Taking an Inconvenient Stand against Islamophobia

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In the early hours of Sunday morning, a Muslim teenager was abducted, beaten, and murdered by a motorist as she was walking back to a mosque from IHOP in Sterling, VA.

Less than 24 hours later, a terrorist drove into Muslim worshippers leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque in London after Taraweeh prayers, resulting in a number of casualties.

Both instances came at a time in which anti-Muslim hatred is spiraling out of control. Both happened during Ramadan, Islam’s most sacred month. And both episodes have received no acknowledgement from President Trump’s usually overactive Twitter feed. We know from recent events such as the London Bridge attacks that the president takes interest in Muslims only when they are the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, not when they are the victims of them.

Hostility and violence against Muslims have been on the rise for years, and it’s only getting worse. The FBI noted a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2014 to 2015. France and Britain witnessed a 223 percent and 326 percent increase respectively in that same time period. Spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes have also followed recent terrorist attacks. After the London Bridge attacks, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased fivefold according to London’s Metropolitan Police.

The real tragedy is that politicians do not take Islamophobia seriously, even when evidence of its violent and deadly toll is right in front of us. That’s because too many of our political leaders have found in Islamophobia an effective tool for galvanizing the electorate. Framing Muslims as security threats as opposed to victims of hate crimes or terrorist attacks is what gets your base energized. It translates into votes, particularly for those who depend heavily on voters with strong nativist, nationalistic ideologies.

In Europe, Geert Wilders, the runner-up in the 2017 Dutch elections, called for the closing of all mosques and Islamic schools as well as banning the Qur’an. Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in the recent French elections, proposed banning headscarves from all public places after indicating that they were threats to French culture and identity.

During the past U.S. election cycle, Ben Carson rejected the idea that Muslims could become president, Article VI be damned. Ted Cruz called for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. Donald Trump proposed Muslim ID cards, Muslim registration systems, and a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country. He also insisted that “Islam hates us.”

These campaigns were helped more than harmed by this rhetoric, to the detriment of Muslims. Instrumentalizing Islamophobia, relentlessly casting Muslims as outsiders and enemies, has placed Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim in the crosshairs of some very dangerous extremists. It’s also put those who come to the aid of Muslims in danger, in some instances mortal danger, as was the case with two Good Samaritans on a Portland commuter train last month.

It’s no accident that the mainstreaming of Islamophobic political speech and the violence targeting Muslims in Europe and the United States are happening at the same time. In modern history, Muslim minority communities in Western nations have never been under the kind of threat that they are now. It’s a threat fueled and fed by politicians who see Muslims not as citizens to whom they are beholden but as collateral damage in their ambition to attain and retain public office.

The violence perpetrated against Muslims reflects a colossal moral failure for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, many of whom have been as equivocal in their condemnation of Islamophobia as they have been unequivocal in their condemnation of ISIS-inspired terrorism.

The time has come for presidents, prime ministers, and politicians to exercise genuine moral courage in the face of an epidemic that is costing lives and threatening the freedoms and values upon which our nations stand. The time has come for our elected leaders to call out Islamophobia in all of its bigotry and brutality and to defend the dignity and value of Muslim lives without hesitation.

This may not be the politically popular thing to do, but as Dr. King reminds us, the measure of our humanity is not what we stand for in times of convenience or comfort, but what we stand for in times of controversy and challenge. Islamophobia presents us with one of the great moral challenges of our time. It’s time our leaders take an inconvenient stand to address this challenge.

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