate-mongering. This makes parts of America a scary place for Muslims.
The toll of islamophobia
The psychological and social toll of Islamophobia can perhaps be best exemplified in the following recent story. In October 2016, a Pakistani family in Cary, North Carolina was forced to leave the US after enduring a series of Islamophobic crimes which culminated in their 7-year old son (pictured below) being thrashed and injured by other children while riding the school bus home. These school kids apparently used to regularly beat up Abdul Aziz Usmani and his brothers, calling them “terrorists”, and even forcing them to eat non-halal food in a stunt that can only be viewed as a subversive attempt at racial subjugation coming from 1st graders.
Meanwhile, the father of the children, Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, is a Fulbright, PhD scholar and Chief Technology Officer in a data software company that actually works to combat the effects of terrorism worldwide. After the parents saw their son come out of the school bus battered and bruised, they took steps towards the painful process of uprooting their lives and moving back to Islamabad, Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the irony is that Pakistan and other Muslim countries are not a safe haven if one is looking to avoid hate crimes. What is often not appreciated enough is that anywhere between 82-97% of terrorism-related fatalities in the last 5 years have come at the cost of Muslim lives (see report). Last year, after the Paris massacre in November, there was worldwide media attention and outpouring for the hundreds of innocent lives that were lost. Two days prior to this, 43 Lebanese-Muslim people were killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut. The latter was just one of several mass killings by terrorists in Muslim countries in 2015 that passed by the airwaves barely registering a “breaking news” story.
The anti-islamophobia motion
Interestingly, terrorist and Islamophobic attacks on Muslims are not the only stories that fail to garner adequate media attention. Earlier in October 2016, the Canadian Parliament passed an “anti-Islamophobia motion”, and not a single Canadian news outlet, national or local, print or otherwise, acknowledged the motion. The motion’s successful passing can be attributed to an online petition which was initiated in June, 2016, calling for the condemning of all forms of Islamophobia. Despite acquiring 70,000 signatures, the motion initially failed to receive unanimous support by the members of Parliament. Reportedly, it was Conservative party members who refused to vote in favour of the initial motion, and no explanation was offered for why they voted down what was simply a symbolic, non-partisan motion. In another twist of irony, in the week after this motion was initially rejected, a wave of Islamophobic acts resulted in smashed windows and Qur’an burning at a mosque, and anti-Islam posters posted on a university campus in Calgary.
In practical terms, Canada’s anti-Islamophobia motion begs the question: how can Islamophobia be confronted and dealt with? This motion is meant as an attempt in influencing social attitudes towards the Muslim community for the better. But who knows if it will have any impact whatsoever in Trumpian America, especially when its basically ignored by national and local news media. When hateful rhetoric and motivations have trickled down into the minds of 1st graders, its entirely possible that waves of Islamophobia will pass down through future generations just as anti-black racism and anti-semitism have.
It is time to acknowledge and do something about the Islamophobic state of the world, from the east to the west, from the progressive left to the conservative right, from the 1st grade to universities. We as individuals cannot afford to succumb to the basic fear reaction of remaining silent and averting our eyes to the terrifying future that awaits us if we simply sit back.