In the past few months, DAESH unleashed on the world a series of horrendous terrorist attacks in major cities all across the globe and impacted every continent. Aside from the massive death toll, Islam and Muslims are doubly victimized – once by the actual terrorist attacks and twice by being despised as a religious group in the U.S. and around the world. The open anger directed at Muslims and overt venomous rhetoric harkens back to the bygone years of World War II and the demonization of the Japanese and Jews alike. Through their random and spectacular violence targeting civilians, the terrorists intend to drive a major wedge between “the West” and “Islam/Muslims” in such a way as to create two distinct and separate unreconciled categories – a permanent clash. The binary that is set in motion works to reinforce existing negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam that was built over years and causes heightened levels of suspicion, racist rhetoric, public hostility and violence.
Consequently, Islamophobia has reached a violent tipping point where public discourse and debates have given way to open calls for violence directed at Muslims. “I feel sorry for everybody who looks Middle Eastern,” was Samuel L. Jackson, the African American Oscar-nominated actor’s expression of sympathy and solidarity with Muslims in a recent press conference. Jackson insightfully highlighted how minority voices in public discourse are curtailed: “We have to be these very nice kinds of Negroes so that we feel safe walking around… Because if you present yourself as any other thing, then people call people on you.” Jackson’s defense of Muslims came in a press conference in Los Angeles for the release of “The Hateful Eight,” Quentin Tarantino’s violent and controversial new Western film that deals with America’s lingering race problems.
African Americans, as a group, have experienced structural racism and violence as a group in the United States and continue to be the subject of demonization. For Jackson to express sympathy with the predicament of Muslims, considering what African Americans experience daily, is an indication of how bad the situation has become and the saturation of Islamophobia across all communication mediums and civil society spaces.
In his Oval Office address on Sunday night, President Obama hinted at the rising tide of Islamophobia. “It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values, plays into the hands of groups like DAESH. Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes. And, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that … We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” he said.
However, U.S. President Barack Obama did give a nod to a collective responsibility by assigning to Muslims worldwide the task of “rooting out terror,” as if it was something within their capacity considering the complexity of the problem at hand. This call is no different than asking Muslim organizations and leaders to condemn every violent act that is carried out by an individual or group claiming an Islamic identity. No other religious or secular community is asked to undertake such a collective public responsibility for an individual or a group terrorist act. The demand to express condemnation implies an inherent responsibility or affinity with the terrorists as well as a need to prove one’s innocence.
For emphasis, and in case someone needs to be reminded, the 1.4 billion Muslims are not responsible for the heinous acts of individuals or groups claiming religious purpose for their criminal behavior. Muslims experience the same revulsion when they hear of such acts just as they rightly feel the pain and constant suffering inflicted by racism on African Americans and minorities across the world. More broadly, Muslims feel sympathy with the poor, the disenfranchised and the meek of the earth from all backgrounds and races including the white middle class that is being stoked into fascist racism by conniving and cunning politicians.
The tide of Islamophobia has reached a tipping point and extremists in the U.S. and Europe are jumping on the bandwagon, so as to score political points in election cycles and local power struggles. At present, the likelihood of violent attacks directed at Muslims is at an all-time high and it only takes an unstable person to act on the violent rhetoric filling the airwaves, TV shows and political rallies across the U.S. and Europe. President Obama’s speech was important but more is needed for civil society leaders, religious institutions and cultural producers to counter the intensity of xenophobia and racism prevalent today in the U.S. and Europe.
An Islamophobia tipping point has arrived and negative representation of Muslims is the norm across the political spectrum. The voices countering this tendency are few and the real crisis is that the extremist are in total control of public discourse and the overwhelming majority of people are actually being victimized by it. How to reverse this trend requires a massive undertaking from civil society leaders, which at present, is very slow to materialize. The time to speak, organize, mobilize, build institutions to defend Muslim communities, forge coalitions, register to vote, and educate, as well as, come out to the streets to write a new narrative. Wishing and waiting for Islamophobia to blow over will only prolong it. Today is a good day to resist and counter Islamophobia by thinking and actualizing a different and racism free world!