“Islamophobia has become so mainstream in this country that Americans have been trained to expect violence against Muslims – not excuse it, but expect it. You have an Islamophobia industry in this country devoted to making Americans think there is an enemy within.” – Reza Aslan
American leaders visiting other countries are often eager to champion secular humanist values, deeply embedded in the American constitution and Western liberal-democratic theory, in a bid to portray their country as a bastion of religious freedom. In addition to basic human rights – freedom of action, speech, and movement – religious freedom is portrayed as the core principal of American foreign policy.
The conventional wisdom has been that liberal and secular values of American society are deeply rooted in its long history and socio-political culture and cannot be easily eliminated. But now the situation is entirely at odds with this.
Over the past decade, these values are under attack and most Americans are not doing anything to stop it. Muslims living in the US face social discrimination on a regular basis and very few Americans actually prefer to interact with Muslims. When asked in a 2011 survey, seven in ten Americans accepted that they had seldom or never talked to a Muslim in the past year.
According to some scholars, the main reason behind this dramatic shift is the 9/11 attack. In the post-9/11 era, a very alarming situation has unfolded – religious liberty is becoming an endangered entity for American Muslims. Social prejudice against Muslims is particularly evident in most of the southern states in the US. According to a 2015 survey, 56 percent of Americans believe Islamic values to be at odds with the American way of life.
Islamophobia has taken a firm root at all levels of government and society. Hate crimes against American Muslims, particularly against hijab-wearing female students, and mosques have increased rapidly in recent years. Head offices of Arab-American organisations, mosques, and Islamic centres have been attacked. American Muslims are facing virulent prejudice, aided by statements in the media and rhetoric by the conservative political leadership of the Republican Party.
To respond to a mad act with an equally insane measure has progressively become an acceptable fashion. Every terrorist attack in any part of the Western world is responded by violent activities against moderate Muslims communities living in the US. In a recent poll, seven in ten Americans accepted that Muslims are discriminated against extensively. It would not be wrong to say that American Muslims are getting the treatment once reserved for African Americans and Jews.
A sort of unfair propaganda has also been launched against Islam which has led many Americans to believe that Islam is a violent and undemocratic religion that oppresses women and is against modern values. The American political establishment is largely responsible for these trends because anti-Muslim hysteria provides a justification for ruthless and intrusive practices, infringing personal privacy that would otherwise be unthinkable.
The truth is that the real threat to American society emanates from an arbitrary exercise of power by governing authorities over the individual. Any kind of measure without tolerance and respect for others’ ways of life can prove dangerous for the healthy growth of societal values. It is quite unfortunate that there are very few mainstream politicians ready to raise their voice for Muslims because then they would be called Muslim apologists. The tragic fact with the present era is that people have subjected ‘what they think and feel right’ to their personal interests.
A few months ago, President Obama made his first ever visit to a US mosque in Baltimore in an effort to confront bias that Muslim Americans have to face every day. During the visit, he said, “If we’re serious about freedom of religion – and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country – we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths… And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and targets people because of religion.”
Obama’s words were lauded by the mainstream media and by some Muslims who appreciated his efforts of standing up against religious bigotry. But these are just shallow words containing promises that never came to fruition – the sort of policy effort that should have been launched in the first year of Obama’s presidency when his focus was on winning an already lost war in Afghanistan. In fact, the president continued to bolster certain imperialist forces and the highly influential military-industrial complex. Obama’s policy towards Afghanistan failed to make any commendable progress and Nato troops could not establish even a semblance of victory.
Anti-Muslim sentiments in the US are likely to rise once Donald Trump takes oath. During his election campaign, Trump said that if elected he would require Muslims to register with a government database, mandating that they carry special identity cards. If Trump keeps his promise, this would be nothing short of a social and religious apartheid against millions of American Muslims.
Americans have made a bad mistake by electing Donald Trump as their president for the next four years and there is not much that can be done now. American Muslims will continue to face religious discrimination and America’s so-called ‘secular values’ will not be able to do anything to stop it.