Islamophobia and Its Impact

This slideshow and its scripts serve as an introduction to Islamophobia, its sources and effects, and tools and strategies to combat it.

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Islamophobia and Its Impact

This special research project on Islamophobia was first developed by ING staff in November 2016 and is updated regularly. It serves as an introduction to Islamophobia, its sources and effects, and tools and strategies to combat it. This information is to be used in conjunction with the online digital presentation above. The numbers given in square brackets refer to the number of the slide in the slideshow corresponding to that portion of the script.

The use of this resource to present about Islam and Muslims should be supplemented by ING’s answers to frequently asked questions. If you are interested in becoming one of our local volunteer certified speakers, join us here or write to one of our affiliates if you live in their area

Note: This presentation is the intellectual property of Islamic Networks Group (ING) and is available for non-commercial public use only. This presentation and its content cannot be displayed in exchange for payment in cash or in kind.

What is Islamophobia?

[5] The term Islamophobia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “intense dislike or fear of Islam, especially as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims” and is today widely used to denote anti-Muslim attitudes and actions. It appears to have been first used in 1923 but came into wide currency through a 1997 report by a commission sponsored by the Runnymede Trust in Great Britain, where it was defined as “an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.”

[6] The Runnymede report listed the following as characteristic of Islamophobia:

  1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
  2. It is seen as separate and “other.” It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them, and does not influence them.
  3. It is seen as inferior to the West and as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
  4. It is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
  5. It is seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
  6. Criticisms made of “the West” by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
  7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
  8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.

What is the Islamophobia Network?

[7-8] The above frames or tropes have formed the basis for a well-financed and organized Islamophobic movement in the last few years. Both the Center for American Progress and CAIR-DC have published extensive reports on what they term “the Islamophobia Network,” a cluster of organizations that promote and disseminate Islamophobic views.[1] Their 2015 and 2016 reports name 33 organizations whose primary purpose is to propagate Islamophobia (the “inner core”) and 41 whose primary focus is not attacking Islam but which nonetheless contribute to and support Islamophobic ideology (the “outer core”). A 2017 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center lists 101 organizations devoted to disseminating Islamophobia by the end of 2016, with a sharp increase from 34 the year before; as with other manifestations of Islamophobia, this figure rose sharply from the start of the 2016 election campaign.

Among the “outer core” organizations are such prominent media outlets as Fox News, National Review, Washington Times, the Rush Limbaugh show, and Savage Nation. The “inner core” organizations take in tens of millions of dollars annually from donors and especially from a number of right-wing foundations; their cumulative total revenue as of 2013 was over 205 million dollars.[2] These are not “fringe” operations; they are well funded and in some cases include in their leadership people with substantial academic backgrounds, such as Daniel Pipes, formerly of Harvard University and the University of Chicago. They are frequently cited by Islamophobic politicians, and their views are taken seriously in mainstream media. For instance, Steven Emerson, who in 1993 produced a television documentary entitled Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America, which alleged that many U.S. Muslim organizations had ties to extremists, received two prestigious awards for this work, the George Polk Award for best television documentary and the top prize from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Organization for best investigative report. The New York Post once described him as “the nation’s foremost journalistic expert on terrorism.” Conservative news outlets, especially Fox News, regularly feature material from members of this network.[3]

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has long monitored hate groups in America, published a 2016 manual (in conjunction with Media Matters for America, Center for New Community, and ReThink Media) titled Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists which profiles 15 of the most prominent anti-Muslim extremists who use misinformation and hateful rhetoric to demonize Muslims. They note that the current level of Islamophobia is not accidental, and that “fueling this hatred has been the propaganda, the vast majority of it completely baseless, produced and popularized by a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers. These men and women have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith. Sadly, a shocking number of these extremists are seen regularly on television news programs and quoted in the pages of our leading newspapers. There, they routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms.”[4]

What are some factors that have enabled Islamophobic groups or individuals to demonize Muslims?

[10] Xenophobia: Defined as fear of the “foreign” or the “Other,” xenophobia, is common in virtually all cultures to some degree. And although the U.S. is, except for Native Americans and African Americans, a “nation of immigrants,” successive waves of immigrants to this country have often met with xenophobia and hostility. From the start, settlers in what became the U.S. viewed and treated Native Americans and Africans as sub-human “Others,” to seize the land of the former and enslave the latter. And as soon as immigrants arrived who differed culturally or religiously from what had been the majority, they too were “otherized” and often treated with fierce hostility. Irish Catholics (and Catholics in general) were the earliest immigrant wave to meet with this opposition, followed by Chinese (who in the 1880s were barred from immigrating to the U.S. by act of Congress), Japanese, Jews, Eastern Europeans, and others. While Muslims have been present in the U.S. since the early Colonial period as African Muslim slaves, and some immigration of Muslims began in the latter part of the nineteenth century, American Muslims remained largely “under the radar” of public concern until 9/11; when they became visible, they started to meet with the same hostility that had met earlier waves of immigrants.

[11] Orientalism: The term “orientalism” originally referred to the study by Western scholars of the peoples and societies of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. While usually purporting to be objective and even scientific, it developed in the context of, and served to justify, European colonialism in those regions. As Professor Edward Said of Columbia University documented in his influential 1994 book Orientalism, Anglo-American Orientalist scholars portrayed “Eastern” peoples as exotic “Others,” radically different from and inferior to the civilizations of the West, depicting them as essentially primitive, irrational, violent, despotic, and fanatic. Such a representation justified the European colonial enterprise and made these peoples and cultures, especially Muslims, appear to be a threat to people in the West and to Western civilization. It thus became a source of Islamophobia. The attitudes it fostered are still very much in evidence both in North America and in Europe. [5]

[12] Ignorance about Islam and Muslims: Muslims comprise no more than 1 to 2% of the U.S. population, and most Americans do not know a Muslim personally; according to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, “only 16% of the public report knowing a lot about the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims, while more than eight in ten say they know a little (57%) or nothing at all (26%). Fewer than one in ten (8%) Americans report daily contact with someone who is Muslim. Roughly three in ten (29%) say they at least occasionally interact with someone who is Muslim, while a majority say they seldom (26%) or never (36%) have conversations with Muslims.”[6] Moreover, until recently, U.S. schools provided very little or no education about Islam, and what education they did provide was generally inaccurate and biased. Curriculum today is more inclusive of all world religions, but most adults today did not have the opportunity to study Islam, and the unknown can easily provoke fear.

[13] Violence by extremist Muslims: Terrorist attacks by such groups as al-Qaeda and ISIS and by those inspired or influenced by them obviously fuel fear and mistrust of Muslims and Islam. The rise of ISIS and increase in ISIS-linked violence both here and abroad has dramatically increased Islamophobia in America, perhaps to a level higher even than after 9/11. Following any violent incident, such as the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, there is a correlated spike in anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes. However, the atrocities perpetrated by Muslim extremists are not in themselves the only cause of rising prejudice against Muslims.

[14] Data on violent extremism: Despite the claims of Islamophobes that Islam uniquely promotes violence, extremists in other religions engage in terrorism and, in the US, actually pose greater danger than Muslim extremists. An April, 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office states that “of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far-right-wing violent extremist groups, many of whom identify strongly as Christian were responsible for 62 (73%) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27%).” According to the U.S. Extremist Crime Database, if one excludes the two “outlier” events of 9/11 (2,983 victims) and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (168 victims), between 1990 and 2017 far-right extremists caused twice as many fatalities (272) as Muslim extremists (136). Moreover, a 2015 survey of 382 law enforcement agencies nationwide found that 74% considered far-right anti-government extremism to pose the greatest threat of extremist violence. Yet following far-right terrorist incidents we do not hear calls to blame Christianity or Christians generally, or similar measures taken against Muslim terrorists. In fact, even though violent extremists among Buddhists and Hindus have at times drawn media attention, there has been no general vilification of these two religions and their followers. Clearly, it is the actors listed above that have magnified and in some cases deliberately exploited the crimes committed by Muslim terrorists to promote a general hatred of Islam.

How is Islamophobia disseminated?

Islamophobia, like other forms of bigotry, has many channels through which it spreads. To a large extent, it spreads informally, from person to person and from generation to generation, as do other prejudices. However, there are a few major channels disseminating fear and hatred of Muslims and Islam.

[16] The media: Negative portrayals of Muslims and Arabs (the two generally being conflated, although most Muslims are not Arab) have a long history in the media, Hollywood, and literature; Arabs and Muslims are generally portrayed as violent, backwards, at best only semi-civilized (wandering the desert on camels, etc.), oppressive and brutal toward women, and so forth. The news media tend to focus on Muslims involved with violence, thus presenting a very distorted and unbalanced image. A study published in the Journal of Communication in December 2014 found that “viewers of national television news see far more images of Muslims as domestic terrorists… than is actually the case in statistics.” The study found further “that among those described as domestic terrorists in the news reports, 81 percent were identifiable as Muslims. Yet in FBI reports from those years, only 6 percent of domestic terror suspects were Muslim.”[7] Media Tenor, a research organization that analyzes mass media, reported that between 2007 and 2013, 80% of news coverage of Muslims on ABC and CBS and 60% of coverage on Fox News was negative, usually focusing on terrorism and violence.[8]

In addition to disproportionate coverage of stories relating to terrorism by Muslims, there is a tendency by both the media and law enforcement to label acts of violence by Muslims as terrorism while similar violent acts by others are not referred to as terrorism. For example, the following acts of violence were not referred to as terrorism, although they meet the FBI’s definition of terrorism:[9]

  • Mass shooting at Charleston church, June 17, 2015 by Dylan Roof, who killed 9 people and is called a gunman. Although he confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war, he was charged with a hate crime, not with terrorism.
  • Planned Parenthood attack, November 27, 2015 by Robert Lewis Dear, who killed half a dozen people including police officers and confessed that he is “a warrior for babies,” but is described as a gunman, charged with murder, and later declared incompetent to stand trial because he kept interrupting legal proceedings, asking to defend himself.
  • Wisconsin Sikh Temple massacre, Aug. 5, 2012, by Michael Page, a white supremacist who killed 6 Sikh members and then took his own life; he is referred to as a “gunman.”
  • Suicide attack on IRS building in Austin, Texas, Feb. 18, 2010 by Robert Stack, who deliberately flew his small plane into the side of a building that housed a regional IRS office in Austin, Texas, just as 200 agency employees were starting their workday. Along with himself, Stack killed an IRS manager and injured 13 others. Stack was an anti-tax, anti-government fanatic, and chose his target for exclusively political reasons.

Obviously, such imbalanced reporting produces and reinforces negative images of Muslims and Islam. And such views are heard on both ends of the political spectrum: from liberal commentator Bill Maher as well as from Fox News. Furthermore, the news media rarely if ever report on the consistent and frequent denunciations of terrorism by Muslims, thus leaving many Americans with the false impression that Muslims do not condemn it.

[17] Media today: The good news is that there has been an intentional effort by some media outlets to provide more balanced coverage and exposure to notable American Muslims in recent years. These include numerous positive articles about Muslim women or articles written by Muslims in such publications as the Guardian, Huffington Post, or CNN articles. Additionally an increasing number of American Muslims such as comedian and commentator Wajahat Ali who has written for the Huffington Post as a host and contributor and lawyer and comedian Dean Obeidallah who has contributed to CNN, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. The rise in alternative media has also been a platform for Muslim voices, while social media has become a powerful medium for American Muslim self-expression, particularly for American Muslim women, with blogs such as Muslim Girl – Muslim Women Talk Back impacting growing audiences.

[18] Hollywood: Fictional portrayals of Muslims in films and television are no better; most depict Muslims in stereotypical ways, for instance as terrorists, warriors, or subservient women. Such portrayals have a long history. Media expert Jack Sheehan in his book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2014) examines a thousand films with Arab characters and finds that from the beginnings of the motion picture industry through the present, films have overwhelmingly portrayed Arabs (almost always assumed to be Muslims) in stereotypical and denigrating ways. He finds that “‘Arab’ has remained Hollywood’s shameless shorthand for ‘bad guy,’ long after the movie industry has shifted its portrayal of other minority groups” and documents the portrayal of “Muslim Arabs as Public Enemy #1–brutal, heartless, uncivilized Others bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners.” [10]

[19] Hollywood today: As with the news media, there have been efforts in recent years towards more balanced representations of Arabs and Muslims through the inclusion of Muslim “good guys” or neutral characters in movies, television shows, or online productions. There have also been a growing number of documentaries about Islam and American Muslims by outlets such as PBS that provide a balanced and nuanced understanding of the topic. There have also been a plethora of short films and documentaries by American Muslims speaking for themselves.

Nonetheless, a wave of films from major studios that reinforce stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims appears to be coming in 2018:

  • Beirut, about an American diplomat seeking to rescue a colleague captured by the fictional Militia of Islamic Liberation; the trailer to this film has already met with considerable protest;
  • 7 Days in Entebbe, about the Israeli rescue of hostages from Palestinian terrorists; and
  • The 15:17 to Paris, about Americans rescuing passengers from attack by Muslim terrorists.

While the latter two films are based on actual events, the almost simultaneous opening of these three films, at a time when Islamophobia is increasing, spurred by developments outlined below, shows that Hollywood is still prone to recycling the defamatory and stereotyped images of Muslims that have been its stock in trade for decades.

[20] Pundits and Politicians: Pundits and talk show hosts such as Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and Rush Limbaugh have long made bashing Muslims a staple of their shows and commentary, stoking fear and hatred of Muslims. Similarly, some politicians seek votes by stoking anti-Muslim fear and bias. This already became apparent during the 2008 election with the Muslim “smear” against then candidate Barack Obama who was accused of being a secret Muslim by his opponents as a way to discourage people from voting for him. Other politicians have sought to garner votes by playing to fear and bigotry against Muslims. They include Congressman Peter King, who held a series of hearings on terrorism limited to terrorism from Muslim sources and who made false claims that most mosques in America were served by imams who endorsed terrorism; Senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who called for the patrolling and surveillance of “Muslim neighborhoods”; Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who without any evidence asserted that European Muslims had established “no-go zones” where non-Muslims were forbidden to go and called for barring “dangerous Muslims…who want to come to our country but not adopt our values”; former presidential candidate Ben Carson, who claimed that Islam is contrary to the Constitution; and many other less prominent figures on state and local levels. The 2016 election cycle saw a stark increase in this political exploitation and promotion of Islamophobia. Candidate, and now President, Donald Trump has repeatedly stoked Islamophobia by words and actions. His tweets have frequently impugned Muslims and Islam, with such statements as “Islam hates us” and retweets of fraudulent anti-Muslim videos from the British ultra-nationalist group Britain First. He has signed two executive orders seeking to ban travelers and immigrants from several majority Muslim countries and suspending the admission of refugees from Syria. Furthermore, one of the orders directs the Secretary of State to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”; since most refugees come from Muslim-majority countries, this means that non-Muslims will be favored over Muslims—a policy in line with President Trump’s statement in an interview with a Christian journalist that he favored admitting Christian refugees. A number of Federal courts blocked this “Muslim ban” on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment principle of government neutrality towards religions, although the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect pending the resolution of the cases in lower courts. It is not surprising that manifestations of anti-Muslim bigotry, including both the attitudes registered in polls and overt actions such as hate crimes, have shown a sharp uptick since the start of the 2016 election campaigns.

[21] Anti-mosque campaigns: One of the major focuses of these Islamophobic individuals and groups has been public campaigns, sometimes successful, to block the construction or expansion of mosques. The most notorious of these, in 2010, centered on a proposed Islamic cultural center to be built in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks. The project attracted no opposition until long-time Islamophobe Pamela Geller, with no evidence whatever for her claims, dubbed the project a “victory mosque” meant to celebrate the 9/11 atrocities. This touched off a national debate, and polls at one point showed 61% of Americans opposing the project. Since then, many less prominent campaigns have erupted over proposed mosque construction, as in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where opponents caused the permitting process to drag on for over four years of litigation until construction of the new mosque finally began—but not before the site was attacked by an arsonist. Many other communities have seen similar controversies erupt, though in the end the proposed mosque is almost always built and operates without difficulty.

[21] Anti-Sharia campaigns: Muslims and their faith are also targets of various efforts—some successful—to pass anti-Muslim laws at the state level. Most of these laws follow a template furnished by an organization called American Laws for American Courts (ALAC), led by David Yerushalmi, a well-known Islamophobe. “Yerushalmi…authored the model anti-Sharia bill, which would make adherence to Sharia ‘a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.’ This template for anti-Sharia legislation was used in state legislatures across the country with the intent of stigmatizing Muslims and creating hysteria about the nonexistent threat of Sharia law.”[11] These laws are based on the unfounded claim that American Muslims are seeking to replace the Constitution with sharia law; the legislation prohibits courts from using “foreign law.” The original template for these laws in fact specified not “foreign” law in general but “Sharia law”; the wording was revised when an Oklahoma law using the latter term was ruled unconstitutional; but, as proponents have made clear, the target of such laws remains “Sharia.” As of August, 2017, 201 such bills were introduced in 43 states, of which 14 were enacted. Of course, the claim that Muslims (a tiny minority of 1 to 2%) want to supplant existing U.S. law (which provides them with religious freedom) with “Sharia” is totally without foundation, and these laws not only demonstrate profound ignorance of what Sharia is but also do nothing but vilify Muslims.[12]

[22] Biased literature and websites: Books, both fiction and non-fiction, have also denigrated Islam and Muslims, particularly after 9/11. These include books by former Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has received numerous awards and recognition for her work. Her books include The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2006), Infidel (2007), Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations (2010), and Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (2015). Her books serve to promote the central Islamophobic frames that Islam and Muslims are backwards, violent, sexist, and uniquely “Other” and are engaged in a clash of civilizations. Other noted authors publishing books denouncing Islam and Muslims include Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Bill Warner; Spencer and Geller are well-known Islamophobes, and Warner, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics, has published a whole series of concise books about what he describes as “political Islam,” which he alleges is seeking world domination. His ideas have won significant assent in the Czech Republic, where he got the support of the Czech president. This development is part of the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant forces in Europe, especially Eastern Europe.

Individuals and groups in the Islamophobia network have created numerous websites to provide misinformation about Islam, track “Islamists,” or demonize Islam and Muslims; prominent among the are Islamist Watch administered by Daniel Pipes, Jihad Watch by Robert Spencer, and Act for America by Brigitte Gabriel—all long-time Islamophobes.

What is the impact of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry on American Muslims?

[24] Growing anti-Muslim sentiment: Despite Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and legal prohibitions of religious discrimination, American Muslims continue to experience a variety of concrete manifestations of bigotry based on their faith. Recent polls show that anti-Muslim sentiment is increasing and that Muslims are seen the least favorably of any religious group:

  • According to a 2017 Pew poll, while perceptions of religious groups improved overall:
    • Muslims rated most negatively of all religious groups in the survey with an average rating of 48 on a scale of 0 to 100 of the “warmth” that respondents felt towards a given group.
    • This compared to: Atheists – 50; Mormons – 54; Hindus – 58; Buddhists – 60; Evangelical Christians – 61; Catholics – 66; Jews – 67.
  • According to a 2016 YouGov poll:
    • Only 19% of Americans have a favorable view of Islam, while 61% have an unfavorable view and the rest are not sure (19%).
  • According to a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey:
    • 57% of Americans believe that Islamic values are at odds with American values and way of life.

[25] Growth of anti-Muslim Hate Groups: Hand in hand with growing anti-Muslim sentiment has gone an explosive growth in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups, as already noted above. As of 2010, there were only 5 such groups, according to figures from the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2011, this number spiked to 30, probably as a result of the nationwide campaign around the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (in reality an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan, see above on slide 21). For several years thereafter, the number remained more or less level, and then spiked again in 2016 from 34 to 101. There can be little doubt that the political rhetoric of the 2016 election campaign played a major role in spurring this growth.

[26] These increasingly negative perceptions have real life consequences. They include the following:

[27] Hate crimes against mosques: A CNN report mapped 63 publicly reported incidents in the first half of 2017, where mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson. On average, that comes down to nine every month and at least two a week. While full figures for 2017 are not yet available, the figure for the first half of the year suggests that they would come to over 120 incidents, considerably higher than the 92 recorded for 2016, which itself was higher than for any year since 2009 and 30% higher than 2015, when there were triple the number of attacks on mosques than had occurred in the previous two years.

[28] Hate crimes against Muslims: Even more egregious are violent hate crimes against Muslim individuals and communities, including a dramatic rise in the number of murders. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the first half of 2017 spiked 91% over that in the comparable period of the preceding year. One notorious incident occurred in May, 2017, when a man shouting an anti-Muslim rant at two women in a rapid transit vehicle fatally stabbed two men who tried to restrain him and wounded a third. According to a Huffington Post article and website that is tracking Islamophobia, there were 289 reported anti-Muslim acts in 2016, ranging from mosque vandalism to slurs by politicians or other public figures.[13] Among the most egregious in 2016 was the stabbing death of a 60-year-old woman in Queens, New York in September. This was followed a few days later by an attack on two Muslim women as they pushed their children in strollers in New York by a woman who allegedly struck the women and tried to pull off their hijab, and even attacked the children while shouting “this is the United States of America, you’re not supposed to be different from us,” and “get the (expletive) out of America (expletive), you don’t belong here.”[14] A Pew Research Center report found that in 2016, there were 127 reported victims of bias-based aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 the year before and 93 in 2001. The sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents is almost certainly due to the increase in the political exploitation of anti-Muslim fears by Donald Trump and other politicians; a January, 2018 analysis by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) revealed that in 2017 20% of those perpetrating attacks on Muslims cited a statement or policy by Trump as part of their motivation. Anti-Muslim hate crimes, however, were on the rise even before the 2016 campaigns. A report from the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University found that “during the course of 2015, there were approximately 174 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence and vandalism, including 12 murders, including the execution-style murder of three college students in their own apartment by a neighbor; 29 physical assaults; 50 threats against persons or institutions; 54 acts of vandalism or destruction of property; 8 arsons; and 9 shootings or bombings, among other incidents.” The report pointed out further that “anti-Muslim violence remained significantly higher in 2015 than pre-9/11 levels with American Muslims approximately 6 to 9 times more likely to suffer such attacks. The number of incidents in 2015 is also higher than the total number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported in 2014: 154.”[15]

Employment and other discrimination: Muslims face widespread discrimination, particularly in seeking jobs and at work. A 2017 Pew poll found that 75% of American Muslims believe there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., and 48% report having had at least one experience of such discrimination in the preceding year. This is in line with the views of Americans in general: a 2015 Yougov poll found that 73% of Americans believe that Muslims face “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of discrimination.[16] That these perceptions are accurate has been demonstrated by at least two studies. Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University found that a (fictitious) caller with a Muslim-sounding name was 13% less likely to receive a callback from an employer seeking job candidates than was a caller with a Christian-sounding name.[17] A University of Connecticut study reached similar conclusions but with even more discouraging figures: Muslim job applicants received 42% fewer calls and 32% fewer emails responding to job inquiries. Discrimination or harassment of Muslims on the job continues to be a problem, with the percentage of Muslims filing religious discrimination claims significantly higher than their percentage in the workplace.[18]

Campaigns against teaching about Islam: Attempts to prevent public schools from teaching about Islam (as required for all major world religions in the social studies curriculum standards in all 50 states) are another manifestation of public hostility to Islam. In several states, parent groups have protested textbooks that teach about Islam or Islamic history, claiming them to be “indoctrination”; these efforts were usually unsuccessful in getting the books removed from the curriculum, but in two states (Tennessee and Florida) they led to changes in the approval process for textbooks.[19] Tennessee recently approved an instructional plan that sharply reduces the time spent studying Islam below that devoted to other religions.[20]

These specific manifestations of anti-Muslim bigotry are but the tip of the iceberg; they do not include incidents of harassment or negative verbal comments about their faith that many Muslims face repeatedly while walking in the street, taking the bus, or flying.

How does anti-Muslim bigotry affect Muslim students?

[29] Increased bullying of Muslim students: Young people, who are still forming and testing out their identities and are very susceptible to peer pressure, are particularly vulnerable to expressions of bigotry. A 2017 report by CAIR-California, based on a survey conducted in 2016, found that, as anti-Muslim attitudes and actions have risen, so has bullying and discrimination against Muslim students. The 2016 survey found that in California (one of the most liberal states in the U.S.):

  • 57% of Muslim students see students putting offensive statements about Muslims on social media.
  • 53% report witnessing or experiencing being ridiculed, verbally insulted or verbally abused for being Muslim.
  • The percentage reporting being physically harmed or harassed for being Muslim more than doubled over the past two years, from 9% in 2014 to 19% in 2016.
  • The percentage of Muslim students who do not feel “safe, welcome, and respected” in their school almost doubled, from 17% in 2014 to 31% in 2016.
  • The percentage of Muslim students who do not feel “comfortable in class discussions about Islam and Muslims” increased by a factor of more than 1.5, from 24% in 2014 to 39% in 2016.

 

[30] Impact on Muslim students: A 2014 survey by CAIR-California (on which the comparative figures above are based) found that common slurs against Muslim youth include “terrorist,” “camel jockey,” and “rag head.” Much of the teasing associates Muslim students with terrorists or terrorism such as “Are you part of the 9/11 or are you ISIS?” “Did you ever kill anyone?” “Are you going to bomb this place?” Students also report being threatened by other students; for instance, a student reported, “Someone threatened to kill me if I went to school on 9/11.”[21] Muslim students are often afraid to tell parents or other adults for fear of recrimination from peers. Studies have shown that students who are bullied tend to experience long-term consequences; they are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustment.[22] Bullying commonly spikes after a terrorist attack, causing increased anxiety for Muslim students with students even fearing coming to school in the aftermath of an attack. [23]

Muslim students may often find their faith and ancestral culture misrepresented and denigrated in classroom instruction. For example, a Muslim student in New York reported being asked “Why are all Muslims terrorists?” after learning about Boko Haram massacres. She felt helpless to defend herself because she felt that “About 90 percent of the kids in my class feel that way.”[24] Despite textbook publishers’ greater attention in recent years to accuracy in portraying Islam and other non-Western religions, many teachers continue to use biased or imbalanced materials when teaching about Islam, 9/11 or terrorism. Students often feel targeted or marginalized during classroom discussions about Islam and Muslims where they are called upon to be “experts” or viewed as the “other” in discussions about terrorism.

Students also complain of teacher bias both in teaching about the religion and in their interaction with the students, including failure to respond to their complaints of bullying, or behaving inappropriately themselves. According to the 2016 CAIR survey, 38% of Muslim students reported offensive comments about their religion made by teachers or school administrators, almost double the 20% figure from the 2014 survey.[25] This often takes the form of derogatory comments by teachers such as a teacher in Florida who called a 14-year-old Muslim high school student a “rag-head Taliban” in March, 2015[26] or a teacher in Texas who told a Muslim student that “we all think you are a terrorist.”[27] Bias or derision by a teacher can enable or lead to bullying by students as in the case of a teacher who told a Muslim student, “‘I can’t wait until Trump is elected. He’s going to deport all you Muslims. Muslims shouldn’t be given visas. They’ll probably take away your visa and deport you. You’re going to be the next terrorist, I bet.’ On the bus ride home, A.A.’s classmates mimicked his teacher’s anti-Muslim comments, taunting him about the fact that his visa would be revoked because he is a Muslim, calling him a ‘terrorist,’ and accusing him of planning to blow up the bus.”[28] This and other incidents by the same teacher are the basis for an October 28, 2016 letter of complaint and request for investigation from the ACLU to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.[29]

How can we counter Islamophobia?

[32] Use your knowledge to counter Islamophobia: Utilizing ING and other resources is the first step to equipping oneself to counter Islamophobia. Additionally, it is useful to keep in mind the following points and strategies.

Be honest and objective: Defending Muslims and their faith against Islamophobic slanders and misrepresentation does not mean looking at their present or their history with rose-colored glasses. On the contrary, honestly acknowledging what we see as negative in the Muslim world today and in the past can only enhance one’s credibility. Islam and Muslims, like every other major religious tradition or practitioners have aspects to be critiqued; however there is a difference between critiquing Islam and Muslims and demonizing or vilifying them. Only a forthright, balanced, and non-defensive picture will command respect and assent.

Recognize it: Equipped with solid and objective knowledge about Muslims and Islam, we should be able to recognize Islamophobic falsehoods and distortions when we hear or see them; in particular, we should be able to distinguish legitimate and honest criticism of Muslims from Islamophobic misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

Respond to it: When we hear Islamophobic statements, we must not pass them over in silence; we should respond, politely and tactfully, but firmly, bringing to bear the knowledge that we have. As the situation permits, we should try to determine where a person is getting misinformation from, to explain why it’s important to have an objective and unbiased view of Muslims as of any other group, and to point him or her to sound sources of knowledge.

Encourage people to educate themselves: Even those who do not appear to hold Islamophobic views may know little. Given the importance of Muslims in the world today (not to mention in history) everyone can benefit from increased knowledge about the topic. Knowledge, together with face-to-face interaction with Muslims, is the surest antidote to Islamophobia.

[33] Engage with Muslims: As noted above (on slide 12), one of the main reasons for the spread and growth of Islamophobia is the fact that most Americans do not know any Muslims. This is something you can help to remedy and model:

  • It’s likely that you have Muslims in at least one of your circle of acquaintances; they may be neighbors, co-workers, or parents of a child at your child’s school. Find out tactfully who they are and make an effort to get to know them. Invite them for coffee or tea and introduce them to some of your other acquaintances.
  • Greet Muslims (recognizable perhaps by a headscarf) when you see them about in your neighborhood, at the grocery, or other places. You can use the traditional Muslim greeting “Assalaamu alaikum.” They will likely be surprised but pleased.
  • Initiate programs that bring Muslims and non-Muslims together to get to know and to learn from one another. Some possibilities are:
    • Interfaith book clubs
    • Interfaith picnics
    • Interfaith service projects
    • Holiday socials, in which participants share with one another their celebration of their faith’s holy days

[34] Education and interfaith engagement are key: Islamophobia thrives on ignorance about Islam and Muslims—ignorance that purveyors of Islamophobia are all too eager to fill with misinformation. A deeper and more comprehensive knowledge of Islam and Muslims, in the present and in history, is required in order to recognize and challenge Islamophobic distortions and falsehoods.

It has long been established in social science that face-to-face contact with members of a group is the most effective way to dispel prejudice against that group, a conclusion that also accords with common sense. Face-to-face interaction prevents the formation of stereotypes, or dispels them when they are already formed. Personal interfaith engagement, therefore, is a powerful tool for sharing commonalities and understanding differences between groups.

What are some educational resources to counter Islamophobia?

[36] ING’s educational programs & resources: ING and ING Affiliates provide education about American Muslims and their faith to middle and high schools across the country. ING presentations help counter Islamophobia by providing authentic and accurate information about Muslims and their faith, while ING’s authentic narratives challenge Islamophobic stereotypes and misinformation. Conveying this information is particularly important early on before prejudices are learned. Additionally, young people are less likely to have deeply rooted misconceptions than adults. One of the most powerful tools in overcoming bias is through face-to-face interaction with a live practitioner of the faith, one of the reasons that ING’s live presentations are so impactful.

[37] ING presentations for schools: ING provides presentations for schools free of charge on a variety of topics, including an overview of the faith, a history of Muslims in the U.S., Muslim contributions to civilization, and Muslim women. To view ING’s presentation options, visit https://ing.org/schedule-a-school-presentation/. To find an ING affiliate near you, visit https://ing.org/current-affiliates/

ING’s live presentations directly impact perceptions as measured by surveys we administer before and after presentations. Results from these surveys show that the percentage of students reporting a “high” level of knowledge of Islam rose from 21% before a presentation to 60% after a presentation; the percentage of students who see Islam as promoting peace increased from 59% to 88%; the percentage of students recognizing that Muslims have long been part of America rose from 37% to 65%, while the number of respondents seeing Muslims as “Americans like myself” increased from 52% to 75%; and the percentage believing that Muslims “see women as inferior” decreased from 26% to 7%[30] View these and other findings in ING’s Impact Reports at https://ing.org/impact/

[38] Online resources: ING’s website provides answers to over 100 frequently asked questions about Islam and Muslims at https://ing.org/ings-frequently-asked-questions/

ING also offers online curriculum on the following topics to educators free of charge at https://ing.org/academic/:

  • Getting to Know America Muslims and Their Faith
  • History of Muslims in America
  • Muslim Contributions to Civilization
  • Muslim Women Beyond the Stereotypes
  • Emir Abd El-Kader: A Muslim Hero for Our Time

[39] ING’s interfaith programs and resources: ING provides interfaith panels for high schools and colleges that model civil interaction and good will between diverse faith practitioners. These interfaith panels address various topics, including shared values and contemporary issues of interest such as extremism and pluralism. Teachers can choose from a variety of participants, including representatives of the five major world faiths or of the three Abrahamic faiths, or a Muslim-Jewish panel discussing the challenges of living as a minority. This program is presently available only in the San Francisco Bay Area. To view the various interfaith topics visit: https://ing.org/schedule-an-interfaith-panel/

ING also offers online multifaith curricula for educators that highlight the topics of shared values and living the faith. To view the curricula visit https://ing.org/multifaith-curriculum-shared-values-among-faiths/ and https://ing.org/multifaith-curriculum-living-the-faith/

[40] ING partners: Additionally, the following ING Partners have resources for teaching about Islam and Muslims, diversity and inclusion as featured at: https://ing.org/partner-resources:[31]

  • Pluralism Project
  • Tanenbaum Center
  • Teaching Tolerance
  • PBS Learning Media
  • Unity Productions Foundation
  • Not In Our Town/Not In Our School
  • Religious Freedom Center
  • The Sikh Coalition

 

[41] Know Your Neighbor: In 2016 ING launched the “Know Your Neighbor” initiative. This program is a response to the voices of hate and division which are growing louder and more numerous, particularly against Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities, and other minorities. The program seeks to respond to anti-minority sentiment, bigotry, and hatred by encouraging and facilitating face-to-face engagement, relationship-building, dialogue, and action between people of different religious traditions, beliefs, and cultures. To learn more about or to join this important program, visit https://ing.org/kyn-join/.

[42] INGYouth program counters bullying: The INGYouth program helps Muslim youth deal with bigotry and bullying by equipping them with religious literacy which enables them to respond effectively. The program convenes workshops across the country to train Muslim youth to present about their faith in the classroom: https://ing.org/ingyouth-workshops/

The website section for INGYouth provides answers to 55 frequently asked questions about Islam and Muslims in a format suitable for young people that is easy to comprehend: https://ing.org/youth-faq/

The website also provides simplified versions of ING’s main presentations: Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith, A History of Muslims in America, Muslim Contributions to Civilization, and Muslim Women Beyond the Stereotypes: https://ing.org/ingyouth-tools/

Additionally, the website provides parents and teachers with anti-bullying resources: https://ing.org/anti-bullying/

[43] Pluralism & Religious Freedom: The United States was founded on the concept of religious freedom and pluralism; working together, we can reject prejudice and bigotry and create a society and world based on mutual respect and understanding. We hope you will join us in this critical work. Together we can promote a more respectful, inclusive, harmonious America for all its citizens!

Endnotes

[1] The two reports by the Center for American Progress are Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America: https://www.scribd.com/document/63489887/Fear-Inc-The-Roots-of-the-Islamophobia-Network-in-America and Matthew Duss, Yasmine Taeb, Ken Gude, and Ken Sofer, Fear, Inc. 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/report/2015/02/11/106394/fear-inc-2-0/

[2] Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. Confronting Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the U.S. January 2013-December 2015. June 20, 2016, 25. Accessed February 13, 2018. http://www.islamophobia.org/reports/179-confronting-fear-islamophobia-and-its-impact-in-the-u-s-2013-2015.html

[3] Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, 85. Center for American Progress. Accessed October 14, 2016.https://www.scribd.com/document/63489887/Fear-Inc-The-Roots-of-the-Islamophobia-Network-in-America

[4] Mark Potok, Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. Southern Poverty Law Center, October, 2016. Accessed October 28, 2016. https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/splc_field_guide_to_antimuslim_extremists.pdf

[5] Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vantage, 1994)

[6] Daniel Cox and Robert P. Jones, “Nearly Half of Americans Worried That They or Their Family Will Be a Victim of Terrorism.” Public Religion Research Institute, December 10, 2015. Accessed October 11, 2016. http://www.prri.org/research/survey-nearly-half-of-americans-worried-that-they-or-their-family-will-be-a-victim-of-terrorism/

[7] “Research shows news overrepresents Muslims as perpetrators of domestic terrorism.” ABC Action News, 2015. Accessed October 11, 2016. http://www.abcactionnews.com/decodedc/research-shows-news-overrepresents-muslims-as-perpetrators-of-domestic-terrorism

[8] “Coverage of American Muslims gets worse: Muslims framed mostly as criminals.” Media Tenor. 12. Accessed October 11, 2016. http://us.mediatenor.com/en/library/speeches/260/coverage-of-american-muslims-gets-worse

[9] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” “Terrorism.” National Institute of Justice. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/terrorism/pages/welcome.aspx

[10] Amazon description of book: https://www.amazon.com/Reel-Bad-Arabs-Hollywood-Vilifies/dp/1566567521

[11] Matthew Duss, Yasmine Taeb, Ken Gude, and Ken Sofer, Fear, Inc. 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America. Center for American Progress, February, 2015, 6. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/report/2015/02/11/106394/fear-inc-2-0/

[12] For information about Sharia in the United States, see ING’s FAQ’s about Sharia: https://ing.org/a-closer-look-at-sharia-in-the-united-states

[13] Christopher Mathias and Rowaida Abdelaziz, “Islamophobia.” Huffington Post. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://testkitchen.huffingtonpost.com/islamophobia/

[14] Hilary Hanson, “Woman Allegedly Attacks Muslim Moms and Babies In Hate Crime.” Huffington Post, September 10, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/muslim-moms-attacked-hate-crime_us_57d4243ae4b03d2d459ab612

[15] Engy Abdelkader, “When Islamophobia Turns Violent.” The Bridge Initiative: A Georgetown University Research Project. 2016, 4-5. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://bridge.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/When-Islamophobia-Turns-Violent.pdf

[16] “Muslim Americans widely seen as victims of discrimination.” Yougov, February 20, 2015. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://today.yougov.com/news/2015/02/20/muslim-americans-widely-seen-victims-discriminatio/

[17 Alessandro Acquisti and Christina M. Fong, “An Experiment in Hiring Discrimination Via Online Social Networks.” Carnegie Mellon University, July 17, 2011, 1. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2031979

[18] Tom Breen, “Great Resume, Too Bad About Your Religion.” UConn Today, June 16, 2014. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://today.uconn.edu/2014/06/great-resume-too-bad-about-your-religion/

[19] Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. Confronting Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the U.S. January 2013-December 2015. June 20, 2016, 25. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.islamophobia.org/reports/179-confronting-fear-islamophobia-and-its-impact-in-the-u-s-2013-2015.html

[20] Antonia Blumberg, “Students May Soon Learn Even Less About Islam In Tennessee Public Schools.” Huffington Post, September 28, 2016. Accessed February 13, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/students-may-soon-learn-even-less-about-islam-in-tennessee-public-schools_us_57eaa3dae4b0c2407cd9cdb7

[21] Kristin Rizga, “This Is What It’s Like to Be a Muslim Schoolkid in America Right Now.” Mother Jones, December 15, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/12/muslim-kids-bullying-schools-teachers-islamophobia

[22] “Understand Bullying Fact Sheet.” CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying_factsheet.pdf

[23] Donna St. George, “During a school year of terrorist attacks, Muslim students report bullying.” Washington Post, June 14, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/during-a-school-year-of-terrorist-attacks-muslim-students-report-bullying/2016/06/14/1b066a44-3220-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html

[24] “Extreme Prejudice.” Teaching Tolerance, Fall 2015. Accessed October 21, 2016.

http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-51-fall-2015/feature/extreme-prejudice

[25] Mislabeled: The Impact of Bullying and Discrimination on California Muslim Students. 2015 Report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 5-8. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://ca.cair.com/sfba/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CAIR-CA-2015-Bullying-Report-Web.pdf

[26] Ann Henson Feltgen, “Weston teacher faces discipline over alleged slur of Muslim student.” Miami Herald, March 2, 2015. Accessed October 13, 2016.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article11924603.html

[27] Dean Obeidallah, “Anti-Muslim School Bullying: Sometimes, It’s Even the Teachers Doing It.” The Daily Beast, May 17, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/18/anti-muslim-school-bullying-sometimes-it-s-even-the-teachers-doing-it.html

[28] Heather L. Weaver, “Teacher to Muslim Refugee Student: You’re a Terrorist, and I Can’t Wait Until Donald Trump Deports All You Muslims.” ACLU. Accessed October 31, 2016. https://medium.com/aclu/teacher-to-muslim-refugee-student-i-cant-wait-until-donald-trump-deports-all-you-muslims-365ee45a2282#.wm5v1vuwn

[29] “Noor Complaint to the Department of Justice Requesting an Investigation Pursuant to Title IV.” October 28, 2016. . Accessed October 31, 2016. https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/noor-complaint-department-justice-requesting-investigation-pursuant-title-iv

[30] View these and other findings in ING’s Impact Reports at: https://ing.org/impact/

[31] The following ING Partners have resources for teaching about Islam and Muslims, diversity and inclusion: https://ing.org/partner-resources