2016 SAW life become a lot more frightening for Muslims around the world.
In the U.S., at this time last year, Muslims were already dealing with the biggest wave of Islamophobic hate crimes recorded since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The rest of the year was even worse. Local chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Muslim community groups around the country recorded a continuous stream of attacks every week, peaking after the election of the extremist Islamophobe Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, in Europe, far-right leaders on the ascendancy greeted Trump’s victory as a harbinger of things to come in their own countries. In Austria last month, the presidential candidate of a party with direct connections to a Nazi past was barely defeated in a runoff election, but there will be more such challenges in the future.
Recently, two terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)–one at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19 and a deadly shooting rampage at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day–gave political leaders of the left and right an excuse to amplify their anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The horrific attacks claimed the lives of ordinary people with no connection to the political elites who thrive off war and Islamophobia. They will make the lives of Muslims in Europe far worse by opening the way to increased state repression and allowing the far right to whip up more hate.
But the reaction of Western leaders is utterly hypocritical. They call for more repression and war–carried out by military machines, especially the Pentagon in the U.S., that are incomparably more violent and deadly. Shredding civil liberties and stepping up military intervention only feeds the hatreds that occasionally “blow back” within the U.S. and Europe.
Islamophobia is common across the political spectrum, but it is a special ingredient in the rise of right-wing figures like Trump in the U.S. or Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front. Theirs is the politics of despair and scapegoating to harden a base of support for their reactionary agendas.
That’s why we can’t remain silent in the face of these surges of Islamophobia. We have to speak out, even when it isn’t popular, to explain that the violence and repression of the “war on terror” has made the world more deadly and dangerous–and that reactionaries like Trump have to be opposed with a left-wing alternative to their hate and greed.
THE LIST of chilling assaults against Muslims in the U.S. is long, but a few examples make it clear how severe the onslaught of violence really is.
The New York City borough of Queens alone saw three high-profile murders of Muslims in cold blood in 2016. Imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin were executed in broad daylight with bullets to the backs of their head, and 60-year-old Nazma Khanam was stabbed to death on a peaceful, residential street just three weeks later.
In Houston, Texas, a raging driver yelling “Go back to Islam!” shot and killed Ziad Abu Naim, a Palestinian Muslim on his way to a local mosque. And in Portland, Oregon, 68-year-old Abdul Jamil Kamawal was beaten to death with a shovel in his own yard–his family believes he was praying at the time of the attack.
What could have been the deadliest Islamophobic attack of the year was thwarted while in its planning stages: Three white supremacist terrorists in Kansas were caught amassing explosives and heavy weaponry to blow up an apartment complex housing predominantly Muslim, Somali refugees on the day after the presidential election.
All this has created a near-inescapable atmosphere of fear and tension in everyday life for Muslims all over the country–and the election of the billionaire bigot Donald Trump intensified this grim reality.
Trump’s racist tirades energized the Muslim-haters from the early days of his campaign–when he resurrected an obscure myth about U.S. troops executing Muslim resistance fighters using bullets laced with pigs’ blood during the U.S. colonization of the Philippines. Vigilantes fed on this kind of rhetoric by desecrating mosques with pig carcasses in Philadelphia, Oklahoma and elsewhere.
Trump ran on a boldly Islamophobic platform of banning Muslim immigration and creating a comprehensive Muslim registry for domestic surveillance. But the sad fact is that the “liberal” opposition in the mainstream system, the Democratic Party, has pandered to the same fears and hatred, if less openly than Trump.
After all, it was the supposedly liberal administration of Barack Obama that barred entry to all but 10,000 Syrian refugees, far fewer than Canada and much of Europe have accepted, and has maintained an error-ridden “no-fly list” that all but legally sanctions anti-Muslim profiling.
ACROSS THE Atlantic, far-right leaders are also taking advantage of the crisis of mainstream political parties–and especially exploiting the measures already taken by center-left and center-right parties–to offer an undiluted brew of bigotry.
Marine Le Pen praised Trump’s election in the U.S. as a “sign of hope” which “shows that people are taking their futures back.”
Opinion polls predict that Le Pen will be the runner-up in this year’s presidential election–behind the upstart candidate of the center-right, François Fillon, who won the presidential nomination of the Republicans based on Trump-like appeals to racists and to small business owners eager for lower taxes and gutted regulations.
Former UK Independence Party (UKIP) head Nigel Farage lauded Trump’s election as a twin to the successful “Brexit” vote on a referendum to leave the European Union–both of which, he claimed, were “about ordinary people rising up to defeat the establishment.”
In fact, Farage and other conservatives made the scapegoating of migrants and Muslims central to their Brexit campaign. Farage is a vocal advocate of an exclusively “Judeo-Christian” Britain and has repeatedly referred to British Muslims as a “fifth column” at war with society from within.
Britain’s new Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May has feuded with Farage, but her speech at the Tory conference this year channeled many of UKIP’s anti-immigrant themes. May has signaled her willingness to embrace the Trump administration in the U.S.
In Germany, Jörg Meuthen, a spokesperson for the recently formed Alternative for Germany (AfG), drew parallels between his right-wing party’s efforts and Trump’s program in the U.S.: “The establishment now has to recognize that you can’t rule past the population for long…Trump has rightly been rewarded for his bravery in standing up against the system and speaking uncomfortable truths.”
AfG is now the main opposition party in the country’s fourth- and fifth-biggest states, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg Vorpommern. An AfD manifesto states that “Islam is not part of Germany” and calls for measures to eradicate Muslim influence.
The extremist Islamophobe and xenophobe Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom also celebrated Trump’s election as a precedent for the Netherlands, where his party is leading in national polls for next year’s presidential race.
And in Italy, the right-wing populist Five Star Movement has its eyes on state power after leading a successful effort against a constitutional referendum put forward by then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the center-left Democratic Party.
Five Star leader Beppe Grillo prides himself on defying left-right divisions and championing cutting-edge, populist measures like web-based democracy and a guaranteed basic income. But that hasn’t stopped him from typical racist antics–he called immigrants “rats,” likened his movement to the Trump campaign, identified with Nigel Farage and “joked” that London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan would “blow himself up at Westminister.”
The impact of these developments is being felt in every area of Muslim life. A white nationalist attacker north of London took the far right’s call to curtail Islam into his own hands when he severely beat a pregnant Muslim woman, killing the fetus she was carrying.
On the same day as the Christmas market attack in Berlin, a Swiss terrorist wounded several Muslim worshipers in a shooting at an Islamic Center in Zurich–to frustratingly little media attention amid the round-the-clock coverage of the carnage in Berlin.
Persistent hate crimes coincided with another round of state measures in countries like France, Germany, Belgium, and Austria barring Muslim women from choosing their own dress.
THE WAVE of anti-Muslim bigotry gripping Europe and the U.S. can’t be separated from the military interventions carried out by the U.S., its allies and other imperial powers in majority Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Obama administration supported a disastrous sectarian post-occupation regime in Iraq, carried out bombings and drone attacks in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and backed three separate Israeli assaults on Gaza.
Dictators Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt have mercilessly repressed the democratic uprisings that swept their countries during the Arab Spring–in Syria, the Russian Air Force has laid waste to scores of cities and towns to help Assad stay in power.
The terrorist wars of the U.S. and other powerful governments created the conditions for the rise of reactionary forces like ISIS, whose predecessor organizations in Iraq were marginalized and militarily defeated until an escalation of violence and repression by the U.S.-backed central government.
Meanwhile, the Syrian war especially has caused massive displacement of millions of refugees–mainly to other countries of the region, but more than 1 million to Europe.
Far-right and nationalist forces in Europe have exploited this desperate exodus of millions seeking to escape suffering and death. The racists are stoking fear and loathing of Muslims, and they have been enabled by discredited establishment parties and politicians, who for decades have themselves cynically scapegoated the most vulnerable.
All of these actions in the West sow the seeds for another harvest of violence–sometimes in the form of terror attacks carried out in Europe and the U.S.–which in turn stokes further bigotry and another round of fear and bloodshed.
If the left does not to stand up to Islamophobia wherever it emerges, it will be the source of support for the right wing for years to come. Any challenge to reactionaries like Trump must include opposition to all imperialist warfare and unconditional defense of the civil and human rights of Muslims, in the U.S. and around the world.