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Harley Burgess

ENG 101
6 Nov. 14

No One Left to Speak:

American Islamophobias Significant and Lasting Harms
In 1803, in a letter to Edward Dawse, Thomas Jefferson wrote, I never will, by any word
or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance (Thomas). Unfortunately, throughout history,
American society as a whole has turned away from Jeffersons doctrines. The paranoia, fear, and
intolerance that surrounds those who stray from the norm has always been and still remains
incredibly prevalent. Societys most recent target, both before and after 9/11, seems to be
predominately Muslims, or those who practice the Islamic faith; this fear is called
Islamophobia. Just like so many witch hunts that America has seen in the past, this practice
of fear and persecution is incredibly and unnecessarily harmful to its target, in this case,
American Muslims. The harms that Islamophobia causes are demonstrated by the fact that
American Muslims, excluding extremists, face social stigma that is unwarranted, unjust laws that
are fueled by racial profiling and misunderstanding, and the potential threat of being labeled as
latent terrorists simply due to their beliefs.
In order to fully understand Islamophobias harms, we must first define the fear further
and understand its rise to prevalence in American society. Simply stated, Islamophobia is the fear
of Muslims or Islam as a whole. There are several defining features that describe an
Islamophobe. According to Stephen Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic
Pluralism, someone who is Islamophobic believes that a Muslim believes in a religion of hate,

feels more loyalty toward his or her religious community than his or her country, is sexually
compulsive, believes that men are the dominant gender, and attempts to defy common law.
Schwartz compares all these traits to the slander that, historically, was aimed at Jews, American
Catholics, and African-Americans (Schwartz, 20).
There is a reason that Islamophobic smears sound familiar. Professor Lawrence
Davidson, from West Chester University, cites the work of Richard Hofstadter in his essay,
Islamophobia, the Israel Lobby and American Paranoia: Letter From America; Hofstadter
theorized that a common thread can be found in all of these instances of societal intolerance,
something that he calls the paranoid style. From colonial anti-Catholicism to the stigma that
surrounded the civil rights movement, this paranoid style has plagued American society for
centuries. Hofstadter and, in turn, Davidson, believe that this paranoia is caused by humanitys
Darwinistic need to triumph over the unknown and take or protect territory from outsiders (8789). Islamophobia is an obvious product of this paranoid style, because of the intolerance and
hostility toward outsiders that it produces; today, those of the Islamic faith are seen as the
outsiders that Hofstadter theorizes about.
Islamophobia existed quietly in the United States far before 9/11, but has seen a rise in
both severity and frequency within the last decade. Yaser Ali, a law expert, breaks the rise of
Islamophobia into three periods in American history: Pre-9/11, Post-9/11, and during/after
Barack Obamas 2008 presidential campaign. Alis history is filled with vast details, but I will
provide a brief summary of his account. Before 9/11, Islam was not understood by mainstream
American culture and the media often portrayed parodies and caricatures of Muslims; this
incorrect portrayal established a foundation for Islamophobia after 9/11. In the years following
September 11, 2001, the rights and civil liberties of American Muslims were severely restricted

out of an amalgamation of fear and ignorance. At the time, this mistrust and hostility was new
and hidden under the guise of national security. This guise fell away in the last period, during the
2008 presidential race. The term Muslim was used as a slur in smear campaigns against
Barack Obama and only served to further alienate American Muslims from normal society.
Today, Islamophobia is primarily focused on the threat that Shariah law poses to the United
States justice system (1028-1033).
For the duration of Islamophobias occupation of the United States, Muslim Americans
have faced increasing and unwarranted social stigma. As I stated previously, during the 2008
presidential campaign, Barack Obama was often accused of being a Muslim, mostly due to his
Arabic middle name, Hussein; the candidate often defended himself, not by claiming that
Muslims can be competent politicians, but by denying the claims completely, as if they were the
product of smear campaigns against him (1050-1051). Obamas opponent, John McCain,
countered the allegations in a similar manner. On October 11th, 2008, one of McCains
supporters voiced her fear of Obama, saying that she had read about him and that he was an
Arab. The Republican candidate quickly interrupted the woman and defended his adversary in
what seemed to be the most kind and politically correct way; McCain told the audience that
Obama was a decent family man and citizen (Associated Press). After all, how can a Muslim
candidate be a decent family man or a citizen? In America, practicing Islam equates to being
politically incompetent, dangerous, and incapable. This makes gaining a political position,
applying for jobs, and even everyday social interactions extremely difficult and psychologically
challenging. Ali calls this second-class citizenship (1053).
In addition to the social harms, Islamophobia harms American Muslims judicially, often
due to misunderstanding and ignorance. Oklahomas Save Our State Amendment which

forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law, is a quintessential example of political
ignorance toward Islam. In all reality, banning Sharia Law would require the banishment of all
Islamic religious practices, as Shariah Law predominately addresses personal religious
obligations and religious rituals, like fasting (Ali, 1063-1064). Oklahoma cannot implement this
Save Our State Amendment without denying Muslims religious freedom and defying the First
Amendment of the United States Constitution; however, pure ignorance of Islamic customs and
practices leads Oklahoma law makers to wrongly believe that Shariah Law is a horrendous and
immediate threat. Davidson also provides an array of judiciary and political incidents that are the
products of misunderstanding. One widely-publicized issue occurred when a group of Muslims
proposed an Islamic cultural centre that would be placed in Manhattan, two blocks from ground
zero. The cultural centre was wrongly labelled as a mosque, and, though it was supposed to be
placed on the site of an abandoned clothing store, the centre was accused of being insensitive to
the victims of 9/11. The plans sparked several incidents, including Quran burnings and political
rallies, organized by Tea Party Democrats, conservative Republicans, and Jewish Zionists alike,
that branded the cultural centre as a training facility for Muslims who want to take over
America (Davidson, 93). Once again, this was obviously not the agenda of the Ground Zero
Mosque, as it was called. Ignorance and misunderstanding caused a mass panic and protest that
was completely unwarranted and extreme.
The final and most glaring harm that is produced in the wake of American Islamophobia
is the unwarranted, unjustified branding of Muslims as latent terrorists. The Uniting and
Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct
Terrorism Act of 2001 (the PATRIOT Act) was passed shortly after 9/11 by the federal
government; the act basically allowed for the limitation of personal freedoms, implementing

warrantless wiretaps, privacy invasions, and unilateral executive detention. Most importantly, the
act targeted Muslims and Arabs, or, rather, those with physical Muslim qualities (Ali, 10421043). This legislation allowed official to brand anyone with Muslim characteristics as
potential terrorists; if the officials had any knowledge of Islam, they would have known that
physical Muslim characteristics do not exist. Too often, Muslims are represented by primal,
enraged Arabic men in white turbans with bombs strapped to their backs. In reality, early
Muslim immigrants were made up of several ethnic backgrounds; according to Davidson,
Muslim immigrants included Albanians, Arabs, Bosnians, Turks, Syrians, and Chinese
(92). In the name of safety, the federal government branded every Muslim or person with
fictitious Muslim traits, not just extremists or jihadists, as a danger to the America. These
accusations only served to further alienate and harm American Muslims who were completely
In light of these harms, how can we, as American citizens, hope to alleviate the damage
that is caused by Islamophobia? I contend that there is only one way to accomplish this:
education. There is one common thread that links the many harms of Islamophobia together:
ignorance. To create social harms, society must be ignorant of what Islam entails. To create
judicial harms, lawmakers and officials must be ignorant of Islamic belief systems. To create
harms to civil liberties, the federal government must be ignorant of Islams diversity and
innocence. The only way to fix ignorance is to educate ourselves, and empirical evidence can
support this claim. A study that was conducted by Jong Jung and the Review of Religious
Research surveyed an array of Americans to gauge their approval of Islam. It was found that,
with the exception of evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, the approval of Islam
increased when the subject experienced frequent contact with Muslims (120). Perhaps, in light of

these findings, an increased awareness of typical, average American Muslims, their customs, and
their belief systems would reverse the occupation of Islamophobia in America.
We can clearly see that American Islamophobia causes significant and lasting harms to
American Muslims, including social stigma, judiciary and political issues, and unwarranted
accusations of latent terrorism. However, none of these harms should concern someone like me,
who is not a Muslim or Arabic, correct? When weighing the importance of combating these
harms, and of my argument in general, it is important to consider pastor and speaker Martin
Niemllers famous quotation: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me

Works Cited
Ali, Yaser. "Shariah and CitizenshipHow Islamophobia is Creating a Second-Class Citizenry
in America." California Law Review 100.4 (2012): 1027-1068. Academic Search
Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.

Associated Press. McCain Counters Obama Arab Question." Online video clip. YouTube.
YouTube, 11 Oct. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Davidson, Lawrence. "Islamophobia, The Israel Lobby And American Paranoia: Letter From
America." Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press)
10.1 (2011): 87-95. Academic Search Complete. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.
Jung, Jong. "Islamophobia? Religion, Contact with Muslims, and the Respect for Islam." Review
of Religious Research 54.1 (2012): 113-126. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov.
Martin Niemller: First They Came for the Socialists United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Schwartz, Stephen. "Islamophobia: America's New Fear Industry." Phi Kappa Phi Forum 90.3
(2010): 19-21. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
Thomas Jeffersons Letters on Liberty and Religion." Sullivan County. Lewis Loflin, n.d. Web.
15 Nov. 2014.