The murdered Imam wore the same clothes as my father. The same traditional Muslim attire of a tunic and cotton pants, signaling modesty. He also had three children, lived in Queens, and perhaps also left Bangladesh to live freely from high rates of crime and political violence.
In three months, the Bangladeshi-American communities in Queens within a 30-minute drive suffered three vicious attacks. On June 1, an elderly man was severely beaten by a group outside a Jamaica mosque. On August 13, a Muslim leader and his assistant were shot and killed in broad daylight in Ozone Park. On September 1, a mother was stabbed to death steps from her home in Jamaica.
The growing list of hate crimes against Muslims span across New York City and the rest of the world. As residents of the most powerful country, we must stop the spread of xenophobic violence.
Family members of the slain Imam blame Donald Trump for his killing through inciting Islamophobia. Trump’s hate is funded by a multimillion-dollar industry. A recently released report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California, Berkeley found that 74 organizations contributed to the spread of racism against Muslims in the U.S., with $206 million spent between 2008 and 2013 alone. These institutions include Stop Islamization of America, branded a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League, a distinction shared by the Ku Klux Klan.
The media enable and encourage Islamophobia, also. A major study analyzing over 2.6 million New York Times print and digital headlines found that Islam and Muslims were portrayed more negatively than cancer and cocaine – 37 percent and 47 percent respectively, compared to 57 percent of headlines for Islam and Muslims. For those who agree that one in five people in the world deserve demonization, keep in mind the FBI statistic that 94 percent of terrorist attacks in America are committed by non-Muslims. Unsurprisingly, the biased reporting has contributed to a rise in hate crimes against Muslims. Also not surprising, these racist attacks and media’s biased representation aid Daesh and other terrorist groups in convincing recruits that the West hates all Muslims.
Each time the media gives Daesh agency by calling it ISIS, ISIL or IS ― the Islamic State ― these violent extremists can claim to represent over 1.6 billion diverse voices. You can’t even buy this kind of press! A recent Associated Press feature revealed that over 70 percent of Daesh recruits have little to no knowledge of The Qur’an. The group has murdered more Muslims than any of its other targets. Daesh militants do not represent Islam, nor are they a state. If the KKK renamed itself the Christian State, would the same media allow the extremists to personify the voice of over a billion Christians?
As individuals, we might feel powerless to fight institutions spending millions to incite Islamophobia, but living in America avails us with powerful rights and opportunities. We can choose how we consume the news, selecting outlets with editorial boards that reflect the diversity of our great nation. Most publications have far fewer minorities on staff than the makeup of the U.S. population – about 13 percent at daily newspapers, compared to almost three times the number among the general public. We can support organizations actively working to end racism, like CAIR and Black Lives Matter.
Most importantly, American citizens must fulfill our duty to vote not only during the presidential election, but every election. Mostly local politicians enacted racist legislation to disenfranchise non-white voters, such as voter ID laws, since minorities are more likely to be low income and lack the documents necessary to secure a photo ID. Local politicians also passed anti-sharia laws to prevent Muslims from imposing sharia or Islamic law in American courts, although there are zero examples of such threats. Nations with some of the worst human rights records – including Iran and Venezuela – have higher voter turnouts than the U.S.
In spite of the racism I endure as a first generation Muslim American, I fulfill my duties to both identities by working to end all forms of oppression and suffering. My activism in America spans causes ranging from fighting poverty to co-creating the campus sexual assault policy for the largest public urban university in the nation.
Whether or not you identify with a religion, I urge you to join me and my atheist husband in defeating hate. Let us create an America where we can all live freely.