Columns

Malik ’18: The dangerous stupidity of Islamophobia

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, November 23, 2015

I still have strong feelings about the atrocities that took place in Paris on Nov. 13. To say that I feel deep sadness for the innocent people who have suffered, that I am disgusted and angry because people who claim to share my religion have committed such heinous acts of violence, that I am scared for what will happen to Syrian refugees seeking shelter from war and that I am worried about the backlash Muslims around the world will face because of this mass killing would be a series of understatements.

What I hear on the news about how people are responding to the tragedy does not help me find peace. As an American Muslim, I am infuriated by the fact that, at a time when numerous U.S. political leaders could show compassion and understanding by expressing support for refugees and solidarity with Muslims in general, they are instead exploiting the terror caused by ISIS for their own political gains. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has asserted that while the United States should welcome Christian Syrian refugees, Muslim Syrian refugees should seek safety in Muslim countries, implying that they would pose a threat to the United States. Donald Trump, meanwhile, refused to rule out having Muslims carry special identification to signify their religion, nor is he opposed to increasing surveillance of mosques or searching Muslims without using warrants.

Such expressions are not exactly new. I am used to my religion being used as a punching bag for politicians. I remember the absurd controversy during the 2010 midterm elections around a mosque being built near Ground Zero in New York. People just wanted to have a house of worship and a community center near their homes. But this innocent desire was presented as suspicious and vile through false, prejudiced logic that equates particular acts by terrorists claiming to be Muslims with the views and actions of all Muslims. Through this way of thinking, politicians are seeking to fabricate an omnipresent yet insidious enemy: the anti-Western Muslim. This enemy is supposed to present a constant threat to this country.

Associating the actions of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups that claim to follow Islam with the entire religion of Islam in order to create the notion of a powerful anti-Western threat is asinine. Doing so ignores the fact that over 100 Muslim scholars worked on and supported an open letter last year, meant for the leader of ISIS, that relied upon the Quran to oppose ISIS’s ideological claims. The idiocy that allows one to assert that Islam in general is villainous ignores the fact that the majority of people killed by ISIS and other terrorist groups that claim to follow Islam are Muslims who refuse to obey the terrorists. Claiming that all Muslims pose a threat to the West ignores the fact that terrorists have killed scores in Baghdad, Beirut and Mali — three non-Western places. But these truths do not serve politicians’ needs. Fear does.

By presenting Islam itself as a threat to the West, politicians make the terrorists seem more numerous than they are and falsely exaggerate the threat they pose. The politicians therefore put on the masks of strong leaders by promising to take great measures to defeat the enemy.

But these politicians, like Trump and Cruz, are not strong leaders. Rather, they are complicit in the terrorists’ efforts. In an interview with the Huffington Post, journalist Glenn Greenwald explained that one of ISIS’s goals is to get Western countries “to turn against their Muslim populations,” for ISIS wants Muslims in Western countries to feel that they are unsafe and that they could never assimilate. Greenwald said the more we in the West call for and carry out anti-Muslim measures, such as increasing surveillance in or shutting down mosques, “the more we’re playing perfectly into ISIS’s hands.” Thus, the rhetoric of certain politicians is not merely incorrect but also dangerous.

The Huffington Post has a running list of Islamophobic incidents that have occurred in the United States and Canada since the atrocity in Paris. I fear that the blatant Islamophobia conveyed by these so-called leaders will make the environments in Western countries even worse for Muslims. I find it disgusting that political leaders in the United States are riding on this wave of fear that the terrorists intended to create — a wave that will cause real dangers for many innocent people.

I am deeply saddened not only by what has occurred in Paris but also by the atrocities that have taken place around the world and that have been carried out by people who are enemies of humanity in general. My thoughts and prayers are for those who have died and for those who have suffered. But I fear the suffering is not over. I dread the Islamophobic backlash that will cause innocent people who are in no way associated with or supportive of terrorist groups to get hurt. As long as these terrorist groups are active, further atrocities could occur, and in the aftermath this pattern of hatred and hostility will only add to the pain.

In this time of pain and fear, we have to respond in nondestructive ways. We should grieve, mourn, do what we can to help those who have suffered and unite through expressions of solidarity against those who have caused the tragedies, those who are opposed to all decent human beings from all backgrounds and religious faiths around the world. Taking advantage of these terrible circumstances in order to further self-interested goals is inexcusable.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.