Since 9/11, and to an astonishing degree in recent years, there has been a disturbing and growing popularity of prejudice against, hatred toward, or fear of the religion of Islam. I have been haunted in recent weeks by the sharp turn in our national rhetoric, by the unchecked conflating of Islam and terror, of Muslim and other.
Since words have meaning and names have power, let’s name this hatred and this fear: It is called Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia” is making American leaders turn a hard cold shoulder to the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees, our own governor in North Carolina and elected sheriff in Durham among them. “Islamophobia” is allowing demagogues like Donald Trump to dangerously stoke and legitimize the fear and animosity of large sections of America. “Islamophobia” is causing Muslims in America, whether observers of the Islam faith or those with ancestors hailing from parts of the world where Islam is predominant, to live in fear, alienation, and a near constant threat of violence.
Since the deeply tragic incidents in Paris and San Bernadino, the Council on American-Islamic Relation has documented a rash of Islamophobic acts unprecedented since 9/11. These include: violence against Islamic places of worship, intimidation, violence, and/or threats against individuals and groups of Muslims, and profiling of airline passengers. And let us not forget, just in this past year North Carolina had our own horrifying example of extreme Islamophobia, with the utterly tragic murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill.
Racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia. We are all familiar with these terms, and if we are people of conscience, rooted either in faith or in humanism, we want to distance ourselves from these words and their manifestations. However, in this moment of virulent American extremism, this is not enough. We need to actively challenge the ideologies of those who are spreading these doctrines of hate.
How do we do this?
▪ We need to add “Islamophobia” to the list of words that capture the bigotry, intolerance, and dehumanization inflicted indiscriminately upon an entire group of people. Among our friends, family, and co-workers, we need to actively counter Islamophobic arguments that exploit extremist tragedies to demonize the entire religion on Islam, rather than seeing them as individual extremist attacks.
▪ We need to talk with our kids about Islamophobia and help them make sense of the hateful language and actions they are seeing and hearing in the media.
▪ We need to work with them to develop words and strategies to use when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school.
▪ We must dig deeper to better understand the U.S. foreign policies that create a breeding ground for extremist forces abroad.
▪ We must hold our elected leaders at all levels of government accountable when they play into the rhetoric and ideology of Islamophobia. To this end, the Human Relations Commission and Durham City Council should be commended for their recent resolution that “strongly condemns recent comments suggesting that Muslims be banned from entering the United States as reprehensible, unconstitutional, and un-American. We believe that people of all, and no, religious beliefs must be respected and embraced.”
▪ Finally, make the time to engage the Muslims and Arabs in your life. Ask questions, offer support, learn about Islam, and gently make room for dialogue and learning.
It is up to each of us to demonstrate that we know that hate has never led to progress. The People’s Alliance stands with those who will name Islamophobia, and challenge it whenever it arises with its opposite, which is love, compassion and commitment to our common humanity.
This column was written by Mel Norton, on behalf of the Durham People’s Alliance.