Legalizing Othering

Introduction

Introduction 

THE CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE in the United States reflects a new reality influenced by a populist leadership that occupies the highest office in the land,1 colluding with a reemergence of white supremacy, that is being (re)used as a tool to drive a wedge between poor white people and people of color on the one hand, and to increase fearmongering and anti-Muslim sentiment in American society on the other hand.2 Together, this has given rise to anti-black, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee grassroots movements,3 increasing racial prejudice and racial animosity to an unprecedented level.

This report acknowledges that Islamophobia in the US is not new;4 however, over the past 16 years, the rapid development and convergence of contemporary Islamophobia movements have brought forth federal measures and state legislation that frame Muslims as untrustworthy and incompatible with American values, further subjecting Muslims to surveillance, profiling, and exclusion along the lines of racial and ethnic discrimination, as determined by their national origin and religion. Additionally, contemporary Islamophobia movements— operating with the shared ambition to scrutinize and dehumanize Muslims—aim to other and undermine Muslim Americans’ citizenry and agency.

Islamophobia is a form of xenophobia and discrimination based on religious and national origin that aims to single out and exploit Muslims as political scapegoats for failed economic and political projects, and functions as a proxy for racial anxiety within the US.5 Between 2010 and 2016, 194 anti-Muslim bills were introduced in 39 states, with a total of 18 anti-Muslim bills enacted into law.6

Islamophobia is contingent upon the construction of a homogenized Muslim “other” who should be viewed suspiciously, scrutinized, dehumanized, and excluded from “Western” or “Judeo-Christian” societies. 

The othering process is not simply an abstract concern—it has profound effects on the lives of millions of Americans.7 Othering of Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim has been expressed in acts of violence, prejudicial views, and discriminatory language. In addition, Islamophobic sentiment has led to the exacerbated militarization of foreign policy and an unprecedented expansion of security apparatuses that impact all Americans.8 Islamophobia forms the basis of an ideology that views Muslims as a threat to “Western” civilization and justifies their subordination and exclusion. 

By 2010, Islamophobia in the US had evolved from compartmentalized, racist, anti-Muslim sentiments and efforts as experienced by individuals into a well-financed, organized, and strategic national movement with a grassroots and legislative agenda. This major shift is largely attributed to the national campaign in 2010 around Park51, the interfaith community spiritual center that was under development in New York City. Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer made national headlines leading an alarmist campaign against Park51, striking up controversy over what they dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque,” laying the foundations for more well-organized Islamophobic efforts to thrive.9 While the movement was advancing its fearmongering agenda among the public on a national scale, the political elite, both Democratic and Republican, and the mainstream media stood on the sidelines without responding or fact-checking the movement’s claims,i and by 2010, the anti-Sharia movement was making its way across the nation.

David Yerushalmi, an anti-Muslim lawyer with a history in the right-wing Israeli settlers’ movement10 crafted an anti-Sharia model act known as American Laws for American Courts. This model legislation was the spark that ignited a wave of anti-Muslim laws and proposed legislation that has given rise to the anti-Sharia movement, and the enactment of 18 anti-Muslim laws in 12 states in the US between 2010 and 2016.11 The anti-Sharia movement was established, and continues to thrive, by an unfounded fear of “creeping Sharia,” proliferated by fabrications and lies, and intentionally misconstrued information surrounding Muslims and Islam in the US.12 Such fear is what propels the anti-Sharia movement, and such beliefs are not the byproducts of innocent, misguided illusions of Muslims and their faith, but rather operate as the scaffolding in a grand strategy designed by the architects of ALAC and the anti-Sharia movement to exploit the American public’s limited knowledge of Muslims, Islam, and Sharia with the purpose to utilize Muslims as scapegoats for political, economic, and social challenges facing the country.13 Most importantly, this was carried out vis- à-vis the convergence of Islamophobia and the birther movement to distract the public, and to attack President Obama’s agenda.14 The outcome produced a deep disenfranchisement and undermining of Muslim Americans’ agency and citizenship.15

This infographic includes a table of the context of anti-Muslim state legislation and federal measures. The blue sections with arrows indicate that the measure is still in effect while the red sections indicate that the measure has ended.

The anti-Muslim legislation and bills are sweeping, and have the potential to impact the lives of not only Muslims, but all Americans, as such laws undermine the Constitution and sabotage judges’ ability to fairly consider foreign law to understand cases before their courts.16 The far-reaching impact of these anti-Muslim bills and the degree to which, if enacted, they will affect many Americans, is yet to be fully understood and documented, but the underlying reality is that anti-Muslim legislation threatens the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans.17

Our report and online database (see haasinstitute. berkeley.edu/islamophobia) aim to unmask the multiplicities of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam movements that have propelled the adoption of federal measures (2002-present) and capitalized on electoral politics and state legislatures (2010-2016) to disproportionately legalize the othering of Muslims across the United States. This report is also imperative for understanding the impacts of anti-Sharia legislation, and imagining cross-sectoral and coalition-building efforts, as well as to aid the growth of effective, inclusive movements that bridge across racial/ethnic and religious lines to stand against othering. This report therefore is organized in the following way: 

  • The "Methodology and Database" section outlines the methods we used to develop our United States of Islamophobia database, which documents all anti-Sharia bills proposed from 2010 to 2016. 
  • "Impacts of Islamophobia on American Society" examines the impacts of Islamophobia on American society by firstly reflecting on the mutual rise of xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in the US and highlights how anti-Sharia18 law legislation undermines all people’s constitutional rights, affecting the very fabric of American society. This section then traces the emergence of the contemporary Islamophobia movement which emboldened the introduction of anti-Sharia legislation based on the American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model legislation. This section concludes with a summary of the main recurring themes and discriminatory effects of this legislation
  • "Islamophobia in the Era of Trump" focuses on contextualizing contemporary Islamophobia and anti-Muslim policies under the current administration in Washington DC by examining the language and the impact of two major Executive Orders issued by President Donald Trump: Executive Order No. 13769, FR 8977 on January 27, 2017; and Executive Order No. 13769, 82 FR 8977, 8980-81 on March 9, 2017, as well as new rules issued by the US Transportation Safety Administration, otherwise known as the “Laptop Ban,” on March 20, 2017.
  • "Federal Measures" brings to light various federal measures and legislation that have, and continue to target, discriminate against and disenfranchise Muslim communities. 
  • The "State Legislation" section presents key themes and patterns identified in the findings of our database and repository of all anti-Muslim bills introduced, enacted, or not enacted at the state level between 2000 and 2016. We also highlight the role of fearmongering in enabling the implementation of Sharia in the US, identify the discriminatory effects of anti-Sharia legislation, and draw on key patterns and trends of anti-Sharia legislation to contextualize the complex network of forces behind anti-Muslim legislation and legislative campaigns, as well as their mutual focus on anti-refugee settlement.
  • In our "Conclusion" we end the report by offering recommendations to counter Islamophobia through a diverse set of actions by community groups and grassroots movements, as well as policy interventions by different levels of government. We also call for building a global, coordinated network to establish robust social movements capable of proposing and advocating for public policies that combat Islamophobia at home and abroad.

 

  • 1. “Donald Trump on Immigration.” Transcript of Donald Trump’s Immigration Speech, September 1, 2016, accessed April 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/02/us/politics/transcript-trump-immigrat....
  • 2. “Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” Gallup, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim....
  • 3. Pedrioli, Carlo A. “Constructing the Other: U.S. Muslims, Anti-Sharia law, and the Constitutional Consequences of Volatile Intercultural Rhetoric (2012).” Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Vol. 22, 65-108, 2012.
  • 4. Said, Edward. Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. First Vintage Book Edition, 1997.
  • 5. Kundnani, Arun. The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. Verso, 2014, 58-59.
  • 6. See our database: haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/islamophobia (2017).
  • 7. Lawrence Rosenthal. “Trump, The Tea Party, The Republicans, and the Other” (2016). The Othering and Belonging Journal, Issue 1, (Summer 2016): 54- 75.
  • 8. Kundnani, The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, 133-152.
  • 9. Elliot, Justin. “How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began.” Salon. August 16, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/08/16/ground_zero_mosque_origins/.
  • i. From 2010–16, 385 lawmakers have sponsored 194 anti-Muslim bills in 39 states across the nation, with the overwhelming majority of the sponsors (373) being Republican lawmakers (The United States of Islamophobia Database can be accessed online at haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/islamophobia
  • 10. Southern Poverty Law Center. “A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” Southern Poverty Law Center, last accessed March 13, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/20161025/journalists-manual-field-guide-anti-m...).
  • 11. The United States of Islamophobia Database can be accessed online through the Haas Institute website at haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/islamophobia.
  • 12. Lee, Deron. “Creeping Sharia legislation: Journalists often dismiss red-state Islamic law bans as a joke. But the story isn’t going away.” Columbia Journalism Review, June 7, 2013, http://archives.cjr.org/united_states_project/creeping_sharia_legislatio... missouri_islamic_law_bans.php.
  • 13. Beinart, Peter. “The Denationalization of American Muslims.” The Atlantic, March 19, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/frank-gaffney-donal....
  • 14. Rosenthal, Trump, The Tea Party, The Republicans and the Other.
  • 15. CAIR. “Legislating Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States.” 2013, 75, https://www.cair.com/images/islamophobia/Legislating-Fear.pdf.
  • 16. Awad, Abed. “The True Story of Sharia in American Courts.” The Nation, June 14, 2012. https://www.thenation.com/article/true-story-sharia-american-courts/.
  • 17. Baher Azmy (Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights), interview by Basima Sisemore, June 16, 2017.
  • 18. Throughout this report we use the term “anti-Sharia law” as has been used by the anti-Muslim movement in the United States. The anti-Muslim movement erroneously references the term “Sharia law,” despite the fact that Sharia is not the equivalent of Islamic law or an Islamic legal system.