In 2015, Anti-Muslim assaults reached 9/11-era levels, increasing by 67 percent. Although this reflects the overall surge of 6% in hate crimes across the US, 257 attacks were directed toward Muslims alone. Jews were most targeted based on their religion, and blacks were the biggest target of racial violence. Should the violence against Muslims be put in intersectional perspective?
Intersectionality is an important tool for both activism and understanding of the various forms of identity-based violence. Violence against Muslims is both racially based as well as religious based, but it is also political. Many have argued that Islam is not a religion but a political system that pits itself against America and the western world, therefore all Muslims should be barred and arrested. A study by Southern Poverty Law Center shows more than 30 cases of ‘anti-Muslim’ incidents in the five days following the presidential election. Given the sensitivity of the time and place, it looks like the incidents were inspired as a result of political rhetoric against Muslims. Muslims face a particular form of political violence which might be different from racial and religious violence faced by blacks and Jewish Americans. The FBI has been trying to document cases of violence as per various categories and is trying to understand and navigate the American landscape of violence. But I think it is important to classify anti-Muslim hatred as a political one, albeit a racial and religious one in its outlook.
On the other hand, some argue that anti-Muslim hatred and murder is rooted in American society and is part of the systematic violence blacks, Jews, Latinos and gender minorities face. To them, it doesn't come out of nowhere. Anti-Arab incidents are part of the same culture that has exercised police brutality on blacks for centuries. Many Muslims are immigrants, therefore that could be another layer of shared solidarity with Latinos, particularly Mexicans, one-third of whom cannot get citizenship. But the fact that most blacks, despite being full citizens of America for centuries, are "Worlds Apart" from whites in terms of their socioeconomic status is daunting. It says something deeper about race relations in America than the problems faced particularly by (illegal and legal) immigrants. This idea of intersectional violence comes from an observation made by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 according to which: “my liberation is not complete until everyone’s liberation is achieved.” This means that all oppressed groups are fighting against the same system that benefits off of their oppression and controls their bodies. Fighting Anti-Semitism here in America, a stand for the LGBT community, supporting #BlackLivesMatter and protecting all other minority groups is part of this shared intersectional understanding.
The fact that blacks represent 28% of all Muslims as a religious group in United States, it is not surprising to assume that many of the anti-Muslim hate crimes could have multiple racial and religious motives and facets. To the black panthers activists of upper east Manhattan and Queens who were systematically imprisoned and are still behind bars, racial profiling of Muslims and spying on mosques is hardly a situation unknown to them. Questions such as "how many of you Muslims are terrorists?" are familiar to them because their largest American Marxist political party was labelled and doubled down as a militia group. After the near total collapse of this revolutionary black movement, civil rights activists have been unable to reorganize again. Even the Black Lives Matter movement cannot pick up where the black panthers left off because of the latter’s incomparable magnitude, gravity and force among common people. People used to get up early in the morning and distribute food in youth centers and churches as part of their activism. This is what organized them and kept them going. But this organization, steadfastness and upfront attitude in the face of police brutality and rampant white supremacy threatened the status quo of American society at that time. Even the elite state institutions started perceiving the movement as one that can grow on its own into an ‘unmanageable’ magnitude and scale.
However, I argue that Muslims face particular political and social isolation in America that makes them all look suspicious and anti-American. This is different from racial and religious based discrimination. Attacks on Black Veterans are no different than Muslims being shot in cabs. Vandalized Muslim cemeteries and bullying on the streets and outside of the mosques looks much the same as American version of anti-Semitism (European version was bigger and incomparable in scale and will not make a fair comparison). But saying that all Muslims, as a group and as a religion, pose a particular civilizational threat to America as a country and the ideals of American life and culture makes all Muslims look as part of the problem, not just one group (like the Black panthers).
Well-funded pundits make Muslims look like an untreatable cancer that never belonged to American society and American way of life. This is different from anti-Semitism because anti-Semitism is only a hateful feeling against Jews as a religious and ethnic/racial group. But Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred involves a unique wrath of nationalist and political fervor according to which all of Islam as a religion, culture, civilization and people is meant to destroy the western world. This call for urgency, fear and suspicion was not seen in Jews or Blacks because, at the time, they did not pose a threat as big as 9/11 or a nuclear Iran or North Korea. This makes Muslims not only an “enemy within” but an enemy “from outside.”
Jewish tradition and religion has a longstanding history of reform and conservative movements that occurred almost in the same era as European enlightenment. American Jews had started settling in large numbers since World War 1. This makes them look less dangerous, “assimilated” and innocuous. But the same is not believed about Muslims, most of whom are not Europeans, and are seen as a monolithic, orthodox, unchanging, anti-progressive and liberal thought, and as a universally anti-gay group. Tattering this image of Islam and Muslims will take longer than it might look since much of the news coming from Muslim countries in the global south confirms the perceptions people have about American Muslims. All of this cultural backwardness combined with modern day terrorism makes Muslims “outsiders” in a way that is unprecedented and unseen in American history.
History has taught us that the black panthers were considered a mysterious, suspicious and anti-state terrorist group primarily because of their motives and radical beliefs. But as the movement faded away, the perception of the people changed and the actions of the state in “managing” the populations also changed. But the same cannot be said about Muslims because: a) of its global interconnectedness, b) the idea that they are all inherently anti-American, and c) they want more than civil rights, they want Jihad and Islamic law in American soil. That there is not much that American Muslims can do to disprove these claims. Therefore, they must continue working to achieve their goals as lawful citizens of the United States and keep correcting one stereotype at a time through their actions and commitment to social justice, peace and education.
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue