Author: Dana Busgang, Goucher College
The first amendment to our constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Our nation was founded by and for individuals who were seeking refuge from religious persecution in Europe. We know now that claims about the foundation of our country, such as “all men are created equal” do not necessarily reflect the reality of the matter, as our continued struggle with racial inequality demonstrates. However, we should still strive as a nation to realize the values espoused in our constitution as closely as possible. America is one of the most diverse nations in the world. People of all different ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic classes, and all parts of the world flock to our country in search of the freedom embodied in our constitution. Recently, however, one group of American citizens has been facing an abhorrent amount of discrimination, which stems from the actions of radical religious militant groups half way around the globe.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans were awakened to the world of Islamic extremism. Many were shocked to discover that Osama Bin Laden, the orchestrator of the 9/11 attacks, had once been backed by US money and weapons during the Soviet-Afghan war. In fact, many of the current most-wanted jihadists received their training in Afghanistan while being supplied with American weapons. Almost overnight, Muslims in America went from a religious minority that existed in relative peace and happiness, to the target of some of the most blatant and widespread discrimination this country has seen. Pre 9/11, anti-Islamic hate crimes were the second least reported hate crime. Post 9/11, anti-Islamic hate crimes rose to the second highest reported among religious-oriented incidents, a growth of 1600%. In a Gallup poll from 2010, 48% of Muslim Americans reported that they experienced religious discrimination.
Now, with another extremist Islamic group dominating the US media, we are seeing a spike in Islamophobia akin to the one post 9/11. On November 4th, shots were fired at a southern California mosque while four people were inside praying. The incident is currently being investigated as a possible hate crime. In the recent midterm elections, several publicly Islamophobic candidates were elected, such as Georgia Republican Jody Hice, who believes that the first amendment does not apply to Islam. In addition, a Harris Poll conducted in September concluded that 52% of Americans would not vote for a Muslim candidate.
As ISIS dominates headlines, once again the most visible example of Islam is that of a violent extremist group that slaughters fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the name of God. Although many Muslim intellectuals and leaders, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, have denounced the actions of ISIS as un-Islamic and distanced themselves from the group, ISIS’ actions are still being blamed on Islam, and therefore on Muslims. Even President Obama has announced on national television that the actions of ISIS do not represent the ideologies and beliefs of Muslims worldwide, yet anti-Islamic rhetoric is still rampant in US media, and Islamophobic incidents are on the rise yet again. Do we ask Christians to denounce the actions of extremist Christian groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church? Do we ask Jews to denounce the actions of ultra-orthodox extremists in Israel who burnt a teenager alive this summer in Jerusalem?
It is unfair and unjust to associate one of the world’s largest religions with small groups of extremists whose actions are in no way reflective of the beliefs of a majority of Muslims worldwide as well as in the US. The rhetoric regarding Islam and Muslims in certain outlets of American media is unacceptable. The recent Islamophobia that has been on the rise is unacceptable. If we are going to stick to the principles that this country was founded on, American citizens must do their best to stop Islamophobia in its destructive, prejudicial path.