Amid rising anti-Muslim attacks across the United States, many from within targeted communities are calling on U.S. society to address the root causes of this violence by examining deep and “structural” Islamophobia, manifested in modern U.S. history—from the War on Terror to the 2016 presidential race.
“For some of us, organizing and resisting against this system of anti-Muslim violence is survival,” Darakshan Raja, co-founder of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum and program manager for the Washington Peace Center, told Common Dreams. “It is emotionally exhausting and traumatizing to live in a world where a core part of our identity, Muslim, is consistently dehumanized.”
That dehumanization is not a new phenomenon.
“In my mind, what Donald Trump is talking about has already been policy for the past 14 years,” Dr. Maha Hillal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, told Common Dreams. “There are numerous ways that Muslims have been targeted under the guise of national security.”
Raja echoed this point, saying: “I would like for the broader U.S. society to recognize that anti-Muslim violence is structural,” said Raja. “It is an extension of the systems of oppression that America is built upon.”
“It is codified in policies and laws that make up the War on Terror, which we all fund through our tax dollars,” Raja continued. “The collective blame, hate violence, and dehumanization Muslims experience must be seen as an extension of state violence. These systems of violence can only sustain themselves if we continue to accept the dehumanization of communities. A simple start to rejecting anti-Muslim violence is rejecting our dehumanization.”
From New York to San Francisco to Washington, D.C., Arab and Muslim communities have been at the forefront of efforts to counter rising Islamophobia, which is perhaps most explicitly on display in the presidential campaign of Trump, who has invoked the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to justify his call to ban non-American Muslims.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations announced Monday that member organizations plan to focus on voter drives, as well as organize a National Open Mosque Day “designed to help increase interactions between American Muslims and citizens of other faiths and backgrounds.”
In a statement emailed to Common Dreams, the Council—whose members include the Council on American-Islamic Relations and United Muslim Relief—said it “will also seek to increase emergency preparedness for Islamic institutions and individual Muslims to address the rising number of hate incidents nationwide.”
Some argue that such discussion also requires an examination of state violence already perpetrated by the U.S. government. As Deepa Kumar, professor and author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, recently pointed out, “Trump need not have looked to 1942, or earlier, for a historical precedent. His internment proposal has already been in process, albeit in different forms, since 9/11, with tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants and citizens having passed through the prison-industrial complex.”
Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, “Mosques, community centers, and even children’s sports leagues have been subjected to surveillance,” notes Kumar. “Despite the fact that not even one of these 1,200 was found to have connections to 9/11 or terrorism, the pattern of detention and deportation has only grown since then.”
And in what one commentator called “taking a page from Donald Trump,” lawmakers recently passed a measure to formalize visa waiver discrimination against Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese, and Syrian Americans.
According to Hillal, now is a critical time to “construct a counter-narrative that exists outside of the system of white supremacy, where we can talk about our own stories from our own experiences.”
And Raja explained, “Some of the ways we are organizing includes rebuilding community, investing in grassroots work, holding educational forums, self-care, and unpacking internalized Islamophobia.”
Parallel organizing, meanwhile, is taking place across the Atlantic Ocean. Over 100 organizations last week issued a joint statement calling on the French government to lift the country’s “state of emergency”—which is set to expire February 26, but according to President Francois Hollande, could be extended.
Groups including the French Human Rights League and the Collective against Islamophobia blasted the measure for depriving Muslims and other communities of the right to protest and allowing police to conduct discriminatory raids and arrests. The missive demands an immediate halt to arbitrary searches and arrests that have swept homes, mosques, restaurants, and more since the Paris attacks of November 13.
What’s more, Muslims within French society have filed at least 20 complaints against the government, arguing that their rights were violated under the country’s state of emergency, including through unlawful detentions.
“The raids have disproportionately targeted people of Islamic faith with overt brutality,” Yasser Louati, spokesman for the Collective against Islamophobia in France, said in a recent interview. “We’ve collected evidence of 50 cases of abuse — and these are just the ones we know about — where police hurled racist abuse at families, women were assaulted and one even miscarried.”