On July 14th, 2016, a man ploughed through a crowd of people watching fireworks in honor of Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing at least 85 civilians. In the months leading up to this tragedy, similar attacks were made upon major cities throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
On March 22nd, 2016, a number of explosions targeted Brussels airport and the Belgian capital’s subway, killing at least 35 civilians.
Just prior to the attacks in Nice, a series of explosions occurred at Istanbul airport on June 28th, 2016, killing at least 41 individuals. In response to these violent attacks, Western politicians and media continue to engage in anti-Muslim racism, seeking to hold all Muslims responsible for these attacks.
Western leaders and the mainstream media exclusively apply the word “terrorism” to those acts perpetrated by individuals of Middle Eastern origin, while categorizing violent attacks carried out by white perpetrators as isolated incidents. A high level of hateful rhetoric by politicians, media commentators, and everyday citizens targets Muslims, Arabs, and those who appear to be of Middle Eastern origin.
Following each violent attack executed by a non-white person, reports have shown a spike in hate crimes against Muslims in the US and Europe. These incidents have increased dramatically in recent years, fueled by the growing popularity of political candidates who incite violence and openly call for and support banning Muslims from entering the US.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, rather its just been given a major platform. Calls for the deaths of Muslims and brown and black bodies are an all too common sight on social media.
It happened to me as a status on a Facebook news feed caught my attention.
Following a violent attack perpetrated by an individual with a Muslim name, a girl I went to College with said: “My heart is so heavy for the hit our Marine Corp took today. When will this all stop? God Bless Our Troops.”
A friend of hers commented and said: “When we blow that entire part of the earth off the map.” To which she responded: “Please get on that ASAP!” It felt like I had taken a bullet. I was numb and livid at the same time. I chose not to engage with someone who had her mind set on murder. The ease to which she responds to approve the annihilation of millions of people illustrates how deep-seated this hatred is. Statuses like this have been normalized but now have mouthpieces on a national stage in the forms of presidential candidates and political pundits.
Racism is not limited to everyday rhetoric and public hate crimes. Muslims in the West, particularly in the US, face institutional racism as well.
Governmental programs, including surveillance and informants at mosques, continue to violate Muslim Americans’ basic civil liberties. Furthermore, government counter-terror and countering-violent extremism (CVE) strategies stigmatize the Muslim community and only seek to legitimate orientalist narrative that Muslims are inherently violent. A 2007 report from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) Intelligence Division “outlines radicalization ‘indicators,’” including “growing a beard,” “abstaining from alcohol,” and “becoming involved in social activism.”’
The systematic effort to demonize Muslims by states is nothing new. Dr. Deepa Kumar, a professor at Rutgers University, states that equating violent acts to Islam as opposed to the problem of politics is just perpetuating the notion that all Muslims are primitive. This insistence on analyzing any attack committed by a non-white person through a religious lens is deeply flawed. It fails to examine the political, social, and economic factors that influence individuals’ behaviors. Additionally, this argument fails to take into account the larger context of a US war on terror, which has killed millions of Muslims in the past 15 years.
What is often unknown is that the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks (between 82 and 97 percent) are Muslims. Muslims comprised one-third of the victims of the Nice attack in France. The Baghdad bombing on July 3rd, 2016 killed at least 250 Iraqi civilians and was the worst bombing since the US invasion of the country. The media maintains limited coverage of such information and events and instead focuses on vilifying over a billion Muslim individuals. Muslims are left to not only mourn the loss of life, but also deal with the backlash from society.
In efforts to combat violence, it is important to focus on the larger structures that seek to embolden and perpetuate this cycle of hate and death. Efforts must be taken to examine the root causes of isolated violent behavior, often a result of socio-economic circumstances and mental illness caused by living in a state of war.
Anti-Muslim racism has been around for quite some time, as Islamophobia is deeply rooted in the structures and history of western nations. However, this hate is on the rise given the acceptance and encouragement of Islamophobic rhetoric and acts by individuals in power.
As a young Muslim woman who’s truly exhausted from having to listen to so much hate, I, along with most American Muslims, deal with the very real fear of being violently attacked or killed. The violence perpetrated and sanctioned by a system has given the green light to racists and white supremacists to target our mosques, our Imams, and our community.
The one thing that remains certain is that without a true dismantling of white supremacy and an end to state violence, anti-Muslim sentiment will sadly remain.