I wrote this piece for The Guardian.
It’s not just Trump – the US is gripped by anti-Muslim hysteria
The New York Times reported last week that climate change is forcing environmental researchers to seek cold-water refuges for imperiled salmon. This raises an obvious question for Republican candidates in the US presidential race: how do we ensure no Muslim salmon are swimming among the pink refugees? Clearly, we need a religious test for lox. The idea is absurd, of course. Climate change doesn’t exist.
The Republican party is drowning in its own stupidity, and threatening the rest of us – especially Muslim Americans – with it. Donald Trump, or Vanilla Isis, as I prefer to call him, recently proposed temporarily barring Muslims from entering the United States. The rebukes were swift, but as many as 66% of likely Republican voters favour such a ban, according to a Rasmussen poll.
Not for nothing, Islam has been practised in the US for a very long time. During slavery a significant number of enslaved Africans were Muslim. This history dates back much further than the late 19th century, when Trump’s ancestors first landed on American shores.
But Trump is not the only one spreading fear and loathing by ignoring facts about Muslims. The day before Trump announced his Muslim ban, Marco Rubio, the Florida senator also seeking the Republican nomination, claimed that Islamophobia is fictitious. “Where is the widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?” Rubio asked, seemingly oblivious to the spike in assaults on Muslims in the US.
In fact, two weeks earlier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) had issued a report about violence aimed at Muslim Americans after the Paris attacks. Cair stated that it had “received more reports about acts of Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions in the past week and a half, than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks.” It’s got significantly worse in recent days.
Steve King, a prominent Republican congressman, said he would allow entry to the US only to those who are “the most likely to be able to contribute to our society and our economy and assimilate into the American civilisation”, and concluded that “Muslims do not do that in significant numbers”.
This too is demonstrably false. Consider the medical profession. Muslim Americans constitute 1-2% of the population but account for about 5% of the country’s physicians. A recent study (conducted before this current wave of anti-Muslim hysteria) stated that nearly half of the responding Muslim-American physicians had felt greater scrutiny compared to others due to their faith, and a quarter reported experiencing religious discrimination frequently over their career. Nearly one in 10 said patients had rejected their care because they were Muslim.
Statements from Republican leaders are so wrongheaded, one has to wonder not only in which America but in which universe they live. However, while it’s important to call out Republicans, it’s also necessary to remember that the Obama administration’s policies have also unfairly targeted Muslim-Americans.
Under President Obama, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have routinely denied thousands of law-abiding people – mostly Muslims – citizenship, permanent residency and visas through the little-known Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP). The program mandates that immigration services field officers deny or delay, often indefinitely, any application with a potential “national security concern,” which is defined incredibly broadly by USCIS. Some applicants have waited 14 years for a process that should take six months. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit last year against the governmentover this scheme, more than 19,000 people from 21 Muslim-majority countries or regions were subjected to the programme between 2008 and 2012. Those who have had their applications denied have no means of discovering why, or any meaningful opportunity to respond.
In addition, the Obama administration continues to trumpet its Countering Violent Extremist (CVE) programme which, like its British counterpart, places an exclusive focus on the Muslim community – even though gun violence and right-wing terrorism have claimed many more lives in the US than extremists acting in the name of Islam. The programme relies on flawed assumptions about who becomes a terrorist and why, stigmatises the entire Muslim community, and tarnishes the community’s relationship with law enforcement.
Likewise, the FBI under the Obama administration has routinely set up vulnerable losers in terrorism sting plots that in all likelihood would never have happened without the FBI’s dirty work and offers of handsome payouts. During the sentencing phase in one of these cases, the judge herself said it was “beyond question that the government created the crime here”, criticising the FBI for sending informants “trolling among the citizens of a troubled community, offering very poor people money if they will play some role – any role – in criminal activity”.
In his recent Oval Office address, Obama rightly acknowledged the contribution that Muslim Americans have made to the country and condemned this current wave of bigotry. But both Democrats and Republicans have treated Muslims as deserving of fewer rights than other Americans. Isn’t it time to face the fact that blanket anti-Muslim policies feed an ugly prejudice and degrade our professed values of equal treatment under the law? There’s a dark cloud hovering ominously over Muslims today. It’s time for climate change.