Chapel Hill: Opinion

Standing up against bigotry – Manzoor Cheema and the Rev. Nancy Petty

Manzoor Cheema
Manzoor Cheema

Our nation recently commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In the post-9/11 era, Muslims have faced bigotry, commonly referred to as Islamophobia.

Muslims, and people perceived as Muslims, have been injured or murdered since 9/11. Recently, a Marine recruit and Pakistani-American Muslim, Raheel Siddiqui, committed suicide in South Carolina following alleged anti-Muslim abuse. The drill instructor at the military academy called Siddiqui a terrorist and slapped him before Siddiqui reportedly jumped to his death. The same drill instructor put another Muslim recruit in a commercial clothes dryer multiple times and subjected him to anti-Muslim verbal attack, “You’re going to kill us all the first chance you get aren’t you, terrorist?”

New York alone has seen a large number of anti-Muslim incidents recently. Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and an associate, Thara Uddin, were murdered on the street in their neighborhood near the Al-Fuquan Jamia Masjid mosque in Queens. Nemariq Alhinai, a Scottish visitor to the U.S., had her clothes set on fire as she walked down the street on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. In Brooklyn, two mothers strolling their children down the street were attacked when a woman tried to rip off their headscarves and push away their children's strollers.

Muslims also experience a high incidence of attacks at their workplaces and even places of worship are not safe. Muslims comprise about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but account for about 20 percent of discrimination at the workplace, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings. Mosques have been vandalized and construction of new mosques challenged throughout the nation.

In addition to interpersonal bigotry, Muslims are also victims of institutional Islamophobia. Aiming to create a paranoia that Muslims seek to establish Islamic religious law in the United States, organized anti-Muslim groups have promoted a movement for the passage of anti-Shariah laws across the country.

Discriminating against and demonizing Muslims for their religious belief and practices is unjust and a product of widespread fear mongering. Muslims are also victims of increased profiling and surveillance by law-enforcement, another form of institutional Islamophobia.

Throughout the U.S. history, bigoted legislation has had far-reaching effects. Jim Crow laws were more than segregating water fountains. Such laws based on bigotry reduced an entire group of people to second-class citizens.

It is time to recognize that bigotry against Muslims is deeply connected to other forms of oppression. In a study of 102 anti-Shariah laws introduced in this country between 2011 and 2013, it was found that 80 percent were introduced by the same legislators who introduced voter suppression, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-union, and anti-immigrant laws.

In order to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry, it is extremely important to develop an intersectional movement that will challenge all forms of oppression. Triangle area faith-based and social justice organizations have come together to build such a movement that aims to abolish racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppression. Members of this coalition will sponsor a forum titled “Poisonous Politics: Faith, Fear, and Democracy” at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. We invite you to this forum for speakers and table discussions about the impact of hate and racism in this election cycle and how we can challenge it.

Manzoor Cheema is a fellow at The Center for New Community. The Rev. Nancy Petty is the pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.