The Impacts of Islamophobia on American Society

IN THIS SECTION, WE SEEK to contextualize anti-Sharia legislation within a broader framework of increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. In reflecting on the mutual rise of xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, the report highlights how anti-Sharia legislation has been enacted within an anti-Muslim political climate and framework. The rise of the anti-Sharia movement, and the creation of ALAC, is situated within this context of Islamophobia, highlighting the role of anti-Muslim sentiment in setting the foundations for the introduction and enactment of anti-Sharia legislation in the US. Finally, the negative impacts of this discriminatory legislation in undermining constitutional rights, and affecting not just Muslim Americans, but the very fabric of American society, are exemplified.

The Rise of Anti-Muslim Sentiment

The inception of the anti-Sharia movement in the US did not emerge within a vacuum. Rather, it was the outcome of a series of interconnected political events, initiatives, shifting public sentiment, and targeted rhetoric. The current political debates that depict Muslims as “others” who do not belong in “our” society, are not isolated instances, nor are they new, but rather, are part of a historical rhetoric rooted in the demonization of Islam and Muslims that pre-dates20 the tragedy of 9/11.21 In a widely circulated article in the Atlantic Monthly from 1990, Bernard Lewis wrote about what he viewed to be “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” offering an analysis of the perceived conflict between “Islam” and “the West,” framing this relationship as a “clash of civilizations.”22 Lewis’ analysis assumes a position that both Islam and “the West” constitute monolithic social, political, and cultural entities. Lewis presented an “us vs. them” dichotomy for Islamophobic rhetoric to be normalized in the US political discourse post-9/11, creating a platform from which Islamophobia has risen to its current state. His article set the stage for a “clash of civilizations” narrative that has since been seized by academics, notably Samuel Huntington,23 media pundits like Bill Maher24 and Bill O’Reilly,25 legislators such as Congressman Peter King,26 political figures such as Ben Carson,27 and demagogues such as Donald Trump.28

The core of these beliefs are based on a lens that views Muslims as an undifferentiated group with fixed characteristics, behaviors, and ideas. The identification of Muslims is not only a matter of religious difference, but also relies on judgments and associations related to skin color, nationality, language, naming, and attire. This extends to the US media and film industry, as anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes have a powerful history in American pop-culture, dating back to the early 1900s with the release of the film Tarzan of the Apes where American audiences were first introduced to racialized depictions of Muslims and Arabs.29 Over the decades, stereotyped images of Muslims and Arabs have remained largely unchanged in the US, manipulating viewers and cementing biased thoughts and feelings towards Arabs and Muslims.30 In pre-9/11 America, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab imagery was interwoven with the “background noise of American bigotry,” however, post-9/11, Arabs and Muslims became “the chief bogeys of our most paranoid fantasies,” a shift which occurred overnight and remains prevalent to this day.31

Since 2001, a constellation of events have created the ripe conditions for the formation of an aggressive Islamophobic movement in the US, particularly at the grassroots level where anti-Sharia legislation has been introduced in 39 state legislatures across the United States. The 9/11 attacks and a series of events in the years following them, including President George W. Bush’s declaration of the “war on terror,” heightened securitization throughout the country, the rise of racial anxiety and racial animosity32 and the subsequent inception of conservative movements in reaction to President Obama’s election,33 the Park51 or ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ campaign,34 and the Peter King congressional hearings,35 all constitute foundational layers that gave rise to the contemporary Islamophobia movement, and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States today.36

Interview Excerpt: Dalia Mogahed on the negative impacts of Islamophobia on democracy 


Islamophobia affects democracy in at least three ways. Firstly, the anti-Sharia legislation is really part of a larger problem, as the same lawmakers that are targeting Muslims are targeting other minorities as well, and what the legislation does is it restricts people’s rights, and fosters a political climate that makes it easier to restrict those rights. With that, the rights of Muslim Americans are then restricted and the rights of other minorities are also restricted, and Islamophobia creates the political climate to make that possible, thus affecting democracy. Secondly, Islamophobia hurts our democracy in that it scares people, as Islamophobia is fueled by fear. Fear makes people more accepting of authoritarianism, conformity, and prejudice, and those three things undermine democratic principles, and it makes people less likely to dissent, to speak out, and to hold their government accountable. And thirdly, it manipulates people, and manipulates the public to consent to policies that they would otherwise not agree to. Without the influence of Islamophobia and the increase of fear that was documented in the run-up to the Iraq war, would the American people have consented to it? Would the majority of Americans have agreed that the US should go to war? Interestingly, polls show that the day before the invasion, the majority of Americans believed that there was a direct connection between 9/11 and Iraq, leading to public consent by false information. The public’s fear was fueled to an irrational extent that they were agreeing to things and believing in things that weren’t true, and then a few years later the vast majority of Americans believe that the Iraq war was a mistake. Islamophobia hurts democracy because it manipulates the public, and the fundamental condition of democracy is an informed, rational citizenry, and when you have a citizenry that is manipulated, lied to, and irrationally afraid, then you no longer have a democracy.

The national tragedy of 9/11 and the Bush administration’s immediate response to the attacks permanently transformed the political and social landscape of the United States, and to a larger extent, has defined the world we live in today. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, on September 20, 2001, President Bush gave an address to the joint session of the 107th Congress announcing the dawn of a lengthy military campaign known as the “war on terror,” launching invasions and occupations of predominantly Muslim countries, while subjecting Muslims inside the United States to extreme scrutiny and suspicion.37

The US-led “war on terror” or the “global war on terrorism” (from 2001 – present) raged globally into prolonged military and ideological wars in predominantly Muslim nations—including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria38 —and extended to the domestic front, normalizing a culture of fear and othering of Muslims, and depicting Muslims and their beliefs as a monolithic danger to the “American” way of life.39

Immediately following September 11, 2001 a number of federal measures were framed within this “war on terror” ideology to strengthen US national security, but which disproportionality targeted and affected Muslims.40 ,41 The federal measures facilitated a process of heightened securitization and selective enforcement, which legitimized surveillance and racial profilingiii of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. Despite President Bush’s post-9/11 em - phasis that America’s enemy was not Islam, Muslims, Arabs, or Middle Easterners, his remarks failed to convince the public of a distinction between the citizen and the terrorist, while his policies simultaneously failed to reflect his rhetoric.42 Anti-Muslim sentiment and violence were inflamed by the US government’s engagement in promoting the “war on terror,” proliferating anti-terrorism rhetoric, racial profiling, and fomenting an environment that tolerates the criminalization of Muslims as they are seen as less “Ameri - can,” or even less human.43 The federal gov - ernment’s actions and statements espoused an implicit bias in the American public that a Middle Easterner, Arab, or Muslim should be regarded as a “potential terrorist.”44 Con - sequently, this fostered a culture of fear and othering of Muslims, granting federal and state governments the power to disregard the rights and protections afforded to Muslim Americans as expendable, in order to pro - tect American values and freedoms from a supposed enemy.45 Legal scholar Leti Volpp explains that in American society, individuals who are Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab in theory possess legal rights as citizens, and yet are distinctly identified in society as the other, juxtaposed as the antithesis of the American citizen’s identity.46 Thus, Muslims are citizens by law entitled to legal rights, but the boundaries of citizenship do not extend beyond the legal, excluding such groups from social, cultural, political as well as legal benefits, and privileges associated with being a fully included member and citizen of society. Lacking such protections, access, and rights associated with being a “citizen” further complicates one’s capability to en - gage with their rights as citizens in political and legal matters.47

Excerpt of the September 20, 2001 Address by President George W. Bush to Joint Session of Congress

“Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our ene - mies, justice will be done.

The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every govern - ment that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elect - ed government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

Our response involves far more than instant retal - iation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dra - matic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

This is not, however, just America’s fight. And what is at stake is not just America’s freedom. This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice — assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.”

This construction of Muslim Americans and Islam as a homogenized Other that poses a threat to “our” way of life, particu - larly Judeo-Christian American values and white-American national identity, has ultimate - ly legitimized the increased securitization and scapegoating of Muslims.48

The congressional hearings on “American Muslim radicalization” provide further example of this under the guise of national security. In 2011 the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), organized panels on what he saw to be “growing numbers of Muslim American radicals,” arguing that the Muslim-American community needs to do more to combat terrorism.49 During the hearings King collaborated with anti-Muslim extremists50 such as Steve Emerson, a “self-styled terrorism expert,”51 and founder of The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT),52 who provided misleading information on Muslim terrorism to back the congressional hearings.53  As such, Peter King’s congressional hearings not only shaped public perception of Muslims as inherently linked or sympathetic to terrorism, but they also created a sense of obligation for Muslims living in the US to prove their patriotism and loyalty to the nation by supporting xenophobic policies and practices against fellow Muslims54 in order be deemed the “good Muslims.”55 “Good Muslims” assist in the self-surveillance, policing, and criminalization of their own communities, and until proven otherwise, all Muslims are assumed to be “bad Muslims,”56 further framing the 19 September 11 hijackers and their actions as representative of an estimated 3.3 million Muslims57 living in the US.58

David Yerushalmi: The Creator of ALAC

The leading figure behind the anti-Sharia law movement is David Yerushalmi, an American lawyer and anti-Muslim activist known for drafting the American Laws for American Courts Model Act, and for providing legal representation to anti-Muslim extremists like Pamela Geller1 of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA).2

Yerushalmi, a “veteran of the right-wing Israeli settlers movement,"3 developed an interest in Sharia law following the 9/11 attacks while residing outside of the United States in the Ma’ale Adumim Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.4 Following the attacks, Yerushalmi moved to Brooklyn, and in 2006 established the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), a nonprofit organization that became his channel for opposing Sharia.5 Through the organization’s website he proposed a law that likened the observance of Islamic law to sedition, making any observance of Islamic law a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.6

In a 2007 commentary titled “War Manifesto—The War Against Islam,” Yerushalmi was quoted as saying that “any Muslim in America who adopts historical and traditional Shari’a will be subject to deportation. Mosques, which adhere to Islamic law, will be shut down permanently. No self-described or practicing Muslim, irrespective of his or her declarations to the contrary, will be allowed to immigrate to this country."7

SANE’s work connected Yerushalmi to Frank Gaffney Jr., an instrumental conspiracy theorist and propagandist for the Islamophobia movement,8 who is also the founder and president of the neoconservative/anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. Through Gaffney, Yerushalmi gained access to a network of government officials, political organizations, and security analysts, and in 2008 Gaffney coordinated meetings with high-level government officials in the US Department of Treasury, where Yerushalmi warned the officials about the dangers of “Shariah-compliant finance."9

Stuart A. Levey, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the US Department of Treasury, later described Yerushalmi’s presentation of Sharia as “sweeping and ultimately unconvincing.”10 The ineffective meetings with federal officials led Yerushalmi to a realization that he was incapable of advancing his anti-Muslim agenda at the federal level, and that he would have to shift his strategy and focus to the state level. As he stated in a New York Times profile, “If you can’t move policy at the federal level, well, where do you go? You go to the states.”11

In 2010, a year prior to the Peter King congressional hearings, Pamela Geller, the executive director and co-founder with Robert Spencer of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), also known as the Freedom Defense Initiative, led an alarmist campaign59 against the proposed Park5160 community and interfaith spiritual center61 scheduled for development in an abandoned building two blocks north of the World Trade Center site.62 Over the years, Geller has built her own reputation as the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and influential figurehead,” 63 and, alongside Robert Spencer in their campaign against the ominously-dubbed “Ground Zero Mosque,”64  drew national attention and controversy regarding the project. In further perpetuating Muslims and Islam as antitheist and a danger to the “American” way of life, Geller has been instrumental in the campaign against the Park51 project which vilified the cultural center as an Islamic “victory mosque” that celebrated the 9/11 attacks. In a 2015 Breitbart news article Geller claimed that the project was a “middle finger to the American people” and if the project had succeeded, it would have served as a symbol of Islamic conquest.65 Geller’s successful campaign against Park51 brought to light the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the US public, and reflected the anxieties around Muslim spatial presence in public and national spaces.

Park 51 Community Center: The Myth and the Controversy

There was no reason why the Park51 project (the community and interfaith spiritual center that was under development in Lower Manhattan beginning in 2009) should have become a national news story, nor a national controversy.1 In 2009 the chairman and CEO of Soho properties, Sharif El-Gamal, purchased the five-story building on 45 Park Place and offered the space for temporary use as an overflow prayer space on Fridays for the TriBeCa Al Farah Mosque, where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was the spiritual leader.2

By December of 2009 El-Gamal and Rauf had larger plans for the building, with the idea to repurpose it as a cultural center with a mosque or spiritual center.3 Prior to the Park51 project, originally named Cordoba House, mosques had existed in the same neighborhood for years.4 The building itself had been abandoned since the attacks on the World Trade Center,5 and the local community board voted in favor of the project,6 with then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defending it.7

The debate surrounding the initiative began as a local zoning dispute, but suddenly mushroomed into a national controversy that centered on Islam and the 9/11 attacks.8 The controversy was largely propelled by right-wing, anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller who first posted about the Park51 project, or Cordoba House initiative, on her blog Atlas Shrugs, following a front-page story in the New York Times that showcased the project back in 2009.9 The Times later ran an article on May 6, 2010 stating that the New York City Community Board Committee approved of the “WTC Mosque,” which played a pivotal role in spreading misleading and harmful information about Park51.10 A day later the group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA)—founded by Geller and Robert Spencer (one of America’s most active anti-Muslim propagandists, and the director of the anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch)11— launched a drive called “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!”12 SIOA immediately called for its first protest against the “911 monster mosque,” and on May 13, the New York Post published a piece titled “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero” which cited Geller throughout the article.13

These episodes marked the beginning of the construction and propagation of the fallacious “ground zero mosque” narrative. From then on, the “mosque controversy” successfully spread through both conservative and mainstream media outlets, and within the following months prominent politicians such as Rudy Giuliani, Peter King, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin were speaking out against Park51, further garnering national attention to the project.14 Geller and Spencer were active in mobilizing efforts to block the Park51 project, as well as generating media attention to fuel the controversy, and leading efforts against the planners behind the project, labeling them radical extremists.15 By 2011, the Park51 project had been abandoned due to public pressure, and the building is now being developed for luxury condos.16

The Rise of Xenophobia vis-à-vis Islamophobia

The irresponsible media coverage and unscrupulous political discourse of 9/11 events reignited the recurrent Orientalist trope of the West as modern, epitomizing democracy and freedom, juxtaposed with the East as primitive, uncivilized, and comprised of dictatorial regimes that nurture terrorism.66 The smear campaign against Park51 effectively seized on this imagined dichotomy, turning the project into a major news story, successfully spotlighting the project for national controversy and debate, and prompting the nation to weigh in on the “ethics, morals, and safety” of building an Islamic cultural and community center in proximity to Ground Zero.67 The anti-Muslim, anti-mosque objectives of the campaign embellished the idea of Muslims and Islam as inherently contradictory to all that is “America” or “American.” Such debates highlighted the popularized belief that Muslim bodies, activities and institutions are essentially a threat to, and incompatible with the American social fabric, and thus must be spatially separated from “sacred national sites” like Ground Zero.

Interview Excerpt: Nour Bouhassoun on intersectional experiences of anti-Muslim discrimination in education


Youth are exposed to Islamophobia in school since they spend most of their time there. At school, Muslim students experience harassment and microaggressions that result from Islamophobia. They find themselves in a weird position where they have to explain themselves, their beliefs, or the way they dress. It’s exhausting when you have to do a presentation every day on who you are, and what you are not, especially when you see that other youth your age are far removed from the struggles you are experiencing. Arab and Muslim students also get suspended when schools fail to address their needs or fail to take their personal struggles into account along with their academic struggles. Teachers in some schools are somehow trained to avoid discussing with students anything outside of class “material,” as if personal accounts of racism and Islamophobia are not significant enough to be considered academic or worthy of discussion. Students are more likely to internalize racism and Islamophobia when schools lack resources that teach them about unapologetic self-compassion, and self-empowerment, or when schools lack the kind of education that links our personal issues with the larger political issues people of color have been fighting against for decades. This education is needed, and it’s inaccessible at many San Francisco public schools, particularly when these schools isolate themselves from Arab and Muslim community organizations that can collaborate with teachers to offer education sessions, along with real alternatives to punishment and suspensions. 

We have also seen how students are even getting killed on the streets, in public, for being Muslim. The thing about being Muslim, black, brown, trans, or queer in this country is that you can experience anything, anywhere. It’s also important to remember that experiences of Islamophobia are not isolated, they blend with experiences of sexism, racism, and homophobia that Muslim and Arab youth are subjected to on a daily basis.

This campaign led by Geller and Spencer against Park51 is credited as being the spark that instigated organized Islamophobia efforts in the United States.68 With Islamophobia having been institutionalized by federal government measures and laws like the Patriot Act, and with public fear and demonization of Muslims on the rise through such campaigns, the next order of business for the far-right was to exploit these sentiments for political purposes.69 ,70 Specifically, major players in the Islamophobia movement teamed-up with the Tea Party during the 2010 midterm elections to back candidates committed to reversing or halting financial reforms and regulations created or proposed in the wake of the 2008 financial and mortgage loan crisis.71 Through this alliance, and with the help of wealthy, right-wing donors, the Islamophobia movement succeeded in having a host of their-favored candidates win elections, including Rep. Michele Beckmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), and Rep. Paul Bourn (R-Ga.), among others. 

The institutionalization of organized Islamophobia normalized a space for anti-Islam and anti-Muslim activism, campaigns and efforts against Syrian refugee resettlement, mosque construction,72 how knowledge of Islam is taught in schools, and ultimately the advancement of anti-Sharia legislation. The organized Islamophobia movement built momentum in 2010, with the inception of anti-Muslim hate groups, and emotive anti-Muslim extremists making a name for themselves and their cause.73 This was accompanied by a festering undercurrent of racial anxiety and animosity in the United States. Dating back to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, a correlation is observed between the rise of racial anxiety and animosity, and the advent of the anti-Sharia movement. 

In response to Obama’s presidential campaign and subsequent election as president, the US witnessed the rise of two conservative-led movements: the birther movement and the Tea Party movement. On June 3, 2008, Obama became the Democratic presidential nominee, making history as the first black presidential candidate leading a major party ticket.74 As Obama edged closer to claiming presidential victory, rumors undermining his eligibility to serve as president brought into question his US citizenship and place of birth.75 On June 13, 200876 Obama’s campaign posted his birth certificate on their “Fight the Smears” website in order to debunk all speculation surrounding his birth—however, the posting had the opposite effect, and only brought more pushback challenging the authenticity of the birth certificate, which served to further fuel the movement.76

Famously, current President Donald Trump was a staunch "birther," propelling the movement, with the help of conservative media, from a fringe movement to a major issue that the Obama White House was forced to continuously address.78

Trump is also known for his skepticism of Obama’s Christian faith, at times suggesting he was in fact a secret Muslim.79 The conspiracy theory alleging President Obama to be a Muslim can be traced back as far as 2004,80 when, as a state senator from Illinois, Obama delivered the keynote address for the Democratic National Convention which moved him into a position of national prominence and recognition.81

The birther movement and questions around Obama’s religion served as a vehicle to subvert the former president’s identity, legitimacy, and national loyalty to the US, highlighting a “political dementia and bigotry” stemming from racism.82 As Martin A. Parlett articulates in his book Demonizing a President: The “Foreignization” of Barack Obama, 

“the frames applied to Obama… [were applied to] dehumanize and scourge the first African American president. These disgraceful ad hominem attacks were (and are) structured to cast Barack Obama—and by extension his family—as outside of the comfortable and accepted normalcy of the upright, patriotic, democratic, heterosexual, and Judeo-Christian American paragon.”83

Such accusations promoted a “foreignization” of Obama, labeling him as an outsider, or the "other" who needed to be scrutinized.84

While the birther movement sought to delegitimize a newly-elected president by touting conservative conspiracy theories, zealous efforts by the rising Tea Party pushed the Republican Party further to the right, sparking conservative activism against Obama’s health and economic policies at the time. According to a study by Robb Willer, et al., the inception of the Tea Party movement in late 2008 and early 2009 is irrefutably linked to the rise of racial anxiety felt among white Americans, prompted by the election of the nation’s first nonwhite president, and a growing population of nonwhite citizens.85 The demographic shift had been interpreted as a threat to the standing hierarchy of whites in the US and their political power, and ensuing racial resentment helped fuel popular support for the Tea Party movement.30

These events, initiatives, and shifting public sentiment were layered with issues of racial insecurity felt by white Americans, inducing and exacerbating a climate of fear of Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim. Consequently, many in the US have been engaged in a fierce struggle to preserve an “American” way of life by stifling anything that is fundamentally “un-American.” Justified by the validation and manipulation of this religious and racial anxiety by political and cultural leaders, a new wave of Islamophobia transpired, ushering in the American Laws for American Courts (ALAC), and the rise of the anti-Sharia movement. 

The Rise of the anti-Sharia Movement and the Creation of ALAC

Following the election of the nation’s first Black president in 2008, the US was fraught with political and racial anxieties. Within this political climate, and the beginnings of the contemporary, or post-911 anti-Muslim movement, the United States provided the ideal context for a lawyer named David Yerushalmi to introduce the anti-Muslim state model act, American Laws for American Courts (ALAC). According to a tax document, Yerushalmi received over $153,000 in consulting fees from Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy in 2009, the same year Yerushalmi drafted the model ALAC legislation.87  Gaffney mobilized interest in the anti-Sharia legislation, organizing calls with activists, connecting with Tea Party and Christian groups and ACT for America,88 an organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.”89 By the end of 2010, 13 anti-Sharia bills had been introduced across the US, serving as the catalyst for the anti-Sharia movement.

This infographic includes a map showcasing governors against the Syrian Refugee Resettlement in 2015

On the website of the American Public Policy Alliance (APPA)—the right-wing organization that houses the ALAC model act—APPA explains that “American Laws for American Courts was crafted to protect American citizens’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law... By promoting American Laws for American Courts, we are preserving individual liberties and freedoms which become eroded by the encroachment of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, such as Shariah.”90 The website goes on to state that “American Laws for American Courts is needed especially to protect women and children, identified by international human rights organizations as the primary victims of discriminatory foreign laws.”90 Projecting a need to protect American citizens specifically from Sharia serves a problematic dual purpose: firstly to perpetuate the idea that Muslims and their Islamic faith are an inherent threat to American individuals’ constitutional rights and democracy, and secondly, to bolster the toxic rhetoric that Islam and Sharia are inherently discriminatory, misogynistic, and oppressive towards women, contributing to misinformation and fear that helps advance anti-Sharia campaigns throughout the US.

Interview Excerpt: Mark Potok on connections between the rise of anti-Muslim groups and the draft anti-Sharia bill ALAC, and on anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2009 to 2010


In 2010, we saw what appeared to be at first almost inexplicable - a 50% rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2009 to 2010, following a fairly steady decline ever since 2001. When we think back to 2010 there really wasn’t any objective in terms of terrorism that could explain that sharp rise. There weren’t any Jihadist attacks in the United States that year, there were no Islamic State horror stories coming in from abroad, there were no attacks in Paris or Brussels, or anything that would get a lot of attention in the United States. It seems to me that two things happened. One, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer ginned up a giant controversy over the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque in NY City, which of course was neither at Ground Zero, nor a mosque. They made a big deal out of it, and managed to create a massive demonstration against the Islamic Center, sending the message that it was, as Geller called it, a ‘Victory Mosque,’ a triumphal monument to the people who slaughtered Americans on 9/11. The man behind Park51 was accused of all kinds of things, including being tied to terrorists, and the fact that it was in New York, the largest media market in the world, helped it become a national story, and very quickly that spilled out into other controversies around mosque construction in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. That was one thing, the mosque controversies, which began in New York and spread around the country that year.

The other big thing that happened in 2010 is that David Yerushalmi came out as one of the authors of a report alleging that Muslims were involved in a conspiracy to impose Sharia Law in American criminal courts. Yerushalmi also drafted that year the American Laws for American Courts legislation, the model anti-Sharia legislation that he got a lot of press attention for. Obviously, it’s not possible to impose Sharia Law on American courts under the Constitution. That was simply propaganda. So, he created a fearmongering, hate-generating tactic, aimed at Muslims in America, that was very effective, and now a number of states have actually adopted the anti-Sharia legislation, beginning with Oklahoma.

The Context of anti-Sharia State Legislation

The anti-Sharia movement did not originate within a vacuum, but was rather built upon mobilizations, political, and racial resentments that led to measures being enacted at the federal and state levels. Our findings connect these measures to a number of events that took place in the United States from 2001 to 2016, ranging from the 9/11 attacks, the election of former President Barack Obama, the rise of the Tea Party and birther movements, and Congressman Peter King’s congressional hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—all of which helped to shape and foment a climate for a new wave of Islamophobia. Drawing on these connections, the foundations of the anti-Sharia movement can be linked to the rise of racial animosity/anxiety in the United States, which emerged as a response to Obama’s election as president. An increased visibility of a non-Christian population in the US has been perceived as a threat to the standing hierarchy and political power of conservative, white Americans, consequently leading to the rise of racial resentment and anxiety among certain white conservatives, as well as the establishment of the Tea Party and birther movements.92

The organized, contemporary Islamophobia movement piggybacked on the economic anxiety against the backdrop of the 2007-08 subprime mortgage and financial crisis, and racial resentments in reaction to the election of the first Black President. Collectively, a climate of economic uncertainly and the perceived threats of a changing demographic, created the ripe conditions that led many conservative Americans to be susceptible of scapegoating others for the economic and social challenges.93 While these explanations aren’t mutually exclusive, the growing influence of these converging movements, the anti-Sharia movement launched its efforts in 2010 when the birther movement and Tea Party had created the welcoming climate and public sentiment required for xenophobia and Islamophobia to thrive. Immediately following President Obama’s inauguration in 2010 and the Park 51/‘Ground Zero Mosque’ campaign, the first anti-Sharia bills were enacted in the United States.

Recurring Themes and Discriminatory Effects of the Anti-Sharia Bills

The beginning of the anti-Sharia movement can be traced to 2010, following the creation of the American Laws for American Courts model act (ALAC) drafted by the lawyer David Yerushalmi. In 2009, Yerushalmi received over $153,000 in consulting fees from Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy to draft the ALAC model act, and in 2010 the first bills modeled after ALAC were introduced.94 From 2010 to 2016, 194 anti-Sharia bills were introduced in 39 state legislatures across the US.95 Eighteen bills were enacted into law, and lawmakers in Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee enacted multiple anti-Sharia legislation in their states.96

The American Public Policy Alliance claims that ALAC was crafted to “protect American citizens’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law.”97 The bills are championed as a means to protect American freedoms and liberties, however, opponents of the legislation argue that these bills and their legislative campaigns represent a solution in search of a problem, highlighting the reality that Sharia law or foreign law do not constitute a threat to American freedoms or liberties.98 In addition, anti-Sharia bills are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.99 The argument for ALAC as a defense against the infiltration of Sharia is a fallacy, as the Constitution establishes that foreign law or Sharia law cannot replace or supersede American law, with the Constitution specifying the applicability of foreign law.100 Additionally, Yerushalmi admits to an ulterior motive behind writing ALAC, which is the promotion of fear and scrutiny around the term Sharia. Yerushalmi claimed that if the bills passed in every state without any friction, then ALAC would not have served its purpose, as he wanted people to ask the question, “What is Shariah?”101 The question intended to proliferate a fear of “creeping” Sharia, as well as the enactment of anti-Muslim legislation across the US. 

Our analysis of Yerushalmi’s model act identifies several recurring themes and discriminatory effects that encapsulate the bills’ language or intent. 

Recurring Themes 

  • Most of the bills in our database adopt language or employ provisions contained in the ALAC model act. For example, of the 194 bills introduced, 140 bills used ALAC model language, while an additional 54 anti-Sharia bills did not.
  • Most bills exempt corporations, explicitly allowing them to enter into contracts and agreements that call for the application of a foreign law. Of the 194 bills introduced, 121 bills exempt corporations, while a total of 73 bills do not exempt corporations, or do not reference corporations in the text of the bill. The bills set a double standard, allowing for corporations to enter into business contracts without restrictions, while simultaneously infringing on the rights of individuals to enter into contracts.
  • Most bills bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts and agreements that call for the application of foreign law. Of the 194 bills introduced, 191 bills bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts and agreements, while an additional three bills do not bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts, or the text of the bill does not reference individual contracts. This stipulation violates the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and clearly establishes the bills’ unconstitutionality. 

Discriminatory Effects

At its core, the anti-Sharia movement aims to undermine Muslim Americans’ belonging in American society by establishing an un-equal standard for religious freedom. The discriminatory effects, although not exhaustive,102 draw on every anti-Sharia bill introduced, and establish the intent of the anti-Sharia bills and/or the intent of their legislative campaigns (see the "State Legislation" section for a more detailed analysis of the discriminatory effects). The anti-Sharia bills and their legislative campaigns:

  • Instigate an unfounded and nonviable fear among American society that Sharia will infiltrate the US legal system.
  • Increase mistrust, fearmongering, and othering of Islam/Muslims.
  • Foment a climate of intolerance, which increases the likelihood of hate crimes being perpetrated against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.
  • Negatively impact and inhibit Muslims from engaging with their religion as related to marriage contracts, business contracts, trusts, and estates.

  • 20Up until 1944, ones’ Muslim identify was used as grounds to deny citizenship in US courts. (Beydoun, Khaled A., “Viewpoint: Islamophobia has a long history in the US.” BBC. September 29, 2015,
  • 21Elsheikh, Elsadig. “Condemning Donald Trump is not enough: The genealogy of demagoguery and Islamophobia.” Berkeley Blog. December 18, 2015,
  • 22Lewis, Bernard. “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” The Atlantic. September 1990,….
  • 23Said, Edward W., “The Clash of Ignorance: Labels like “Islam” and “the West” serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality.” The Nation. October 4, 2001,
  • 24Chaudry, Rabia. “An Open Letter to Bill Maher from a Muslim American.” Islamophobia Today. May 12, 2014.….
  • 25Kirkland, Allegra. “WATCH: O’Reilly Lectures American Muslims On How To Avoid Discrimination.” TPM. November 18, 2015,
  • 26PBS. “Congressional Hearing on Radicalization of U.S. Muslims Draws Ire, Praise.” PBS, last accessed August 24, 2017,
  • 27Jacobs, Ben, and Sabrina Siddiqui. “Ben Carson’s anti-Muslim comments: what have the other candidates said?” The Guardian. September 21, 2015,….
  • 28Jacobs, Ben. “Donald Trump’s plan to bar Muslims may be an outlandish policy too far.” The Guardian. December 8, 2015,….
  • 29Shaheen, Jack. “How the Media Created the Muslim Monster Myth.” The Nation. June 12, 2012,
  • 30 a b Ibid.
  • 31Ibid.
  • 32Samuel, Terence. “The racist backlash Obama has faced during his presidency.” Washington Post, April 22, 2016.….
  • 33Dimock, Michael. “How America Changed During Barack Obama’s Presidency.” Pew Research Center, accessed March 21, 2017, how-america-changed-during-barackobamas-presidency/.
  • 34Elliott, How the ‘ground zero mosque’ fear mongering began. mosque_origins/
  • 35“Rep. Peter King’s Anti-Muslim Congressional Hearings.” CAIR, March 11, 2015.….
  • 36“Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” Gallup. poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx.
  • 37“Address to the Joint Session of the 107th Congress.” Selected Speeches of President George W. Bush 2001 – 2008. 65, 68 – 70, 73. https:// georgewbush-whitehouse.archives. gov/infocus/bushrecord/documents/Selected_Speeches_George_W_Bush.pdf.
  • 38Greenwald, Glenn. “Trump’s War on Terror Has Quickly Become as Barbaric and Savage as He Promised.” The Intercept, March 26, 2017.….
  • 39“War on Terror, War on Muslims?” Al Jazeera. October 27, 2014.….
  • 40For example, federal measures that disproportionately affected Muslims include the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), the Closed Removal Proceedings following September 11, 2001, and President Trump’s Executive Order issued in January of 2017 entitled “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” among others.
  • 41Chishti, Mazzafar, and Claire Bergeron. Post-9/11 Policies Dramatically Alter the U.S. Immigration Landscape. Migration Policy Institute. September 8, 2011.….
  • iiiThe discriminatory practice of racial profiling of Muslims has become so prevalent and normalized, that since 9/11 there have been numerous accounts of Muslims being removed from planes simply because of how they look, or the language they speak, manifests apprehension in fellow passengers or crewmembers. (Holley, Peter, “Muslim couple says they were kicked off Delta flight for using phone, saying, ‘Allah’,” The Washington Post, August 7, 2016.
  • 42Volpp, Leti. The Citizen and the Terrorist, 23 Immigration. & Nationality L. Rev. 561 (2002), 567,
  • 43Greenwald, Glenn. “The racism that fuels the ‘war on terror’.” The Guardian. March 25, 2013,….
  • 44Ibid., 568.
  • 45Thomas, Jeffrey L. Scapegoating Islam: Intolerance, Security, and the American Muslim. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2015, viii, ix.
  • 46Ibid., 580.
  • 47Ibid., 580.
  • 48Historian Bernard Lewis perpetuated this idea of “Islam” vs. “the West,” claiming that Islam was “an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the world-wide expansion of both” (Edward Said, “The Myth of the “Clash of Civilizations”,” YouTube video, 52:03, posted by “Palestine Diary,” May 13, 2011, Lewis influenced the work of Samuel Huntington and his book The Clash of Civilizations, whereby Huntington defines Islamic civilization as crude, arguing that Islam never modernized, never bothered to separate religion from state, is intolerant of other civilizations, and above all is anti-Western (Ibid). Renowned public intellectual Edward Said critiques Huntington’s theory, stating that Islam is a major world culture, one that cannot be flattened as Lewis and Huntington have done to portray Islam—and the West for that matter—as a monolithic, homogenous civilization, one that is unchanging and always juxtaposed with the West (Ibid). Said continues, stating that in the United States and Europe, Islam is being understood and articulated through the lens of Orientalism, creating a climate of hostility and aversion towards Muslims and Muslim nations (Ibid).
  • 49Love, Erik. “The Peter King “Radicalization of Muslims” Hearing and American Democracy.” Jadaliyya, March 6, 2011.….
  • 50Southern Poverty Law Center. A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.
  • 51Wald-Seitz, Alex. “Why is Steve Emerson still a “terrorism expert”?” Salon. April 26, 2013,
  • 52A non-profit research group that claims to be the “…world’s most comprehensive data center on radical Islamic terrorist groups.” (IPT. “About The Investigative Project on Terrorism.” IPT, last accessed August 24, 2017,
  • 53SPLC. “Steve Emerson, Backing King Hearings, Pushes Misleading Statistic on Muslim Terrorism.” SPLC, last accessed March 23, 2011, https://www.
  • 54African scholar Mahmood Mamdani in his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, identifies the tragedy of 9/11 as the “unfinished business of the Cold War” (Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, p. 13). “Bad Muslims,” meaning Muslim individuals affiliated with political Islam (groups such as the mujahideen, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc.) are in fact a product of U.S. intervention during the Cold War, when the Reagan administration sought to unite Muslims around the world against the Soviet Union, and to fuel the doctrinal difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims into a political divide with the intention of isolating Iran (Mamdani, Mahmood. “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (September 2002): 766 – 775.). One such example of this is the CIA directly funding and training the mujahideen in Afghanistan to lead the fight against the Soviet Union, which culminated into the creation of al-Qaeda (ibid., 772).
  • 55Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War, And The Roots of Terror. New York: Random House, Inc., 2004, 15.
  • 56Ibid., 15.
  • 57Mohamed, Basheer. A new estimate on the U.S. Muslim population. Pew Research Center. Accessed April 6, 2017.….
  • 58The practice of racial profiling and religious discrimination proliferates the idea of the “good Muslim” versus the “bad Muslim,” as people hold certain beliefs that particular groups of people are predisposed to terroristic tendencies. In one example, the actions of Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, did not produce a discourse of “good whites” vs. “bad whites” as he was viewed as a white man acting as an individual deviant—his actions were not considered representative of an entire racial group. Yet, despite the myriad of ethnic, racial, cultural, social, economic, and linguistic differences that comprise Muslim-American populations in the US, Muslims are viewed as one homogenous group, situated as outsiders living in the United States with the potential to turn against the United States at any moment (Volpp, The Citizen and the Terrorist, 571).
  • 59Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.
  • 60Park51 refers to the official name of the building and organization that was to manage the various facilities within the building (O’Connor, Brendan. “The Sad, True Story of the Ground Zero Mosque.” The Awl, October 1, 2015.…) such as recreation spaces, an auditorium with a 500-person seating capacity, childcare services, education programs, a mosque, and a 9/11 memorial, to name but a few (Park51. “Facilities.” Park51. Accessed May 31, 2017. Cordoba House, which was to also be housed within Park51, was to provide interfaith programming under the leadership of Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf (O’Connor, The Sad, True Story of the Ground Zero Mosque). Park51 and its facilities were intended to serve as a community sanctuary for New Yorkers of all faiths, focusing on inclusivity, green design, and addressing social needs (Park51. “Mission.” Park51. Accessed May 31, 2017.… id=12).
  • 61Park51. “Vision.” Park51. Accessed May 31, 2017.….
  • 62Blumenthal, Ralph and Sharaf Mawjood. “Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero.” The New York Times, December 8, 2009, nyregion/09mosque.html?_r=1&sq=-mosque%20ground%20zero&st=nyt&scp=1&pagewanted=all.
  • 63Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.
  • 64Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.
  • 65Geller, Pamela. “It’s Official: Ground Zero Mosque Defeated!” Breitbart News Network, September 26, 2015.….
  • 66Volpp, 23 Immigration & Nationality L. Rev, 572
  • 67O’Connor, Brendan. The Sad, True Story of the Ground Zero Mosque.
  • 68Mark Potok (Senior Fellow and Intelligence Report Editor, Southern Poverty Law Center), interview by Basima Sisemore, November 2, 2016.
  • 69Lean, Nathan. The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. Pluto Press, 2012, 78-118.
  • 70Center for American Progress. Fear, Inc.: The Roots of Islamophobia Network in America. Wajahat Ali, et al (2011), access at americanprogress. org.
  • 2010 Financial Activity for Super PACs, accessed at….
  • 72Pamela Geller published a book in 2011 titled, Stop Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to Resistance, where she offers detailed instructions on how to prevent mosque construction in communities across the United States, and how to fight back against the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy to subvert American freedoms. (CAIR. “Pamela Geller and Stop Islamization of America.” CAIR. Accessed June 12, 2017.…).
  • 73Southern Poverty Law Center. A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists
  • 74Zeleny, Jeff. “Obama Claims Nomination; First Black Candidate to Lead a Major Party Ticket.” The New York Times, June 4, 2008.
  • 75Smith, Ben and Byron Tau. “birtherism: Where it all began.” Politico. April 24, 2011.….
  • 76 a b Hollyfield, Amy. “Obama’s Birth Certificate: Final Chapter.” Politifact. March 2011.….
  • 78Collinson, Stephen and Jeremy Diamond. “Trump finally admits it: ‘President Barack Obama was born in the United States’.” CNN. September 16, 2016.….
  • 79Tashman, Brian. “7 Other Times Donald Trump Suggested Obama Is A Secret Muslim and Terrorist Sympathizer.” Rightwing Watch. June 15, 2016.….
  • 80Rutenberg, Jim. “The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama.” The New York Times. October 12, 2008. politics/13martin.html.
  • 81Parlett, Martin A. Demonizing a President: The “Foreignization” of Barack Obama. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2014, 143.
  • 82Budowsky, Brent. “Colin Powell Is Right: birtherism Is Racism.” Observer. September 16, 2016.
  • 83Parlett, Demonizing a President, 4, 5.
  • 84Ibid.
  • 85Willer, Robb, Matthew Feinberg and Rachel Wetts. Threats to Racial Status Promote Tea Party Support among White Americans. May 4, 2016, 1.
  • 87Elliott, Andrea. “The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.” The New York Times, July 30, 2011. html.
  • 88Ibid.
  • 89Southern Poverty Law Center. “ACT for America.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed March 12, 2017. https://
  • 90 a b American Public Policy Alliance. “American Laws for American Courts.” American Public Policy Alliance. Accessed April 26, 2017.….
  • 92Rosenthal, Trump, The Tea Party, The Republicans, and the Other, 57-75.
  • 93Lopez, Ian Haney. Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. Oxford University Press, 2014, 147-158.
  • 94Elliott, Andrea. “The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.”
  • 95The United States of Islamophobia Database can be accessed online through the Haas Institute website at
  • 96The United States of Islamophobia Database can be accessed online through the Haas Institute website at
  • 97American Public Policy Alliance, American Laws for American Courts.
  • 98Mach, Daniel and Jamil Dakwar. “Anti-Sharia law: A Solution in Search of a Problem,” Huffington Post, May 20, 2011.….
  • 99Ibid.
  • 100“Abed Awad on Foreign Law Bans,” YouTube Video, 12:05, expert panel to discuss foreign law ban on September 26, 2013, posted by “Brennan Center for Justice,” February 17, 2017,
  • 1011 Elliot, The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.
  • 102The direct and indirect impacts of the anti-Sharia law legislation are yet to be fully exposed, and there is a need for individuals and companies to not only document, but to also be vocal when issues of bigotry and discrimination arise from anti-Muslim and anti-foreign laws.