In many ways the United States appears to be in its most inclusive moment. The Black Lives Matter movement is drawing crucial attention to police violence against African-Americans. The Supreme Court has recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states. Caitlyn Jenner’s public gender transition has brought the struggles of transgender Americans to the national spotlight.
However, even in the midst of these crumbling barriers, prejudice against American Muslims remains robust. Many Americans across the political spectrum appear to view discrimination against Muslims as an acceptable form of profiling. On July 16, after 24-year-old Kuwaiti-American Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the incident was immediately labeled an act of terrorism. A Muslim shooter was all that was needed to apply the tag. It did not matter that the shooter, like many other troubled Americans, had issues with depression, substance abuse and came from a broken home.
A week earlier, Ali Muhammad Brown, who allegedly killed a college student in New Jersey last year, became the first person to be charged under that state’s terrorism statute. The only basis for the indictment was Brown’s alleged confession in which he said the murder was an act of “vengeance” for lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.
By contrast, another deadly shooting on June 17 in Charleston, South Carolina, where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people, was simply treated as a hate crime. This has been true in other cases of mass shooting. For example, James Holmes who killed 12 people and injured 70 in a movie theater in Colorado was never charged with terrorism. The implicit assumption is clear: Only Muslim mass murderers are treated as terrorists.
As the 14th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the endurance of Islamophobia can no longer be pinned to ignorance or isolated instances of religious bias. Instead, the construction of the one-dimensional Muslim — a homegrown assassin that poses a consistent and covert threat to American liberties and freedoms — has become a conceptual necessity to justify a pervasive surveillance state.