Monday, June 27, 2016

REPORT: Political hate rhetoric catalyst for the rise in anti-Muslim/American acts

"BEING MUSLIM/AMERICAN already carries a decent amount of baggage.," writes actor Aziz Ansari in a New York Times oped published over the weekend. "In our culture, when people think 'Muslim,' the picture in their heads is not usually of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction. It’s of a scary terrorist character from Homeland or some monster from the news."

His fears are justified. A report from the UC Berkeley Center for Race & Gender done in collaboration with The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  was released last week. Entitled Confronting Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States, reports the increase in hate crimes against Muslims or people mistaken as Muslims.

The last two months of 2015 saw 34 incidents in which mosques were targeted by vandals or those who want to intimidate worshippers. This is more incidents than usually recorded in an entire year.

Aziz Ansari

Islamophobia has unfortunately moved from the fringes of American society to the mainstream. Contenders for the office of the presidency have suggested un-constitutional policies such as banning all Muslims from the United States or suggesting that a Muslims could not be president of the United States. Elected officials in 10 states have enacted legislation designed to vilify or otherwise target Islam. In at least two states, the way school text books are selected was changed because some activists wrongly believe that introductory religious courses that teach children Islam’s five pillars are “indoctrination” and “proselytization.”

The last two months of 2015 saw 34 incidents in which mosques were targeted by vandals or those who want to intimidate worshippers. This is more incidents than we usually record in an entire year.

The strategy outlined in this report is an evolution from the opposition-centric strategy CAIR’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia has pursued since we published Legislating Fear in 2012. The proposed strategy focuses instead on changing the environment.
Islamophobic groups have enjoyed access to at least $205 million to spread fear and hatred of Muslims, says the report. Inner-core groups, which have a primary purpose to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims, have seen an increase in total revenue from $42,692,945 in 2008 to $205,838,077 in 2013.

“The hate that these groups are funding and inciting is having real consequences like attacks on mosques all over the country and new laws discriminating against Muslims in America,” Corey Saylor, author of the report and director of CAIR’s department to monitor and combat Islamophobia, said in a statement.

He also said politics has played in a role in perpetuating the prejudice, including the rhetoric of the current U.S. presidential race.

“The 2016 presidential election has mainstreamed Islamophobia and resulted in a number of un-constitutional proposals targeting Muslims,” he said.
“’Confronting Fear’ offers a plan for moving anti-Muslim bias back to the fringes of society where it belongs.”

The study examines two overlapping time periods: January 2015 through December 2015 and March 2015 through March 2016 (the 2016 presidential election season). It found approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence: 12 murders; 34 physical assaults; 49 verbal assaults or threats against persons and institutions; 56 acts of vandalism.

Confronting Fear acknowledges that acts of violence committed in the name of Islam “have undoubtedly contributed to negative public perceptions of Islam and Muslims in the United States.”

However it states that Islam and Muslims “are more likely to be held collectively responsible for the actions of an aberrant few.”

A goal of the report is to promote societal rejection of Islamophobia, as attrition in the acceptability of this form of prejudice would bring about change. It notes that societal rejection of the hate group Ku Klux Klan and its message resulted in less public support, visibility and impact.

“Islamophobia and groups that promote bias will likely always exist,” Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, said in a statement. “But the current environment that grants anti-Islam prejudice social acceptability must change so that such bias is in the same social dustbin as white supremacism and anti-Semitism.”
"Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray," writes Ansari, a comedian and actor, whose TV series Master of None received accolades for its depiction of people of color. "It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense."