Today’s Islamophobia challenge

Photo: Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia Commons
Silent protest against Islamophobia at Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Lindsey Penny
Seattle, Wash.

The word Islamophobia has been in the news lately, but what exactly is it and how is it impacting American society? According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “Islamophobia is a closed-minded hatred, fear or prejudice toward Islam and Muslims that results in discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. It creates a distorted understanding of Islam and Muslims and transforms diversity in name, language, culture, ethnicity, and race into a set of stereotyped characteristics” (Further reading).

Islamophobia in America is so widespread that in a self-reported Gallup survey, 43% of respondents admitted they harbor “some degree of prejudice against Muslims” (Further reading). Also, in a 2017 Pew Research Center study, Americans rated their feelings towards Muslims on a scale of 0 (cold) to 100 (warm). The results placed Muslims at a cold 48, below atheists who scored 50 (Further reading). Even in our Christian-majority country, Americans prefer atheists to Muslims. This is shocking considering Islam is also an Abrahamic religion and shares a number of the same values, stories, and prophets as Judaism and Christianity.

Some of the most dangerous and common stereotypes are that Muslims want to kill non-believers, impose their religious rules, and support violence and terrorist organizations. These stereotypes are placed upon Muslims yet not other religious groups. According to the FBI’s data from 1980-2005, there were more acts of terrorism committed by Jewish extremists (7%), than Islamic extremists (6%) (Further reading). Data shows American Muslims are not inclined to support violence. The vast majority of Muslims (81%) said they would never support suicide bombings, even if it would be in defense of their religion (Further reading). Why are only American Muslims at risk of being stereotyped as terrorists fighting a religious war against the West?

Negative stereotypes about Muslims are used to prove that Islam is incompatible with democracy and Western culture in general. Again, the statistical evidence proves otherwise. Data from the Pew Research Center shows the majority of the world’s Muslims enjoy Western popular culture, support democracy, reject violence, and say religious freedom is “a good thing.” In this same study, American Muslims were even more likely to agree that science and religion are “fully compatible” and that “there is no tension between being religiously devout and living in a modern society.”

In the United States, Muslims make up about 1% of the population. While Muslims represent a tiny minority, they are often discriminated against because of Islamophobia. Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise, at rates far greater than other groups. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 67%, and from 2015 to 2016, those numbers rose again by 78% (Further reading). Clearly, this rise in hate crimes is a real threat to our American value of religious freedom.

The United States of America is known for its liberties: the freedom to vote, the freedom to speak, the freedom to practice religion. We are also known for our vibrant multicultural society, our pluralism: a nation of immigrants. In this nation, our diversity is our strength. So, why then is our society allowing such misinformed stereotypes about Islam to flourish? Why are we complacent in allowing our Muslim neighbors to be treated with suspicion, hate, and prejudice? We cannot continue to allow this Islamophobia to spread. This is today’s challenge. This is our challenge.

Further reading
• “Islamophobia 101,” Council on American-Islamic Relations: islamophobia.org

• “Perceptions of Muslims in the United States: a Review,” Gallup: www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/187664/perceptions-muslims-united-states-review.aspx?g_source=afraid+of+muslims&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles

• “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world,” Pew Research Center: www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/26/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world

• “Terrorism 2002/2005,” FBI: www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005#terror_05sum

• “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” Pew Research Center: www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/#extremism-widely-rejected

• “Hate Crimes Against Muslims in US Continue to Rise in 2016,” Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/11/hate-crimes-against-muslims-us-continue-rise-2016

Lindsey Penny is an aspiring journalist currently completing their undergraduate degree in the Pacific Northwest.

This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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