The Huffington Post tracked Islamophobia in the U.S. throughout 2016. Here’s what we learned.
After the 2015 terror attack in Paris, when Donald Trump and other GOP presidential candidates were ratcheting up their anti-Muslim political speech, we started a running list of Islamophobic acts. Sadly, in less than two months, the list became so long the webpage often wouldn’t load.
This made us recognize the very real surge in anti-Muslim incidents sweeping the nation — a surge many wanted to deny was happening at all. (Think Fox News host Eric Bolling saying he “hadn’t heard of any” anti-Muslim hate crimes.)
So we developed The Islamophobia Project, and committed to tracking anti-Muslim violence, vandalism, discrimination, public policy and political speech throughout 2016.
The timing of the incidents we collected helped reveal patterns. We discovered that Trump supporters attacked, harassed, or plotted to kill Muslims at least 13 times during the election cycle, proving a potential link between Trump’s rhetoric and the actions of supporters. We documented apparent surges in anti-Muslim incidents during Muslim holidays.
It’s now been a year, and our project is a sad and seemingly endless scroll through nearly 400 stories of Muslims in America being attacked, threatened, scapegoated, and profiled, seeing their places of worship vandalized and their faith denigrated.
An email address we set up as a source for tips — email@example.com — generated hundreds of responses. Many people expressed gratitude for the project. One email led to a story about a Muslim Army veteran who found the word “terrorist” written on his locker. Mostly, we received anti-Muslim hate mail.
Our reporters and editors were attacked on anti-Muslim hate group sites and trolled relentlessly on Twitter ― signs that the project was making waves.
And, if you scroll through the tracker to March 10, 2016, you’ll read about the then-frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary saying: “I think Islam hates us.”
So much cynicism and misinformation was packed into those five words. That Trump could say them and go on to get elected president of the United States underscores just how successfully Muslims have been designated the “other” in this country.
When a group is an “other,” it’s easier to attack them, or to strip them of their civil rights. Our tracker documented this time and again.
But in another sense, Islamophobia isn’t something that can ever be tracked comprehensively. There’s too much of it, and not every instance becomes a headline.
It’s ubiquitous in the daily lives of Muslim Americans. It’s when a Muslim mom tells her daughter to maybe not wear the hijab today. It’s a Muslim father having to explain to his children that no, they’re citizens, they can’t be deported. It’s how almost every Muslim in a movie is depicted as a terrorist, and it’s why cable news channels only ask Muslims if if they condemn terrorism.
With the rise of Trump, the silver lining is that now, more people seem to be paying attention to anti-Muslim hate. Media organizations are covering the subject more robustly. The nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica has launched its own project, called “Documenting Hate,” and The New York Times has started a weekly column on the subject called, “This Week in Hate.”
This year, we won’t be updating the Islamophobia Tracker. The story is so much bigger than a dataset now. But we will continue telling stories of hate and extremism. And we will pay close attention to the new presidential administration that seems hell-bent on vilifying Muslims and persecuting them.
Having tracked hate for a year, we’re able to see that people who disparaged Muslim Americans are mostly reading from the same old script. It’s possible even to look at our project as a kind of how-to guide for anti-Muslim bigotry ― a list of six “rules” of Islamophobia in America.
And if we’re going to help protect our Muslim neighbors, coworkers, friends and family, these are six “rules” that desperately need to be dismantled and destroyed.
Rule 1: Muslims are not American.
“Go back to your country,” a man screamed at worshipers leaving a Connecticut mosque. “C**t, you don’t belong in this country. Go back to your fucking country,” another man shouted at a Muslim woman and her family in Ohio.
“Get the hell out of the country you bitch-ass Muslims,” a woman screamed at a Muslim mother and daughter in Maryland. “You’re not even from here, motherfucker! Fuck you and your family, you terrorist fuck!” a man yelled at a Moroccan Uber driver in Queens, New York.
“Get the fuck out of America, bitches,” a woman in Brooklyn, New York, screamed at two Muslim women pushing their babies in strollers. “This is America — you shouldn’t be different from us.”
And when pundits and politicians decried San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem, they were quick to baselessly blame this alleged act of unAmerican-ness on the influence of Kaepernick’s Muslim girlfriend.
Rule 2: All Muslims are terrorists.
A hate-filled voicemail left at the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“You’re a terrorist,” a woman yelled at a Muslim woman inside a New Mexico grocery store.
“We don’t want n****rs and terrorists here. #Trump,” read a note taped to the door of a Muslim family’s home in Iowa.
Mohamed Abbas, a 32-year-old Iraq War veteran and American citizen with PTSD who happens to be Muslim, found “terrorist” written on his locker inside a California Marine Corps base.
“When you say the word ‘Islam’ to Mike Goodman, it means ‘terrorist,’” Goodman, a member of a Massachusetts town commission, said of himself. “When you say ‘Muslim,’ it means a person. Islam is nothing but full of terrorists.”
Rule 3: Pork is to Muslims as a crucifix or garlic is to vampires.
A Texas anti-Muslim militia group dips bullets in pig’s blood. Why? To send Muslims “straight to hell.”
In Florida, a man allegedly trashed a mosque with a machete before leaving bacon on the front doorstep. At mosques in Nebraska and Las Vegas, men wrapped bacon around mosque door handles. In Raeford, North Carolina, a man carrying a handgun left packages of bacon at the mosque and threatened to kill worshippers.
And then there’s Trump, who in 2016 was fond of telling an apocryphal story of how a U.S. general killed Muslim insurgents with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
Like Judaism, Islam generally prohibits its followers from eating pork. While these pork-based acts of hate are undoubtedly meant as insults, the perpetrators also seem to ascribe mythical or inhuman qualities to Muslims, as if pork could magically fend them off, or send them straight to hell. As one anti-Muslim activist told comedian Samantha Bee on her show this year: “A pig head to Muslims is like a crucifix to a vampire.”
Muslims, of course, don’t believe this. Most don’t eat pork ― and that’s about the extent of it. As one Muslim HuffPost employee put it recently after reading about the pig carcass in Oklahoma: “I swear I need to spread a rumor that Muslims don’t eat cupcakes.”
Rule 4: All brown people are potentially Muslim, and are therefore potentially terrorists.
Simran Jeet Singh was running in the New York City Marathon when he said someone called him a “dirty Muslim.” Harmann Singh said a man called him a “fucking Muslim” inside a Cambridge, Massachusetts, store. “You’re trying to blow up this country, I should (expletive) kill you right now, you know,” Balmeet Singh said a man told him outside a California burger restaurant.
All three Singhs, who are not related, wear turbans and are Sikh, not Muslim. Sikhs are commonly perceived as Muslims in the U.S., and are targeted in anti-Muslim hate crimes, even though Sikhism and Islam are completely different religions ― not that it should matter.
In Oklahoma in August, a 61-year-old ex-convict named Stanley Majors allegedly shot and killed a 37-year-old man named Khalid Jabara outside his home. Majors reportedly had harassed the Jabara family for years. He called the Jabaras “dirty Arabs,” “Aye-rabs” and “Mooslems.” The Jabaras are Christian immigrants from Lebanon.
This phenomenon is sometimes called the “racialization of Islam,” and it helps explain why nearly 30 percent of Americans, including possibly Trump, still think the country’s first black president is secretly a Muslim.
Rule 5: Islam is not a religion, it’s a violent ideology.
Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser and an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, saying that Islam isn’t a religion.
Islam “is an ideology posing as a religion. Islam is intolerant and deceitful, and its adherents are ordered to overthrow our way of life and to replace it with ‘Sharia’ law,” Republican New Hampshire state Rep. Ken Weyler wrote in testimony submitted to the state House.
In Pennsylvania, a school board member said that Islam is “not a religion” and is “not only godless, but pagan.” In Virginia, a member of the Republican State Central Committee tweeted that Islam is a “death cult organized by Satan” and “is not a religion of peace but an ideolgy (sic).”
And in Utah, the state’s third-largest political party called for outlawing Islam altogether, arguing that because it’s not a religion, it’s not protected under the First Amendment.
Merriam-Webster defines Islam as “the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet.” It is practiced by 1.6 billion people and is the world’s second-largest religion, after Christianity. It is no more inherently violent or peaceful than any other religion.
Rule 6: There’s a secret Muslim plot to take over and/or destroy the United States and/or Western civilization from within.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson warned of a “civilizational jihad” against the U.S., wherein “jihadists” who “disguise themselves as moderate Muslims” would “infiltrate, multiply and take positions of power” in order to “replace our Judeo-Christian values with Islam.”
Former Rep. Michele Bachmann described the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees into Europe and the U.S. as a “planned invasion” meant to destroy “western Christendom.” It’s part of a “civilization jihad,” the tea party Minnesota congresswoman explained, aimed at “Islamizing” the West.
The news site The Hill published an article by Frank Gaffney, an adviser to presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in which Gaffney wrote that Muslims in the U.S. have a “civilization jihad” aimed at “destroying Western civilization.” This Muslim conspiracy, he explained, uses “stealthy, subversive means like influence operations to penetrate and subvert our government and civil society institutions.”
The idea of a “civilization jihad” is a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory. But it’s also a popular one that has contributed to this country’s dim view of Muslims. A recent survey revealed that Americans think there are 54 million Muslims in America. There are only about 3 million.
“If you’re promoting anti-Muslim bigotry and your theory is that a small percentage of the population is going to take over, it doesn’t work very well,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost recently. “You have to create the impression that there’s a flood of Muslims taking over America.”