Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Islamophobia and Its Discontents

Laila Lalami | | June 13, 2012 | [Original Article

"Although the anti-Muslim backlash is frequently called a myth, the numbers tell a different story. Muslims in the United States make up less than 1 percent of the population, but they were nearly 13 percent of victims of religious-based hate crimes in 2010. It is true that this number is down from the historic high of 27 percent in 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but almost double what it was in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president. These crimes include intimidation, burglary, arson, vandalism and aggravated assault. And they target not just Muslims but also people who are mistaken for Muslims—Sikh men, for instance.

Furthermore, this rise in hate crimes is taking place in the context of a highly virulent debate about the visibility of Muslims in America. Two years ago, a huge controversy broke out about building Park51, an interfaith community center and mosque planned to be two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. Nearly everyone with political ambitions jumped into the fray. Mitt Romney declared that Park51 had “the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda.” Rudy Giuliani called it “a desecration.” And Sarah Palin famously tweeted, “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate [sic].” A month later, a cabdriver in New York was asked, “Are you Muslim?” When he said yes, he was stabbed in the neck...."[Read More]

"...None of this is to suggest that ideas should not be debated, still less ideas about Islam. But if you are opposed to specific religious edicts—retrograde blasphemy laws, say, or unfair divorce laws—then why not say you oppose them? Folding distinct issues under the banner term “Islam”—a term that covers an entire religion, a geographical region and countless individual cultures—is imprecise and maybe even useless. By all means, denounce fatwas on free speech, speak out against misogyny, criticize hateful practices. But don’t deny that Muslims, too, defend free speech; that they, too, fight for equality; and that they, too, can be victims of hate. Muslims are just like you. Incredible? No, just true."

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