The Plague We Don’t Mention

Earlier this month, a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 50 Muslims during Friday prayer.

The gunman has been named by several newspapers, but, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has refused to name him. Therefore, his name will not be mentioned.

The gunman was a white male terrorist. He was a white supremacist and his actions were not a result of bullying or mental health. His actions were due to an illness that has plagued the West: Islamophobia.

Despite the term being relatively modern, the rising fear, hate, and discrimination that threatens millions of Muslims residing in western countries stem from a long and established tradition of demonizing Muslim bodies as a threat. And it’s been ongoing prior to 9/11.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person.” This drastically restricted immigrants, especially Arab immigrants, from seeking lawful residence and citizenship. In a notable 1891 case, the Supreme Court highlighted “the intense hostility of the people of Muslim faith to all other sects, particularly to Christians

As a result, scores of Muslim immigrants were turned away at U.S. ports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even Christian immigrants suspected of being Muslim were also denied entry.

This functional ban on Muslim immigration persisted up until 1944. This was a result of U.S. geopolitical interests, not evolving progressive interests.

Despite the sudden inclusion of Muslim Americans, white Americans’ discomfort regarding Muslim incorporation still prevailed, and the media has often propagated that unease.

The Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City in April 1995 was a domestic terrorist attack that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700. After the attack, the media speculated that the attack was performed by “Islamic extremists” or “Arab radicals.” Approximately 90 minutes after the attack, Timothy McVeigh –a white, Christian male– was arrested and linked to the attack.

After the September 11th attacks, the ‘War on Terror’ has killed approximately 1.3 million Muslims, according to the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Beyond the death toll, Muslim Americans have suffered intrusive surveillance while living in America. In 2017, President Donald Trump declared an executive order banning Muslims by halting the issuing of visas to people from seven majority-Muslim countries. This order echoed the sentiment of the Naturalization Act of 1790 and the aforementioned Supreme Court opinion, highlighting the fact that islamophobia has become an inherent trait to American policy.

It isn’t limited to political parties either. After the Christchurch attacks, only two 2020 Democrats explicitly mentioned “Islamophobia” in their response. Other Democrats have made mention of Muslim people but the lack of direct condemnation of Islamophobia demonstrates a slight unease in even bearing the words.

More important than political action is the media’s responsibility in ensuring that Islamophobia doesn’t become entrenched in their tone.

In a conversation with students from the School of Communication at the University of Miami, foreign policy journalist Rula Jebreal said that 73% of terrorist attacks after 9/11 were led by white supremacists.

Jebreal noted that journalists have an inherent responsibility to check leaders into holding themselves and others accountable. However, even journalists have their blind spots.

According to research conducted by the University of Alabama, terror attacks by Muslims receive 357% more press attention than those committed by non-Muslims. The findings were based on the terror attacks in the U.S. between 2006 and 2016, according to the Global Terrorism Database. The disparity in media coverage is particularly out of sync with the reality given that white and right-wing terrorists have carried out nearly twice as many terrorist attacks as Muslim extremists between 2008 and 2016.

Journalists are required to be fair and honest. The inconsistency in reporting terrorist attacks committed between Muslim extremists and non-Muslim extremists betray the trust of public opinion and amplifies the Islamophobic sentiment yielded by Western politics.

As a journalist, I won’t let that happen.

It’s crucial to understand that while Islamophobia has become a modernly coined term, it’s been embedded in our history and in Western culture. In order to begin battling the illness that has infected us, we must ally with one another and denounce all attacks against a community as terrorism– and we must state why.

We must follow New Zealand Prime Minister’s heroism in reminding her Muslim constituents that they’re welcome and that they’re safe. We must not give power to the name of white supremacy. We must highlight the lives of the victims and remember that they matter. The victims of Christchurch matter. The victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue matter. The victims of Charleston matter.

You should not die in your sanctuary and only have political leaders offer “thoughts and prayers”. They should offer action and denounce white supremacy.

As students of a stronger generation, we must ensure that Islamophobia or any type of hate will not be entrenched in our culture. We must hold our political bodies accountable. We must hold our newspapers accountable, and we must hold ourselves accountable.

Art Credit: 

This illustration was originally featured in the MuslimGirl.com article “Islamophobia: The New American Way?

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