Legalizing Othering

Strategies and Policies to Combat Islamophobia

Strategies and Policies to Combat Islamophobia

THE CONTEXTUALIZATION OF anti-Sharia legislation within the rising tide of Islamophobia suggests that Islamophobia has entered a second phase since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. This research is supported by the findings of our United States of Islamophobia database. Islamophobia now also serves to scapegoat Muslims for failed political and economic programs in the US, similar to how other marginalized groups such as undocumented immigrants are blamed for problems in the country. The rise of Donald Trump to power is directly connected to the connection and exploitation of this racial resentment and economic anxiety. 

Protecting national security from potential terrorist attacks and protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including Muslim Americans, are not mutually exclusive. The Islamophobia movement in the US is motivated by an extreme political discourse that houses unfounded religious and racial biases against Muslim Americans and communities (and this movement extends beyond the geographical boundaries of the US).

In order to combat Islamophobia and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans, there is a critical need to devise strategies and policy interventions that combat the othering of Muslims at all levels. We offer the following recommendations to generate meaningful and effective solidarity across different racial/ethnic, religious, and social groups. 

Grassroots Level

In our research and analysis, we found that the core objective of the anti-Sharia movement is to undermine Muslim Americans’ citizenship by establishing an unequal notion of religious freedom and belonging that has many expressions. These discriminatory expressions came in the form of instigating an unfounded fear among the American people that Sharia will infiltrate the US legal system, increasing mistrust and fearmongering of Muslims. That has led to inhibiting Muslims from engaging with their religion as related to marriage contracts, business contracts, trusts, and estates, and has fomented a climate of intolerance, which increases the likelihood of hate crimes being perpetrated against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. To challenge these discriminatory expressions at the grassroots and community level, we offer the following recommendations:

  • Seek the implementation of a local ordinance that protects the rights of all individuals living in your community to exercise their religious and cultural rights as afforded and ingrained in the US Constitution. 
  • Raise social awareness and educate communities on (i) how Muslims come from many different cultural/ethnic/ racial/linguistic backgrounds, (ii) understanding the meaning of Sharia, and why courts may legitimately use Sharia in court decisions for Muslim communities, e.g. family law and marriage contracts, and, (iii) the dangers of treating Muslims as a monolithic entity that is incapable of adapting to new realities. 
  • Challenge Islamophobia and Islamophobic propaganda through education and training across various settings including places of worship, the workplace, academic institutions, and in the media. 
  • Expose the nature of the "anti-Sharia law" movements that aim to single out Muslim Americans and Muslim communities, and use them as scapegoats for our collective political, social, and economic challenges, which simultaneously seek to preclude refugee resettlement in the US.
  • Build cross-sectoral coalitions and strengthen societal opposition based on our common humanity and constitutional rights and civil liberties.
  • Reject politics of fear, and seek solidarity with other marginalized social/ethnic groups based on common grounds. 

National Level

As we have highlighted, the anti-Sharia movememt in the US is the outcome of a series of interconnected political events, initiatives, shifting public sentiment, and targeted rhetoric. The increasingly misguided political debates that depict Muslims as “others” who do not belong in “our” society have been ongoing for decades, and are intensified in the wake of Muslim-linked terrorist attacks. 

Anti-Muslim acts do not occur as isolated cases, nor are they new. They are rooted in a historical rhetoric that has been demonizing Islam and Muslims prior to the tragedy of 9/11. But since the 9/11 attacks, a constellation of events, including the “war on terror,” and the holding of special congressional hearings to “stop the radicalization of Muslim American youth,” have created the ripe conditions for a proliferation of political scapegoating and anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes in the US. This is particularly true at the grassroots level where mosque construction has been presented as a threat to American society. In their totality, these negative portrayals of Muslim Americans in political debates and media coverage have equipped anti-Muslim movements with an arsenal to advocate for anti-Sharia legislation across state legislatures.

The US Constitution requires that federal and state legislators respect the rights and freedoms of “all persons,” regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. The Constitution affords to citizens, and dictates to policy makers, to respect our institutions, policies and practices from unfounded fear and prejudice. Should our representatives overlook or disregard the Constitution by supporting and advocating for legislation that seeks to discriminate, profile, or alienate our fellow countrymen, we offer the following recommendations at the national level: 

  • Mandate that the federal government protect the rights of Muslim individuals as enshrined in our Constitution and rule of law, and to consider Islamophobia as a form of religious discrimination and discrimination based on national origin. 
  • File amicus briefs (friend of the court) with the Supreme Court to support the rights of Muslim Americans who are subjected to differential treatment based on their religious background by locality, state, or federal agency.
  • Use our electoral power to deny our votes to those who run for public office on a platform of Islamophobia and oppose the political scapegoating of Muslims for campaign slogans before and during local, midterm, and presidential election cycles. 
  • Use our community and organizing power, including the right to assemble and protest, to demand respect and dignity for Muslim Americans and Muslim communities.
  • Work across sectors to create accountable voting blocs against Islamophobes and those who run for public office that seek to single out Muslim Americans and Muslim communities, and unmask the Islamophobia network in every US electoral district, both state and nationally, that aims to drive a wedge between people of color and poor white people.
  • Hold media outlets accountable for spreading double standards when it comes to Muslim Americans vis-à-vis terrorist attacks and violence against Muslims within and beyond the United States. To prevent normalizing fear and alienation of Muslim Americans, we must act, and call out the bigotry, prejudice, and xenophobia in the mainstream media.

Global Level

Islamophobia continues to emerge as a political scapegoating tool in the United States and other parts of the world, shaped by a global Islamophobia network that coordinates its activities and provides financial and intellectual support to its members across national boundaries, such as Stop Islamization of America and Stop Islamisation of Europe. This growing global Islamophobia movement necessitates the urgent need for convergence of a global, robust, anti-Islamophobia network of solidarity that is capable of organizing and mobilizing global citizens to challenge and combat Islamophobia. To achieve that, we offer the following recommendations:

  • Support and institutionalize a global network to advance research and education on Islamophobia, and cultivate synergies and implement strategies to combat Islamophobia in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
  • Advocate and include research-based evidence and inclusive narratives that share the diverse and rich realities of Muslim communities in the US and around the world. 
  • Seek to establish a coalition of cities united against Islamophobia and xenophobia in the US, Europe, and other countries where Islamophobia is taking hold.
  • Incorporate the work of community organizations and initiatives, particularly Muslim-led, across global advocacy to better facilitate civic engagement and social integration.
  • Support and publish research materials to expose unfounded propaganda against Muslims, and unmask their funding sources.

The tide of rising Islamophobia in the United States, along with the well-documented rise in hate crimes and violence against Muslim Americans or those perceived to be Muslim, is not only tragic and alarming, but is also a fundamental threat to our commitment to a pluralistic, democratic society, enshrined in the Constitution. 

Islamophobia must be exposed and challenged at every level, and the legalization of the othering of Muslim Americans must not be allowed, in order to uphold the fundamental American principles of equality before the law, our faith in democratic institutions and democracy, and our commitment to transformational change towards a fair and inclusive society where all belong.