America’s Surge of Islamophobia

Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Thursday the Council on American Islamic Relations known as CARE had to evacuate its headquarters in Washington after receiving a letter containing white powder, and a note that said, “Die a painful death, Muslims.” The Muslim community in the U.S. has been facing an unprecedented increase in hate crimes after the mass shooting in Paris and California, according to a tally maintained by USA Today. Two Muslim women were harassed at a restaurant in Texas, a Muslim shopkeeper in New York was beaten, and a Somali restaurant was set on fire in North Dakota. And that’s only to name just a few examples. CARE has been particularly vocal about denouncing acts of Islamic extremism, from the Paris shootings to the shooting last week in San Bernardino. Many Muslims are using the hashtag #NotInMyName to demonstrate that the extremism does not represent Islam.

But should this be a responsibility of all Muslims to disassociate themselves from religious extremism, or is it just reinforcing a stereotype that somehow all Muslims are already implicated in this? Now joining us from New York to help answer these questions is our guest Moustafa Bayoumi. Moustafa is the author of the book This Muslim-American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. And he’s a professor of English at Brooklyn College City University of New York. Thank you so much for joining us, Moustafa.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Thank you, Jessica. It’s great to be here.

DESVARIEUX: So Moustafa, let’s get right into this. There’s an ongoing pressure, especially from the right, that Muslims need to be more vocal about being against Islamic extremism. Do you find this sort of pressure problematic?

BAYOUMI: I find it extremely problematic. For one thing, actually, Muslims are very vocal about their–the opposition to Islamic extremism. In fact they routinely, as you were saying in your opening, they routinely condemn acts of terror all the time. There’ve been multiple letters and statements and, and comments from Muslims all over the country and all over the world saying that this is not something that happens in Islam. This is not the Islamic faith.

And yet at the same time the real point here is that it takes two people to have a conversation. Somebody has to listen to you, what you’re saying, as well. And I think that those people who are making those allegations, they just–they’re just not listening.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, there’s really been a big story this week, and that’s really around Republican candidate Donald Trump. He came out calling for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S.. Many in the GOP denounced this stance, but his characterization of Muslims as dangerous outsiders was not completely rejected. Here’s one example: Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, he recently had this to say. Quote: “We should be profiling people who are getting on airplanes, and we should be profiling people that are coming into America, and those coming into America should meet a profile where they are most likely to be able to contribute to our society and our economy, and assimilate into the American civilization. And I have said publicly that Muslims do not do that in significant numbers.”

Wow. That’s a statement by Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Moustafa, what’s your response? Is that true? At all?

BAYOUMI: Absolutely not. That’s just entirely ridiculous. Muslim-Americans have been at the forefront of all kinds of industries in this country. They are Nobel prize winners, they are scientists, they are engineers, they are, they are involved in the tech industry. They are small business owners. They’re at the backbone of multicultural America. Even Miss America at one point was a Muslim-American. I just think it’s outrageous that somebody in a position of authority would even, would even say that.

DESVARIEUX: And we should say, too, this idea of them being outsiders, there’s a significant portion of the Muslim community actually comes from the African-American community. Is that right?

BAYOUMI: Absolutely right. In fact, the African-American community is the largest single community within the Muslim-American community. Probably 35-40 percent of American Muslims are African-American. And in fact, the roots of Islam in the United States go all the way back to colonial America, when slaves were brought here from Africa were Muslim in faith. So in fact what we’re really saying is that Islam in the United States has a much longer history than Donald Trump and his ancestors.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah, wow, that’s an interesting statement. American policy, though, post-9/11. Let’s talk a little bit about that. It’s allowed for surveillance of Muslim communities, massive deportations, and an increase of people on the terrorist watch list. So is this actually, this surge that we’re seeing happen in Islamophobia, is this actually really even a surge, or has this been ongoing in more insidious ways for a while?

BAYOUMI: This has been going on at least since 9/11. In fact, a year following 9/11, the government instituted a program called Special Registration as one example of a government-instituted program. And this program required Muslims, people who were coming from 24 Muslim-majority countries, to register their whereabouts in the country. It was devastating to the Muslim community. Most Americans aren’t even aware of it. The program was formerly ended just in 2011, but it could be revived at any moment.

We’ve already–in other words, we’ve already gone through a kind of registration program in this country. And it, in fact, it was a massive failure. It didn’t find a single terrorism suspect at all.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Moustafa Bayoumi, thank you so much for joining us, coming to us from Brooklyn. Always a pleasure.

BAYOUMI: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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