EDITORIAL: We must condemn rhetoric that stirs hate
Attacks on Omar reflect unjust presumed guilt attributed to Muslims in US
Her hijab was ripped from her head, torn from her and thrown to the ground. Her beliefs were the target of the attack, and her body and faith were the victims as she was beaten. Police have stated that a Muslim East Brunswick High School student was the victim of a biased attack and the assailant, another student, has been charged with “simple assault, harassment, cyber harassment and disorderly conduct.”
But, the attacker was not the only subject of punishment following the incident. Penalized for defending herself from the violent hate, the Muslim student has also received punishment. As part of the smothering zero-tolerance policy of the school district, a victim of hateful persecution finds no refuge or protection from the very institution meant to foster an educational sanctuary.
The reality of being Muslim in America is one of danger and persecution. Muslims are one of the most marginalized demographics in America. Among religious groups, Muslims receive the coldest, least favorable feelings from the nation. Among social groups, Muslims are viewed less favorably by all political affiliations. Researchers compared feelings about six social groups — “white people, Black people, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and immigrants” — and found that Democrats, Republicans, President Donald J. Trump 2016 primary voters and white Democrats all felt least favorably about Muslims. This is an Islamophobic nation.
The injury to the East Brunswick student has sent damaging ripples out through the school and community. Another student at the school told reporters, “Coming to school the next day, I’m like gotta be careful who I talk to, I can’t tell anyone I’m Muslim.”
The horrific, deliberate acts of mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 human beings from 57 countries. The worst terror attack to occur on U.S. soil, with a death toll surpassing that of Pearl Harbor, forever changed the nation and the world as the devastatingly cold-blooded event’s impact is still felt today. The fallout of the attack reshaped life in America, notably entrenching Islamophobia in American society.
That same year, this nation witnessed a significant spike in assaults against Muslims. Fifteen years later, violence against Muslims had worsened. In 2016, the number of recorded anti-Muslim assaults surpassed the hatefully misguided reactionary attacks after 9/11. The demonization and targeting of Muslims in America are legitimized by institutional injustices and the emergence of the post-9/11 surveillance state that targets Muslim Americans as their identity became unjustly intertwined with inherent suspicion, which continues to this day.
The Rutgers community became subject to this in 2009 when New York Police Department placed officers in a safe house close to Rutgers’ College Avenue campus to spy on Muslim students in the Rutgers community as part of its blanket surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. These efforts are part of the national stigmatization and casting of unjust guilt on all those who identify as Muslim.
A week after the March 15 shootings by a white nationalist-inspired gunman at two New Zealand mosques that left 50 people dead, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) gave a 20-minute speech on Muslim political activism.
“For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it," she said. "CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it and I am going to talk to them and ask them why.”
Omar has been the continued subject of bad-faith attacks based on presumed guilt and a fear of what she represents as one of the first Muslim women of color in Congress. Her comments on the presumed guilt and persecution of Muslims in America were removed from reality to be manipulated for political gain and sensationalist provocation.
The criticism of Omar is based in brazen hypocrisy. Omar is a co-sponsor of legislation meant to replenish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that supports survivors of the attack, which has had to “(cut) its payouts in half for some and by as much as 70 percent for others.”
Many of her critics have yet to state their support of her legislation. On the day of the attack, Trump bragged about how his building in lower Manhattan was now the tallest building in the area. When the federal government enacted programs to aid small businesses impacted by the attack, Trump managed to steal away with a $150,000 grant from the relief funds.
Nonetheless, her critics, including Trump, had the gall to use images of 9/11 in juxtaposition to the representative. As Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said in an interview, “To use images of 9/11 in a vicious, crass, disgusting way — that is so objectionable. That is so offensive. And this is what I mean about moral vandalism in our country.” Omar has become a symbolic stand-in to be targeted for the politicized anxieties of the electorate.
Threats on Omar’s life have been made. Just last week, a New York man had been taken into custody for threatening to put a bullet in the skull of the representative claiming she is a terrorist threat.
The statements and images are dangerous not just for her, but for all Muslim Americans. The conflation of 9/11 attacks with the Muslim community is inherently aimed at stirring Islamophobic sentiments. The majority of terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been Right-wing, white supremacist attacks. The rhetoric and messaging that the critics of Omar have utilized provide what these attackers deem as a license to take horrific action.
Islamophobia is not a partisan issue.
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