Islam is a monotheistic religion, centered around the teachings of the Qu’ran and serving Allah (meaning God in Arabic). However, this Abrahamic religion has been harshly discriminated against in the United States for years. Most prominently throughout the last twelve years, post September 11th, 2001. Unfortunately, issues such as socialization through the media, power distribution, religious ignorance, stereotyping and visible differences have contributed to the ill attitudes towards Muslims. This paper will examine how Americans have been socialized in islamophobia within the United States.
Islamophobia is defined as the “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The first time islamophobia was introduced as a concept was in November 1997 by the Runnymede Trust Report. The report was the first time islamophobia was discussed, based on British Muslim populations, to better conditions for Muslims. In response to the report, “the Government approved the first state funding for specifically Muslim schools in late 1997, and there has been some improvement in media portrayals of Islam.” (“Commission on British Muslims”) Islamophobia is indeed similar to xenophobia, the fear of foreignness and unfamiliarity, but is specific to the religion of Islam. Islamophobia has lead to discrimination, prejudices, assault, and hate crimes.Order now
It is interesting to analyze the changes of islamophobia. When perhaps originally, islamophobia was a concept only describing the fear of Islam. Now, it has become racialized into the fear of Arabs as well, rather than a religious fear. The phobia continues to spread from the irrational fear of Islam to perhaps a fear of anyone who may be perceived as Arab or Muslim. This includes Sikhs for wearing their turbans and unshorn hair, Indians and Pakistanis for their darker skin. Really anyone who could possibly fit the stereotypical description of an Arab. Harsh attitudes towards these people have drastically enhanced from the events of September 11st, and remained present in society today.
September 11th holds many hard and upset feelings around the world today. The harsh actions of Muslim extremists unfortunately completely changed the way Muslims are treated, especially in the United States. These events, exacerbated islamophobia. Unfortunately, “the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, connect Muslims and Islam to terrorism within the geographical borders of the United States.” (Byng) Although it has been over a decade since the attack, many still feel racist and discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims. Muslims are the targeted minority in the United States, “the 9/11 terrorist attacks shifted the social and political context for Muslims in the United States. Terrorism within the geographical borders of the United States carried out by Muslims places an identity at the center of national and global politics.” (Byng) The blame of the horrible terrorist attacks, rather than be placed on terrorists or religious extremist, has been placed on Islam in America. After September 11th, hate crimes towards Muslims skyrocketed, “the most dramatic change noted by the report was a more than 1,600 percent increase in reported hate crimes against Muslims — a jump from 28 hate incidents in 2000 to 481 last year.” (Schevitz) There has been a significant uprise in islamophobia since the terrorist attacks. The American public has become socialized to believe that the muslim population is synonymous with terrorists who crashed the world trade center twelve years ago.
Although through the last year statistics have shown a decrease in islamophobia such that, “CAIR rates islamophobia as a 5.9 on a scale of one to 10, with one representing an America free of Islamophobia and 10 being the worst possible situation for Muslims. In 2010, CAIR rated the state of Islamophobia in America as a 6.4.” This is a .5 decrease. However, America still has a long way to go to become a true “melting pot” accepting all religions.
Just over a year ago, Park 51, a Islamic community center opened near the site of where the terrorist attacks of September 11th occurred. There was a huge controversy and very many people were against it, as one might imagine. Many felt like it was insensitive and wrong, although the community center is inviting to all faiths. The center has many facilities including a swimming pool, basketball court, library, auditorium, a September 11th memorial, and also a mosque. The mosque caused the most controversy. Even to the point where President Obama commented stating that “ the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.” From doing so other politicians, such as Newt Gingrich slurred back that obama is “pandering to radical Islam.” When obviously this was not the case. The community center was completely legal and peaceful. Still, many Americans were arguing that “Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build a mosque at ground zero.”(Ratnesar) Showing showing how deeply September 11th influenced our prejudice, but also that years later there is still a problem.
The media has a large influence on Islamophobia. Many are aware that the media does influence our thoughts and beliefs, but if we are to take that a step further, we see that it seems as though the media perpetuating islamophobia to gain money. A report by The Council on American-Islamic Relation shows, “The inner core of the U.S.-based Islamophobia network enjoyed access to at least $119,662,719 in total revenue between 2008 and 2011.” Which explains that television networks who are contributing into instilling this fear into their viewers are gaining a profit by doing so. It has been stated that, Islamophobia, ‘mainly exists within right-wing media circles. And while it acknowledges that not all of the people and groups in its report ‘have promoting fear of Islam as their primary purpose,’ they allow the ‘Islamophobia network access to further financial resources and a wider audience.’ ” (Feldman) The networks involved with encouraging the public of the United States to fear Islam include: Fox News, The Christian Broadcasting Network, and The Washington Times. (“Legislating Fear”) These are mainstream media outlets. It is unfortunate, that Islam is being targeted as a means of profit within the media. It is also shocking that the“leaders of the Islamophobia network are generally well-compensated for their efforts, often enjoying salary increases that far surpass those anticipated by members of the general workforce.” (“Legislating Fear”) Quite literally, those exposed to networks are being negatively influenced and introduced to prejudice. While those who are in the media are causing a socialization and earning a high profit from it.
Fox news in particular makes a large impact. For example, “Among all Republicans, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say that Islam is at odds with American values. Among Republicans who most trust Fox News, more than 7-in-10 (72 percent) believe that Islam is at odds with American values.” Furthermore, here is a direct quote of Mike Huckabee, a politician who also has his own show, The Mike Huckabee Show, on Fox news.
“I know we are not supposed to say anything unkind about Islam. I mean it is politically incorrect, I get that. But could someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called holiest days…The most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday? So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.” – Mike Huckabee (“The Daily Caller”)
This is an obviously a statement filled with prejudice. Huckabee aired that live on The Mike Huckabee Show. Muslims were described as rioters, uncorked animals, and arsonists. He describes Islam as a religion which builds off of hatred and violence, and people watch his show. Listening to all of these horrible and directed accusations. Huckabee is not even the only person to do so on Fox News. Others such as Eric Bolling, the Fox Business host has said, “is the worst, most deadliest idea in the history of the world.” Glenn Beck and his guest speaker, Joel Richardson “tied Islam to the Antichrist in the new testament.” And Steven Crowder, who has said “The truth is that Muslims tend to be more violent than Christians”, and “the real problem is the Quran.” All of these statements are considered prejudice and add to islamophobia. While Fox News’ slogan is “fair and balanced,” we can truly see how prejudice they are towards Muslims. Fox News channel is on American’s basic cable, meaning anyone with any type of cable can watch. (“Legislating Fear”)
However, news channels and papers are not the only media sources of islamophobic propaganda. The very popular television show Showtime’s Homeland, has received several awards and nominations, including Emmy’s and Golden Globes. Homeland is a political thriller about a CIA officer held captive by al-Qaeda. Various images on Homeland misperceive Muslims and Islam; “Homeland portrays Muslims as synonymous with terrorists.”Although as a television show, with many viewers the islamophobia is not as blatant as one might think. All muslims are shown to be closely related to terrorism, or terrorist networks. The images of Lebanon are horrible misrepresentations of danger with guns and hostility for Americans. Islam is shown as a violent religion, and the characters are multidimensional, “these caricatures another layer, adding depth and feeling to these once purely static archetypes.” Giving the television show a realistic appeal, yet completely targeting Muslims and unfortunately keeping fear and hatred alive for Americans today. Also, something else to consider is, when viewing a television show, it is usually for relaxation. Rarely is one watching to analyze how realistic, or truthful it is. Yet, television shows and other media becomes subconsciously influential on prejudices and opinions. The American public seems to be surrounded by media which is inaccurately portraying Muslims as dangerous. Of course the fear of Muslims is continuing, when all that is shown through the media is Islam is dangerous. How often is it on television that we come across a women wearing a hijab? How often is it that Muslims are portrayed in a gentle and kind matter in the media? America media neglects to show Muslims without instilling fear. Although they are not pictured as such, this does not mean that they do not exist. The American media needs to show Muslims in a more accurate light. (Aucoin)
Another aspect which contributes to perpetuating the discrimination towards Muslims as well as shows the severity of the hatred is the physical aspects of being Muslim. In reality, the true visible identity difference would include wearing the hijab, a headscarf worn to maintain modesty within the Islamic tradition. Women who outwardly express their islamic faith also experience a highly likelihood of discrimination; “for visible Muslims, the threat of violence and abuse is even higher (especially for women).” (Rose) This may possibly because their faith is obvious. Their outward expression of religion becomes a way for targeters to direct their hatred.
Furthermore, the Orientalist depiction of muslims have even caused hate crimes to those who do not identify with the islamic faith. Earlier this year, there was a shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara. It is not uncommon for orientalists to mistake sikhs for Muslims, due to their stereotyped idea of what a Muslim looks like. For example, “Representations would include Arabs with ‘their sharply hooked noses’ and ‘evil moustached leers’. To have dark skin and a beard invites a racist assumption of faith and a baseless fear…However, Arabs only account for around 20% of the global Muslim population but their caricature dominates the Orientalist mindset – especially at airports.” This causes other minorities to be mistaken for Muslims. Another example could be when a man of Bangladeshi descent was targeted as a Muslim, and then assaulted in New York. People are being abused, and targeted because of their physical appearances which may or may not resemble what one person perceives as a Muslim. However, Islam is a religion. There are Whites, Asians, African Americans, and many other races which are Muslim. It is not possible to describe how a Muslims look. Some women do not even wear hijab, and still identify with the Muslim faith. Appearance plays a role into who is being discriminated against, whether Muslim or not. (Prothero)
Power distribution also impacts this continuation of Islamophobia and discrimination. In our society, white men hold the most power. Whereas Muslims are most definitely a minority. As a minority it becomes more difficult to voice yourself and be heard. Minorities are often socially separated from those who dominate the societies power. Muslims are not completely accepted by society, as they are discriminated against, and because they are a minority without power, it is only staying as a problem. Muslims are not given a voice in America, “Islamophobes call Muslims ‘whiners’ when Muslims point out the bias being directed at the community. After the FBI released numbers for bias crimes in 2011, advocates of this theme attempted to use the 157 hate crimes against Muslims as proof that Islamophobia is either not really happening or is minimal.” (“Legislating Fear”) If Islam was a dominant religion of most White Americans, this would not be a problem any longer. Instead, the “religious minority identity has allowed Muslims in the United States to be targeted for discrimination.” (Byng) Being a minority makes Muslims targetable. They have less power to make a difference to the public and they also have a quieter voice, just as all minorities do. Those who have the most power in the United States are typically not speaking on behalf of Islam, rather they are discussing the religion as a violent and dangerous source. Such examples were discussed earlier such as Mike Huckabee. The issue is entirely connected to power distribution.
Politics also play a role in islamophobia in the United States. Politicians, usually are white males because of the power distribution in America. Many politicians add to the media’s depictions of Islam, as well as legislation being passed with an anti-Muslim bias. For instance, “In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislature of 29 states and the U.S. Congress…While the basis behind the bills is clear, the presence of an actual problem that needed to be solved was not, even to the legislators introducing the measures. In at least 11 states, mainstream Republican leaders introduced or supported anti-Muslim legislation.” As we saw before in the media, leaders are using islamophobia to gain viewers, or in this case supporters or voters. Instead of being viewed as a community within the United States, they are being treated as a political platform which can be argued in different ways. When a Republican presidential candidate used anti-Muslim rhetoric, they were accepted, and still supported by the public. Muslim terrorists have become a hot topic to discuss, a way to win over voters. There should not be a political culture of discriminating against any religion. Another example of this extreme prejudice related to politics could be when President Obama was running for office, and his middle name, Hussein, was released. Automatically, many voters were sure that Obama must be a Muslim. Walid Shoebat “…it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim.” This became controversial during the 2008 presidential campaign. (“Legislating Fear”) Not only do politicians play a big role in legislation, but they are also our leaders, which is why it is important for politicians to stop this hateful language and ideas towards Muslims.
The United States’ religious ignorance plays into believing the false accusations which are made by the media of Islam. People speak on behalf of Islam without background in Islam or a good understanding of Islam. People speak about Islam without any contact with Muslims themselves. Religious ignorance has become common, “nonetheless, Americans remain profoundly ignorant about their own religions and those of others.” Which only enhances religious discrimination. Ignorance leads to false beliefs and misunderstandings. Even publics schools in the United States are discouraged from facilitating conversations about religion. Although this does not create islamophobia, it does indeed impact how it is perpetuated. Without knowledge and understanding, how can one formulate an educated opinion? Instead we have Islamophobia deriving from a misunderstanding of a religion, and hatred. Changes in America need to occur, “in debates about the fate of the Middle East, the propriety of gay marriage, and the politics of Islam, the stakes are too high to defer to politicians and pundits.” Instead of letting the knowledge of power biasly passed down through the news, there needs to be a real effort of true learning. (Aucoin)
To make a better future for Muslim Americans, Americans must first start by recognizing them as humans and a part of the United States. The media would need to start displaying truthful non-violent Muslims on the news as well as other television shows. Politicians would need to stop using Muslims for political gain. The media would need to stop perverting the topic to enhance capital gain. Stereotypes would need to be diminished. Hate crimes would hopefully fade through all of this. Muslims would not feel prejudices or discrimination. Islamophobia would not exist.
We live in a country where “Islamophobic rhetoric remains socially acceptable” today. (“Legislating Fear”) The media, politics, religious ignorance, power distribution and stereotypes have influenced Americans into being socialized into believing that Muslims are dangerous and we should fear them. The more that our country allows discrimination against Muslims, the longer we allow our fellow Americans of the Islamic faith to remain oppressed and degraded. We, Americans, must break barriers. We must stray away from being socialized by the media, maintaining religious ignorance, following orientalist stereotypes, contributing to hate crimes and prejudice. We as a country must recognize that September 11th was an act of extremism, not an act of Islam. If Americans continue to believe that extremist terrorists are synonymous with Muslim Americans, we will soon ironically enough become extremist in prejudice, and discrimination.
Aucoin, Julianna. “Homeland: Islamophobic Propaganda or Progressive Masterpiece?” The Institute of Politics at Harvard University. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. .
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“Commission on British Muslims.” Runnymede Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. .
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Poor, Jeff. “Huckabee Hammers Islam for Threats of Post-Ramadan Violence.” The Daily Caller. N.p., 05 Aug. 2013. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. .
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Ratnesar, Romesh. “Ground Zero: Exaggerating the Jihadist Threat.” TIME.com. N.p., 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. .
Rose, Steve. “Since 9/11, Racism and Islamophobia Remain Intertwined | Steve Rose.” The Huffington Post UK. N.p., 09 Nov. 2013. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.
Schevitz, Tanya. “FBI Sees Leap in Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes / 9/11 Attacks Blamed for Bias — Blacks Still Most Frequent Victims.” SFGate. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.