(RNS) — It began, as so many social justice movements these days do, on Twitter.
Namira Islam, a Bangladeshi-American lawyer living in Detroit, had noticed that many of the ongoing conversations about Muslims online showed ignorance of the faith group’s racial demographics.
Black Muslims were often presumed to be converts or activists. Black Muslims discussing their experiences with racism would receive messages saying that promoting separatism is un-Islamic. Non-Muslims as well as many prominent Muslims seemed to equate the faith with being Arab or South Asian. And the slur “abeed” — Arabic for “slave” — was commonplace.
As Black History Month approached in 2014, she rallied a crew of about 20 activists and scholars to launch a new hashtag: #BeingBlackAndMuslim.
“We wanted to reflect on the erasure of black Muslims in the conversations we were seeing online, as well as in our communities and institutions,” Islam said. “Because those erasures reflect what we’re seeing everywhere else.”
And it resonated. For four hours that Feb. 10 five years ago, the hashtag trended on Twitter not only in the United States, but globally. The responses showcased black Muslims’ pride and joy in their culture and experiences, Islam said, as well as the heartbreak and betrayal they felt at the hands of their brothers and sisters in faith.
Because of the racially egalitarian messages in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, “people think if you’re Muslim you can’t be racist,” Islam noted. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, she said.
Pressure builds on party leaders to recognise racism targeting ‘Muslimness’
Muslim organisations are urging Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and all other party leaders to adopt a newly proposed working definition of Islamophobia in an attempt to put pressure on a reluctant Home Office to follow suit.
The Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamic groups want the Conservatives and Labour to take the lead in the aftermath of a week marked by public outrage over the alleged racist bullying of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Huddersfield.
The definition was set out in a report published by a cross-party group of MPs last week and says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
However, a Home Office minister said earlier that the department had no intention of adopting a definition, in response to a question from one of the chairs of the cross-party group, the Conservative MP Anna Soubry. Victoria Atkins told the Commons in March that there were “many definitions of Islamophobia”, but added: “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring systems of all race-hate crimes.”
The following is a list of activities and events of anti-Muslim organizations. Organizations listed as anti-Muslim hate groups are designated with an asterisk (*).
National Group Activity
Western Conservative Summit (WCS) features Frank Gaffney: A mix of establishment, conservative and far-right figures headlined this year’s WCS in Denver, Colorado on June 8 and 9. As Hatewatch pointed out earlier last month, “The WCS has been a forum for anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant oratory in the past, and this year looks to be no different.” High-profile anti-Muslim figure Frank Gaffney, who runs the Center for Security Policy* spoke at the event, indulging in conspiracy theories about “refujihad” and Muslims’ “demographic jihad” to “outbreed non-Muslims.” During Gaffney’s presentation he also implied that a coterie of political bodies, social media companies and civil rights organizations — including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and the European Union — were “the leading edge of civilization jihad in America and worldwide.”
ACT for America* attempts to expand to college campuses: ACT recently launched a new project called “Campus Hate Watch” to “expose and challenge college or university employees who discriminate against student’s (sic) First Amendment rights and spread hateful propaganda inside the classroom.” ACT claims it will be monitoring faculty who are supposedly spewing “anti-Americanism” rhetoric and “anti-Semitism.” The group makes no specific mention of challenging anti-Muslim hate, which it has a long historyof fomenting. This is not the first time ACT has tried to expand its work to college campuses. In 2014, ACT attempted to launch student chapters on college campuses as a “counterweight” to the Muslim Student Association.
Reaction to White House’s Iftar dinner: Some American Muslim groups, leaders and community members said if invited, they would not attend the White House’s Iftar dinner that took place on June 6. This was in response to President Trump’s draconian policies like the Muslim ban. Meanwhile, anti-Muslim figures criticized Trump for saying favorable things about Islam during the event, such as “Iftars mark the coming together of families and friends to celebrate a timeless message of peace, clarity and love.” Hugh Fitzgerald, a contributor to Jihad Watch*, claimed in a June 8 blog that Trump’s Iftar speech shows he either needs “a re-education on the subject of Islam” or that he was lying and practicing his own version of taqiyya, an obscure and misunderstood Islamic concept that is popular among the far-right who claim it gives Muslims free reign to lie about their nefarious intentions. “Some will still find his remarks on Islam unforgivable,” Fitzgerald wrote. “I’m inclined to think that Trump thought it was okay to practice his own form of taqiyya, offering a modicum of praise of the faith where none was due.” Three days later, during a June 11 episode of his “Understanding the Threat” radio show, former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim conspiracist John Guandolo called for Trump’s Iftar dinner speech writer to be fired, saying “this is a step backwards.” “I don’t know what in the world the president is talking about. Islam does not celebrate love the way we understand love … Islam does not actually teach love.” Guandolo heads the anti-Muslim hate group Understanding the Threat*.
John Bolton’s earnings: On June 11, the White House released financial disclosures of over two dozen staffers, including National Security Adviser John Bolton. According to The Washington Post, Bolton earned $2.2 million in 2017, and $155,000 of it came from the Gatestone Institute, an organization known for spreading anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Bolton served as chairman of Gatestone before joining the Trump administration.
Our Muslim siblings have been under attack this week. While Muslim discrimination is not new, it’s taking more emboldened forms than ever before in the Trump era.
Last Friday, it came in the form of a travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries. On Tuesday, we learned that “extreme vetting” for some travelers from Muslim-majority countries would include prying into their social media accounts and phone records. On Wednesday, Reuters revealedthat the Trump administration would change the previously named “Countering Violent Extremism” program to “Countering Islamic Extremism,” dropping any focus on other extremist groups like white supremacists.
This is a clarion call for Christian action. If we don’t act now in solidarity with our Muslim siblings, we’ve got no legitimate reason to claim we are followers of Jesus, a man executed by the state for his own supposed “religious extremism.”
We’ve seen the institutionalization of religious bigotry into public policy before. Baptists were even subject to this violence in the past: Thomas Helwys, the founder of the Baptist way of faith, died in the King’s Newgate Prison in 1616 for his perspectives on religious liberty. Roger Williams, the progenitor of Baptists in America, was banished to the wilderness in 1635 where he founded Providence — this for his “dangerous opinions” (e.g., abolitionism, fair treatment of Native people, religious liberty).
Whether or not Islam itself inspires conflict, debates about it certainly do. Our conversation degenerated into something close to a shouting match and went viral on the web. Maher and a guest, Sam Harris, argued that Islam is dangerous yet gets a pass from politically correct liberals, while the actor Ben Affleck denounced their comments as “gross” and “racist.” I sided with Affleck.
After the show ended, we panelists continued to wrangle on the topic for another hour with the cameras off. Maher ignited a debate that is rippling onward, so let me offer three points of nuance.
Likewise, it is true that the Quran has passages hailing violence, but so does the Bible, which recounts God ordering genocides, such as the one against the Amalekites.