Anti-Muslim remarks not just offensive – they also affect policy

Donald Trump and Ben Carson rightly received heat for their recent anti-Muslim remarks on the campaign trail. Trump’s failure to properly respond to the idea that Muslims were “a problem” and Carson’s deplorable remark that a Muslim should never become president clearly revealed their legitimization of rising Islamophobia in America. For those familiar with the issue, these offensive comments came as no surprise, since the demonizing of Muslims seems to cyclically rise during elections. Still, they must be taken seriously, as they have dangerous ramifications that extend far beyond the campaign trail, not only for Muslim Americans, but also for an extremely military U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been increasingly portrayed in media, politics, and law enforcement as “the other,” no doubt in part thanks to the so called “war on terror” and multi-million dollar Islamophobia network. Muslim Americans discovered they were being spied on by the New York Police Department in their homes, mosques, and work places. FBI trainings preached that mainstream Muslims were “violent” and “radical.” They routinely find themselves on no fly lists, sometimes as a result of refusing to become government informants, and often face increased scrutiny at airports, schools, and other public venues. Anti-shariah legislation threatens their right to practice basic tenets of their faith. Insulting anti-Muslim events like “Draw Muhammad” contests and “Burn a Quran Day” are a grim reality.

{mosads}Outside of U.S. borders, this “other-ization” of Muslims has been used to justify military interventions in the Middle East and inhumane and illegal torture in Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, and beyond. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria have all felt the brunt of U.S. military force since the 9/11 attacks through drones, no fly-zones, aerial bombardment, or direct military involvement. It has also been used to justify the cold-hearted refusal to allow in suffering refugees from those countries, such as Syria, because they could allegedly be “jihadists.”

Muslims, whether in the U.S. or abroad, are not the “other” and it is time politicians understand the dire effects of claiming that. According to civil rights groups, anti-Muslim rhetoric is dangerous because it is almost always followed by an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes and violence. In fact, they are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. It is tragically ironic, considering Muslim Americans overwhelmingly believe that attacks on civilians are never justified in Islam.

Thankfully, politicians on both ends of the political spectrum recognize this and have made their sentiments known. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley tweeted to Trump: “Shame on you, @realDonaldTrump. “Muslim” is not a slur. You cannot scapegoat your way to the presidency.” Former Secretary of State Colin Powell pushed back years ago on the accusation that President Obama was a Muslim, saying, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? The answer is no, that’s not America.”

It seems some Americans have lost this concept of what it means to be American. This nation was built by immigrants of all faith backgrounds, including Muslims who arrived centuries ago, and promises liberty and justice for all. Isn’t it time our policies and rhetoric reflect that?

Khalid is a Scoville Fellow in Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation Education Fund. Follow her on Twitter @YAmericanMuslim.

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