Islamophobia in the USA

Standing up for Muslim rights

Hate crime against Muslims in the US is at its highest level in 15 years. The #MuslimsHaveRights campaign assembles academics, activists and artists who refuse to accept anti-Muslim bigotry. By Phoebe Braithwaite

In August 2016, Khalid Jabara was shot on his front porch by his neighbour Stanley Vernon Majors in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It took place only 30 minutes after Jabara had contacted the police saying he felt unsafe. Majors, who had repeatedly insulted the family using anti-Arab slurs such as "dirty Arabs", "filthy Lebanese", had hit Jabara′s mother, Haifa, with his car in September 2015 and had recently been released on bail.

Jabara′s death came five days after another racist murder, this time in Queens, New York. Imam Maulama Akonjee and his close friend Thara Uddin were shot while walking home from afternoon prayers. They were wearing traditional dress. The NYPD initially said there was no evidence it was a racially motivated attack, though the $1000 Akonjee was carrying remained untouched by the killer.

In early September, two women wearing hijabs were attacked in Brooklyn while out walking their 11- and 15-month-old children. Their attacker, Emirjeta Xhelili, allegedly told them to "get the f*** out," saying they "don′t belong here." She tried to rip their headscarves from their heads and pushed one of the children′s prams to the ground.

Hate crime against Muslims in the United States is thought to be at its highest level in 15 years, up 78% over the course of 2015, according to researchers at California State University.

Majority of US citizens support a ban on Muslims entering the country

Even six years ago, in 2010, 48% of Muslims in the US reported that they had experienced religious discrimination. During 2011 alone, more than half of American Muslims under 30 reported having been treated with suspicion, called offensive names, singled out by law enforcement and having been physically threatened.

Solidarity campaign for Khalid Jabara (source: Arab American Institute)
Murdered for his ethnicity: the family of 37-year-old Khalid posted on Facebook that their neighbour Vernon Stanley Majors had been calling them "dirty Arabs", "filthy Lebanese" and "Muslims" for years, despite the fact that they were Christians. In August Khalid Jabara called the police, having found out that Majors had purchased a firearm. "He was scared of what might happen," wrote his sister Victoria Jabara Williams on Facebook. The police told him there was nothing they could do. Moments later Khalid Jabara was gunned down in front of his house

A majority of US citizens now say they support a ban on Muslims entering the country, according to a YouGov poll conducted in March this year. This represents a six percent rise, from 45 to 51%, since December 2015, when Donald Trump had initially proposed "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." During the second presidential debate, he insisted on the terminology "radical Islamic terrorism", validating the mistaken assumption, held by 46% of US Americans, that Islam, more than other religions, automatically causes violence among its believers.

Widespread anti-Muslim sentiments and instances of anti-Muslim violence demonstrate the devaluation of Muslim life by those in society with most power – its politicians. "Islamophobia," says Arun Kundnani, "is a form of systematic racism directed at Muslims. It involves hatred, prejudice and ignorance. But its real significance lies in the violations of rights it enables."

Exclusion and dehumanisation on principle

"The war on terror, with its vast death toll in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere, could not be sustained without the dehumanisation of its Muslim victims," Kundnani argues, insisting on the intrinsic relationship between extensive violence against Muslims abroad and their mistreatment at home.

These are some of the issues that drive the #MuslimsHaveRights campaign. The project′s first video explores the idea of a Muslim ban and highlights the absurdity of disappearing Muslims – and their contributions to creating modern society.

Amid hysterical persecution, its cast rejects hatred and stands in solidarity with the video′s message that "all people are inherently valuable and deserve equal protection," delivered by the film′s central figure, played by leading civil rights attorney Palestinian American Lamis Deek, as she is dragged from her home by the FBI.

Together, Arun Kundnani – political commentator and author of "The Muslims Are Coming!" – and award-winning filmmaker Stewart Thorndike, have assembled a group of activists, academics, journalists, filmmakers and citizens who refuse to accept anti-Muslim bigotry.

On the project′s advisory board are Professor Isra Ali, a feminist media scholar at New York University whose research centres on the war on terror; Murtaza Hussain, a journalist at The Intercept who writes about foreign policy and national security; professor of media and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers, Deepa Kumar; journalist Aviva Stahl who writes about prisons, national security and immigration detention; documentary filmmaker Madiha Tahir, who made the film Wounds of Waziristan about drone attacks in Pakistan; and Saadia Toor, professor of sociology and anthropology at City University New York.

Muslims have rights. Let′s stand up for them.

Phoebe Braithwaite

© OpenDemocracy 2016

Phoebe Braithwaite is a freelance journalist based in New York, who has been working to promote the #MuslimsHaveRights campaign.

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