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Author breaks down the “roots and rise” of Islamophobia in America

cover of the book American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear
University of California Press
University of Detroit Mercy law professor Khaled Beydoun says there are two distinct forms of Islamophobia: private and structural.

The global Muslim community has been in mourning since a gunman open fired in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, nearly a week ago. Fifty people were killed in the attack, which New Zealand’s prime minister has described as an act of terrorism.

The massacre has prompted a larger discussion about the rise of Islamophobia across the world, including here in the United States. Stateside spoke with Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at University of Detroit Mercy and author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, about the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment.

Beydoun says there are two distinct, but related, forms of Islamophobia.

The first is “private Islamophobia,” which refers to the “fear, hatred, [and] animus” that individuals feel toward Muslim people and Islam in general. The second is “structural Islamophobia,” which takes the shape of policies, laws, and political rhetoric put forth by the government and its officials that negatively affect Muslims in America.

“There’s a distinction there, and it’s an important distinction, but there’s also a convergence where state-sponsored, structural Islamophobia intensifies, emboldens, [and] abets the private Islamophobia we see on the ground,” Beydoun explained.

Hate crimes and attacks against individual Muslims havebeen on the rise since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Beydoun argues that the federal government has also unfairly targeted Muslims through policies established in the wake of the attacks, including the The Patriot Act and NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System). He says those policies reveal a “bigoted disposition toward Muslims.”

But while Islamophobia may have become more public in recent years, Beydoun says it existed long before 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror.

“There’s always been this, at worst, demonization of Islam and Muslims, and at best this idea that Muslims were this foreign class of people that could not be assimilated into the American body politic or American society,” Beydoun said.

Beydoun argues that global superpowers like the United States always need a “rival” by which to define themselves. During the Cold War, that rival was the Soviet Union. But after that regime fell in 1989, it left a void that Islam and the Muslim world soon filled.

Beydoun's book focuses on a more recent iteration of structural Islamophobia called “counter-radicalization policing.” He writes about the government's push to tap Muslims in different communities, mosques, and student organizations and use them as “on-the-ground informants” to help keep track of people that “law enforcement believes might be inclined toward radicalization.”

“Radicalization theory” is the idea that Muslims are somehow more prone to become radical in their beliefs and in their expression of those beliefs. Beydoun says that it’s legitimate to say that people can be radicalized based on their religious beliefs.

“I would certainly say that there are certain branches [and] interpretations of Islam — as there are certain interpretations of Christianity, for instance — which might inspire individuals toward violence. However, what is non-credible about it is that it tabs Islam as a standalone ideology or faith that gives rise to radicalization,” he added.

Beydoun says that getting more Muslims into politics is critical in dismantling Islamophobia. He argues that President Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists in order to “galvanize” his base. 

“It’s really important that we have Muslims in these halls of power to counter what Trump is saying, not relying on third parties or other individuals to speak on our behalf,” Beydoun said.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas. 

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