“And then the cynicism, the cynicism tonight to spend a significant amount of time talking about discrimination against Muslims,” said Marco Rubio, Florida senator and US presidential candidate, incredulously, in response to president Obama’s Dec. 6 speech on terrorism. “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?”
A quick Google search would have yielded Rubio plenty of evidence.
A Pew study from 2014 gauging how Americans feel about different religious groups showed Muslims coming in solid last. According to the FBI, although the number of hate crimes fell in 2014 from the preceding year (in most categories, including anti-LGBT, anti-black, anti-Latino and anti-Jewish crimes), the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes rose. Muslim Americans are five times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime today than before 9/11.
Muslims frequently face discrimination in the workplace, with an increasing number of lawsuits being filed on behalf of Muslim employees by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOCC). A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that in conservative-leaning states, employers are less likely to interview candidates for jobs when their social-networking profiles indicate that they are Muslim.
To find more evidence of anti-Islamic bigotry, Rubio need only spend some time watching the news. Mainstream media commentary often condones Islamophobic caricaturizing of Muslims. For example, after discovering that the shooters in San Bernardino, California, this week were Muslim, The New York Post changed its cover copy from “MURDER MISSION” to “MUSLIM KILLERS”—the idea that there would ever have been a caption saying “Christian Killers” on the front page of The New York Post, despite there being 353 mass shootings in the US prior to San Bernardino, is laughable (as it should be).
On CNN, after the Paris attacks, two anchors spent several minutes asking why the Muslim community in Paris did not do more to stop the attacks. “Why is it that no one within the Muslim community there in France knew what these guys were up to?” John Vause asked of his incredulous Muslim guest. “Do you support ISIS?” CNN’s Don Lemon asked a stunned Muslim human-rights attorney. Statements like this are often punctuated by a running banner that screams, “IS ISLAM VIOLENT? OR PEACEFUL?”—echoing the notion that it is completely reasonable to potentially categorize 1.6 billion different followers of a faith with one word.
Fox News hosts, of course, took this all several steps further. Bill O’Reilly has called Islam “a destructive force in the world.” Andrea Tantaros has said, referring to Islam as a historically violent problem, “You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand. And all we’ve heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion, as if to appease them.” Brian Kilmeade declared, “all terrorists are Muslims.”
Meanwhile, news outlets that have stepped up to highlight Islamophobia have faced threats. Vox posted an article claiming that, while their decision to publish inflammatory Charlie Hebdo cartoons in January after the attack in Paris drew zero threats, their commentary on Islamophobic violence in the US post-Charlie Hebdo was bombarded with threats, many of them violent.
Additionally, Muslims in the US face racial profiling on regular basis in different spheres of public life. Ahmed, the 14-year old Texas high-schooler who was arrested in Sep. 2015 for bringing a clock to school, became the face of such profiling this year. Even in this case, Fox News had no qualms pointing out that Ahmed “may not be as innocent as he seems,” bringing to light a time when he was caught blowing soap bubbles in the school bathroom. Liberal commentators defended the police arrest too—Bill Maher stated, “there’s only one culture that’s been blowing stuff up for 30 years.”
In Nov. 2015, Southwest airlines refused to allow a group of six Muslims to board a flight from Chicago to Houston, prompted by passengers. The airline issued a statement explaining its actions, blandly stating, “Safety is our primary focus”, and issuing no apology. Muslims have also been victims of illegal and intrusive surveillance: the New York City police department was caught spying on Muslim students at universities in the northeast in 2012, at places like Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Violence, too, has started to characterize some of the targeting of American Muslims. On Thanksgiving Day, a Muslim cab driver in Pittsburgh was shot after being asked about the Islamic State. The media characterized the murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in March 2015 as a dispute over a parking ticket, despite the murderer’s Facebook page being filled with militant anti-Muslim and anti-Christian content. (It is worth imagining what the media narrative would have been were race roles reversed.) There has also been a series of acts of vandalism targeted at mosques and Islamic cemeteries.
If none of this is enough evidence for Rubio, he need not look any further than a few of his colleagues running for the Republican nomination for president for more evidence of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
Ironically, just yesterday in the immediate wake of Rubio’s remarks, Donald Trump has called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country—the most ludicrous proposition to emerge in this election cycle so far. It includes Muslim tourists and those seeking immigration visas. He has also said that he would “certainly” implement a system that would register and track Muslims in the United States, an idea reeking of Nazism, and something Rubio himself said was “unnecessary” and not something Americans would support. Trump has also claimed that “thousands” New Jersey cheered after the 9/11 attack—a claim that has found its way into this election cycle despite being debunked.
Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have tweeted “I’m not edging toward violent speech, I’m declaring we kill them all.”
It would be easy to dismiss some of these statements as one-off or benign attempts to win over specific votes, but the frequency with which they are poisoning public narrative, and rewarded by surges in polls, is troubling and indicative of deep-seated Islamophobia in the US today.
Rubio should note that the American public has itself admitted that American Muslims are victims of discrimination. A Pew poll from 2009 showed that nearly 60% of American adults say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than other religious groups. There may be other reasons to call President Obama a cynic, but pointing out the real, rampant and disturbing discrimination against Muslims in this country cannot be one of them: it is simply the truth.