By Arsalan Iftikhar
AUTHORS NOTE: At the time of posting, the original title for this column was “Islamophobia is the New Black,” which was in direct reference to the popular culture Netflix television show “Orange is the New Black” (hence the orange background). As people who are well-versed in the English language are quite aware, most people know that the phrasal template “_________ is the new black” is generally used to denote something that is “cool” or “fashionable” within society today. Even so, as senior editor of this magazine, I decided that I did not want the title of my piece to distract from the overall message on the growth of Islamophobia and xenophobic racism against Muslims today.
Whenever I hear someone say, “Barack Obama is a Muslim!” anywhere on our television airwaves, I feel like Jerry Seinfeld should pop out and say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
The most recent occurrence of political Islamophobia happened at a New Hampshire rally this week for 2016 Republican primary presidential candidate (and blowhard billionaire) Donald Trump. During the question-and-answer session of his town hall event, the first person to speak proved that Islamophobia is alive and well as a Republican political football for many years to come.
“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims,” the Trump supporter said into the microphone. “We know our current president [Barack Obama] is one. You know he’s not even an American. … But anyway, we have training camps growing where they [Muslims] want to kill us. That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”
Instead of challenging these horribly racist statements, Trump just responded by saying, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things and you know, a lot of people are saying that [Obama is a Muslim] and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
This latest Trump moment is reminiscent of a 2008 town hall meeting in which a woman stood up and called then-Senator Obama an “Arab.” Then Republican presidential candidate John McCain drew boos when he corrected her, saying, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”
According to Mediaite, McCain “did not explain why being an Arab [or Muslim] and a ‘decent person’ were mutually exclusive in his case.”
CNN also recently reported that this was not the first time Trump publicly insinuated that Obama was a Muslim. In 2011, Trump launched a campaign to gain the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, going as far as saying that he would send investigators to Hawaii. His actions helped give rise to the “birther” conspiracy theory, which claims that Obama’s real birthplace is in Kenya. Trump has also suggested that the president’s birth documents may identify him as a Muslim.
“He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim,” Trump said in 2011. “I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want” people to think he is a Muslim.
A few days earlier, a 14-year-old American Muslim teenager named Ahmed Mohamed made international headlines for getting arrested after bringing a homemade clock to his school in Irving, Texas, to impress his teacher.
“I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed told reporters. “It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it.”
Let’s be honest. If he was a white non-Muslim kid named Alex Morgan, he would have probably won the school science fair. But his teacher already viewed him as a “threat” because he was a black Muslim kid named Ahmed Mohamed.
To be absolutely clear, it is evident that Islamophobia has become the accepted form of racist xenophobic bigotry in America today. Unlike Anti-Semitism or homophobia, which are roundly (and rightfully) condemned by every corner of American society, we are seeing increasing levels of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric growing around the country.
For example, a September CNN/ORC poll found that 29% of Americans, including 43% of Republicans, believe that Obama is a Muslim. Even prominent conservative Republicans have conceded that Islam and Muslims will continue to serve as a radioactive political football wedge issue for many years to come. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, recently wrote a Washington Post column on the growth of Islamophobia in the Republican Party today.
During the last two presidential nomination cycles, Republican candidates, at various points, have proposed requiring a loyalty oath for Muslims to serve in government [2012 Republican candidate Herman Cain]; ruled out Muslims serving in their Cabinet [Cain]; called sharia law “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States” [2012 Republican candidate Newt Gingrich]; raised alarms about the “creeping attempt” to “ease [sharia] law and the Muslim faith into our government” [Cain]; warned of “no go” zones where sharia law rules; described Muslim immigration as “colonization” and warned that immigrants “want to come and conquer us” [2016 Republican candidate Bobby Jindal]; said there were only a “handful” of “reasonable, moderate followers of Islam” [2016 Republican candidate Scott Walker]; described Islam as “a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet [2008 and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee].
For these reasons, it is now quite clear to over 7 million American Muslims that racist xenophobia against our religion has become “fashionable” in the United States and I cannot wait until Islamophobia (and all other forms of racism) go out of style like Donald Trump’s terrible haircut.