Blog | Center Works to Understand and Counter the Rise of Islamophobia

Houda Abadi is an associate director in the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program.

Hate crimes in the U.S. against Muslims or people who look as if they may be Muslim are at an all-time high. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, from 2015 to 2016 the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S. grew 197 percent and anti-Muslim hate crimes surged 67 percent. From January to July 2017, there were 63 attacks on mosques.

In June, Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Virginia girl walking back to her community mosque after visiting IHOP with her friends, was attacked and killed. The month prior, two men on Portland’s commuter train were stabbed and killed after trying to defend two visibly Muslim young women who were being harassed. Unfortunately, the list is way too long.

Since 9/11, Islam has been unfairly demonized and Muslims stigmatized. Muslim youths in the West have grown up scrutinized, shamed, and bullied because of their religion. During the 2016 U.S. political campaign, Islamophobic rhetoric was an accepted form of bigotry used to spread fear and garner votes. Anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States draws upon a significant network of funding. The surge in anti-Muslim violence came amid a year marked both by Daesh (aka ISIS) atrocities and by Islamophobic political rhetoric. Yet the most numerous victims of Daesh have been Muslims. Muslims are thus beset by both the hijacking of their religion by groups such as Daesh and the rise of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is more than harsh talk; it is a systemic and institutional form of racism. It is the silencing of Muslim voices. It is selective condemnation. It is the constant not-so-random stops at airport checkpoints. It is the recently renewed travel ban. It is FBI surveillance and policing of the Muslim community. It is when merely speaking Arabic is mistaken for an extremist threat. It is asking Muslims to apologize for crimes they did not commit. It is calling for a Muslim registry. It is a politician assuring worried voters that former President Obama is not a Muslim but is in fact “a very nice man” – as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Developing effective responses to the rise of Islamophobia has been at the core of the Carter Center’s project to prevent violent extremism since its inception. The Center believes that extremism knows no religious, national, or ethnic boundaries. Daesh and Islamophobia are two faces of the same coin, and combating one means combating the other. Both portray the West and the entire Muslim community as being fundamentally divided along existential fault lines. And both are wrong. We have convened a three-day Countering Islamophobia Symposium, bringing together 30 international practitioners and scholars on Islamophobia, media, and political violence. In parallel, the Center hosted a public panel featuring Dr. Tariq Ramadan, Dr. Suzanne Barakat and Dr. Deepa Kumar to discuss sustainable solutions to countering Islamophobia. As a direct outcome of the three-day symposium, the Center issued a public statement condemning the rise of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is not a Muslim problem only. It is a problem that affects us all. It’s an affront to our common humanity, and it is a human rights and social justice issue. We have to stand –up against all forms of structural oppression and marginalization. We all have a role to play in building a just, plural, and democratic future.

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