‘Islamophobia’ gaining notoriety with recent controversies
Not long ago, Raheel Ramadan and his wife, Sara Meghani, both UH alumni, entered La Madeleine intending to enjoy a pleasant lunch. What began as a typical day soon turned into a nightmare experienced by many American Muslims.
A customer in the restaurant vehemently voiced his disapproval of the couple having the right to eat at the restaurant, calling them “terrorists.” He expressed his sentiments to other customers, who continued eating their meals and did not rise to the couple’s defense.
The man then took his complaints to the staff of the restaurant, declaring that Muslims should not be allowed to eat there. Not one member of the staff denounced his actions and not one brought up the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
America has seen such scenarios played out many times in the past. Previously, other minorities were victims of prejudice and hatred. Today, Muslims are the targets of persecution and contempt.
“We have to focus on what is happening today and to realize that the same forces that are demonizing Muslims and Arabs today are the same forces that demonized Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and all sorts of other groups in the past,” Rice University history professor Ussama Makdisi said. “And they will demonize presumably other groups in the future.”
Many American Muslims became victims of hate crimes after Sept. 11. In the past few years, Islamophobia in the U.S. has risen and fallen. Due to recent controversy surrounding the “Ground Zero Mosque” and Quran-burning incidents, Islamophobia has again increased.
“Amongst school children, one student was beaten and thrown in a dumpster and another had his jaw broken,” said Kaleem Siddqui, spokesperson for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We have also been made aware of shots fired at a mosque and an explosive device used to destroy property on mosque grounds.”
History has a way of repeating.
In the mid-1800’s, discrimination against Irish Americans was widespread. Job classifieds stating, “Irish need not apply,” were not uncommon. Until the 1960s, systemized segregation was the American way of life.
“Whenever there is a national or economic problem, we need a scapegoat,” History professor Robert Buzzanco said. “Instead of looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What have we done wrong?’ we point a finger at those who are different from us. This time it happens to be Muslims.”
Despite the rise of Islamophobia, a significant number of UH students accept and respect Muslims.
“I do not think that all Muslims are bad people,” business senior Michael Washington said. “Anyone could be a terrorist.”
Internationally, Islam is the largest religion after Christianity. According to CAIR there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, of which 6 million reside in the US as of 2001. Yet, according to a 2010 Gallup survey, 4 out of every 10 Americans have feelings of prejudice against Muslims.
“This is the worst episode I have seen of domestic repression,” Buzzanco said. “It’s sad when a group has to go out of its way to prove that they are not terrorists. How do you prove that when people already think the worst of you?”
The cure to Islamophobia may be as simple as familiarizing one’s self with Muslims and their beliefs.
“The basic truth is once you get to know Arabs and Muslims as individuals, once you humanize them, it’s very hard to demonize them,” Makdisi said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Additional reporting for this story provided by Naheeda Sayeeduddin, Henok Tekeste and Karisha Lucero.