Human Rights Opinion

Opinion: Islamophobia is unacceptable bigotry, even after a terrorist attack

Photo by Alan Greig
Written by Kevin Biggs

After hearing about the bombings that occurred in New York and New Jersey on Saturday, people have a right to be afraid. They have the right to be afraid for the safety of their families and friends. They have the right to be afraid for the safety of their communities, cities, even their country.

They do not have the right to be afraid of people of Middle Eastern descent. They do not have the right to be afraid of people from a particular country. They don’t have the right to be afraid of people practicing a particular faith. They don’t have the right to be Islamophobic.

Often after an incident like Saturday’s, Islamophobic hate crimes spike in frequency and the stereotype that links Muslim-Americans to violence or terrorist activity is relearned.

But Islamophobia is one of the reasons attacks like this are becoming common. Isolation and discrimination toward one person can lead to violent behavior. This is as true for victims of Islamophobia as it is for the kids who brought a gun to school after being relentlessly bullied; this applies to everybody facing persecution and harassment.

Multiple reports found evidence that Ahmad Khan Rahani’s family has sued at least once, claiming they were being discriminated against because of their faith. If that’s not enough, imagine all the undocumented incidents of Islamophobia the Rahani’s, and all Muslim-Americans, have endured on a daily basis.

Islamophobic incidents have been on the rise in America since 9/11, and other Muslim-Americans who have committed violent crimes have dealt with the same intolerance, some more severe than others.

Omar Mateen, responsible for the biggest mass shooting in American history, was repeatedly taunted for being a Muslim by his colleagues at a Florida courthouse where he worked as a security guard. Despite pledging allegiance to the Islamic State before his attack, his wife Noor Zahi Salman stated Mateen was never a devout Muslim and certainly never showed signs of extremism.

There is no evidence that Mateen had any affiliation with any major terror networks, but how could he? According to his ex-wife, he was not a devout Muslim. He made those claims due to the persecution he underwent from his colleagues.

Millions of Muslim-Americans suffer through the same persecution. It can be as simple as name-calling and stereotyping, or it can turn violent. Last week, before the New York and New Jersey bombings, two young Muslim women were physically assaulted and told they “don’t belong here.” Another woman was assaulted when a man tried to light her shirt on fire.

These crimes took place before the bombings in New York, which means that there are likely to be hate crimes in the coming weeks, and we’ve already witnessed a few. The Rahani family’s restaurant, First American Fried Chicken, has gotten slammed on Yelp! recently, so much so that Yelp! had to step in and mediate.

Unfortunately, these crimes are likely to become more common thanks to anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians like Donald Trump. But regardless of Trump and the election, the isolating effects of Islamophobia have caused harm far past the people they were directed at (like Mateen and Rahani), and they will continue to if we let fear take control of our better judgment.

Islamophobia is just another form of bigotry that discriminates people based on some aspect of their identity, and it’s inexcusable. It doesn’t matter if two bombs exploded in New Jersey, or someone shot up a gay nightclub, or if two planes crashed into the World Trade Center … it will always be bigotry.

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Kevin Biggs

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