Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from “The secret costs of Islamophobia,” first published in September 2016.
Most Americans don’t actually know any Muslims – at least, not personally.
More than 6 in 10 have seldom or never had a conversation with a Muslim, according to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. Most Americans also say they know little (57%) or nothing at all (26%) about Islam.
Those numbers have barely budged in 30 years, even after 9/11, two American-led wars in Muslim-majority countries, local and national outreach campaigns by Muslim mosques and organizations, dozens of terrorist attacks worldwide, high-profile congressional hearings and copious media coverage of Islam. All of which suggests that Americans are not just widely ignorant about Islam and Muslims, they are also oddly incurious.
Few things are more frightening than ignorance in action, to paraphrase a German poet.
Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanes, egged outside Walmart, scorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.”
People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”
American Muslims have been told that a mosque, unlike churches and synagogues, cannot serve as an election polling station. Dozens of communities have fought to keep Muslims from building mosques in their neighborhoods, sometimes threatening violence.
From 2001 to 2015, there were 2,545 anti-Islamic incidents targeting 3,052 Muslims, according to the FBI. Last year, anti-Muslim hate times surged 67%, reaching a level of violence not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and many Muslims believe hate crimes are underreported by victims and not pursued vigorously by police and prosecutors. This year, the FBI has begun counting anti-Arab incidents as well.
Politicians have claimed that 85% of mosques are controlled by Islamic extremists and that Islam is a political system, not a religion, and thus not protected by the First Amendment. They have threatened to “arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line” and pledged to bar Muslim refugees from the country. They have sanctioned spying on mosques without warrants and the racial profiling of Muslim communities. They have accused Muslims of launching a “civilizational jihad” and called Islam a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” They have shut down schools over lessons on Islam and called innocuous school materials dangerous propaganda. More than 30 states have considered bills to “protect” their civil courts from Islamic law, and nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee) enacted the bans. They have said Muslims cannot be president of the United States. They have said Muslims should not be here at all.
Challenged about Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, his spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, said, “So what? They’re Muslim.”
A coterie of well-funded pundits and self-proclaimed experts encourage Americans to fear all Muslims and the “creeping” influence of Islamic law in the United States. They cast Muslims as “enemies among us,” Trojan horses for an insurgency that will topple the republic and conquer its citizens.
Even many liberal politicians, while insisting most Muslims are peaceful, only mention Islam when speaking about national security and countering violent extremism.
“Islam is not thought of as American religion,” said Zareena Grewal, a professor of religious studies at Yale University, “however much Muslim-Americans wish that to be true.”
In 2011, more than half of American Muslims under 30 said they had been treated with suspicion, called offensive names, singled out by law enforcement or been physically threatened in the preceding year alone, according to a Pew Center report.
Asad Tarsin, a writer and doctor, lives in California with his wife and three young children.
“I know that they will be integrated in America and fully accept their American identity. My question is whether America will fully accept them.”