We're not taking Islamophobia seriously: This cancerous racism is on the rise — and it's even more dangerous than you think

After the Brussels attack and others, anti-Muslim anger is surging. Why aren't people taking this more seriously?

Published March 25, 2016 3:55PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Rick Wilking/Alessandro Garofalo/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Rick Wilking/Alessandro Garofalo/Photo montage by Salon)

The morning of the Brussels attack, I tweeted the following observation:

This glaring fact was on the world stage this week for all to see. Blasts in Ankara and Brussels garnered shockingly different responses—both in terms of sympathy for victims and anger towards extremists. Brussels victims received immense sympathy and attention, while Turkey’s Muslim victims were comparatively ignored. More Muslims have been killed at the hands of Daesh, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda than anyone. What but racism accounts for the outrage over non-Muslim victims, but comparative apathy over the Muslim ones?

It isn’t just media that’s complicit in this double standard. World leaders share some of the blame. After the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo atrocity, more than 40 world leaders convened in Paris to march in solidarity with the 11 victims. However, when 200 people were murdered just two weeks later in Nigeria, it barely made a bleep by comparison.

Some are quick to argue, “Muslims aren’t a race, so I can’t be racist.” Rice University sociologist Dr. Craig Considine repudiates this simplistic understanding of racism, writing,

Race is a "floating signifier," meaning that it is a fluid concept which has specific connotations during certain moments in history. Racism is no longer [only] about race (skin color) but culture.

Nazis believed their race and culture was superior those of all other races. What culminated in the Holocaust began with the demonization of minorities, selective activism and a public who bought into the lie that their race was superior to others.

As Dr. Considine elaborates,

Cultural racism, therefore, happens when certain people perceive their beliefs and customs as being culturally superior to the beliefs and customs of other groups of people. Cultural racism, in-turn, reproduces the idea of “the hierarchy of cultures,” meaning, in the context of current affairs, that “our” Western culture is superior to “their” Islamic culture.

This cancerous cultural racism is the culprit behind Western apathy towards acts of terrorism that happen in Ankara or Nigeria or Syria, but outrage at acts of terrorism that happen in Paris, Brussels or San Bernardino. Likewise, cultural racism empowers racists to dismiss white terrorists who murder dozens of children in Newtown, Conn., as “simply crazy,” but demand collective punishment of all American Muslims with apartheid treatment after Brussels.

Meanwhile, the FBI reports that the gravest threat to American safety is not “Radical Islamic terrorism,” as some on the far right pedantically parrot; but, in fact, right wing “Christian” terror groups born and raised in America. Yet, virtually every presidential debate this election season has focused only on the former.

Cultural racism endangers the safety of anyone who even “looks” like the targeted minority—in this case Muslims. Thus, as Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry increase, so do attacks on Hindus and Sikhs along with those on Muslims.

Lehigh University Professor Amardeep Singh writes,

“Sikh men who wear turbans have been attacked by individuals who mistakenly assumed their turbans suggested strong Islamic faith. Quite recently, an elderly Sikh man in Fresno named Amrik Singh Bal was run down by two assailants in a pickup truck. They knocked him to the ground with their truck and then viciously beat him while shouting anti-Muslim epithets.”

Cultural racism has become ingrained in society, emboldening racists to openly confront and harass random Muslim women for their faith.This manifests in similar potency online. Earlier this week, for example, I received the following email from a stranger — let's call him Sam — because of my Muslim faith:

“your (sic) a filthy bomb loving goat f*****! Your c*** of a religion is almost time up!”

I tried to reason with him, seeking an alliance against extremism, writing,

“I know some people who are Muslim have done a lot of evil. Don't worry I'm not defending them. What I suggest is we work together against terrorists instead of having hatred for one another. True Islam teaches love of all humanity regardless of faith.”

But Sam instead resorted to cultural racism, demanding I leave Islam before any dialogue could exist:

“just give up on Islam, have a shave and de-programme (sic) yourself into actually doing what you say instead of this s*** you spread. I think you are full of s*** deceptive and muslim. abandon islam as the hour of islams death draws close. keep your faked up s*** to yourself.”

Despite his violent threats, I tried to dialogue with Sam until he blocked me. He refused to accept that someone of his “superior” race could work with someone like me.

As I suggested then, failingly, we can use education of true Islam to both stop extremists acting in Islam’s name, and stop anti-Muslim extremists from advancing Holocaust-like propaganda against Muslims. Had he not blocked me, I would have invited him to endorse the True Islam campaign to do just that. We are at a crossroads. The current cultural racism against Muslims echoes anti-Semitism in pre-Holocaust Germany.

If we truly mean “never again,” then we need to act like it.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow Qasim on Twitter @MuslimIQ

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Brussels Attacks Islamophobia Racism