On Trump, Islamophobia and hate speech

Published: January 7, 2016
The writer is an assistant professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

The writer is an assistant professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

Since the November 13 attacks in Paris, hate crimes against Muslims have gone up threefold in the US, relative to the monthly average of 12.6 in previous years. It is no coincidence that at the same time, the Republican party’s leading candidate is stoking xenophobia and Islamophobia at unprecedented levels. There’s a political and a public reaction, and both are in some degree responses to attacks by terrorists in the name of jihad. But they also feed off each other: politicians give in to the basest fears of the most extreme sections of their base, and hate-filled political speech drives the public’s hatred. We know from recent history that hate speech can have devastating consequences. In Rwanda in 1994, hate speech on the radio drove regular people to engage in violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in a genocide in which between half a million to a million people were killed.

Closer to home, there is no shortage of examples. Last year in Kot Radha Kishan, a local mullah declared that Shama and Sajjad had committed blasphemy. This was transmitted through the town via the mosque loudspeaker; it incited a mob to beat the couple and then push them into a brick kiln. In Afghanistan this year, all it took was the caretaker of a shrine to announce that Farkhunda Malikzada had burnt the Holy Quran — she hadn’t — before a mob beat her to death.

In all these cases, the state bears responsibility at varying levels. In Rwanda, the genocide and the propaganda that contributed to it were both backed by the state. We all know the problems that some of Pakistan’s regressive laws have along with a lack of prosecution of violent vigilante mobs.

Obviously that’s not where America is. But it is a step closer, thanks to the Republican campaign mainstreaming Islamophobia, and Donald Trump’s outrageous policy prescriptions like limiting entry of an entire religion to the country. That the Republican party is so afraid of losing Trump’s potential voters that it does not unequivocally shut him down is shocking — Speaker Paul Ryan denounced him only to say that he would vote for Trump over any Democratic candidate. For the love of America, he should vote for any Democratic candidate over Trump.

The Obama Administration has made laudable efforts to counter this tide of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment over the last few weeks by convening Muslim Americans at the White House for discussions, and with President Obama giving a speech at a naturalisation ceremony of new American citizens, originally from the Middle East. Individuals have also spoken out against intolerance and engaged in random acts of kindness with Muslims. But the state needs to prosecute hate crimes against Muslims at the fastest possible speed and with great urgency; that will serve as the most important disincentive against such crimes.

Three other trends worry me. First, we see US politicians giving in to the basest instincts of human beings. In other contexts, this does not end well. In Pakistan, for example, the institutionalised legal discrimination against Ahmadis has led to violence against them and has had a disastrous impact on the country.

Second, two weeks ago in Virginia, an entire school district was shut down in response to children writing the Shahada as part of their geography class exercises. Exposure to other religions and cultures should, in regular times, increase tolerance. In this instance, it resulted in disproportionate outrage laced with hatred. A mother from that school district wrote about the classwork: “This evil has been cloaked in the form of multiculturalism.” Calling the other “evil”, maligning an entire religion and an entire minority has never ended well.

Third, the media — especially American cable news — have played a part in how things are unfolding. The media engages in selectivity in reporting, problematic rhetoric and sloppy use of terms like Islamic terror. It covers the Islamic State incessantly, when it is a non-existential threat to the US. It even treats American and non-American terrorists differently. Consider Rizwan Farook, the male San Bernardino shooter, who was born, bred and educated in the US; or the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear. Both terrorists’ backgrounds and motivations have received less attention than Tashfeen Malik’s. It is time for the Republicans to end this streak and let America return to its true values.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Woz Ahmed
    Jan 8, 2016 - 4:51AM

    No matter how badly Muslims are treated in the west it’s a hundred times better than Ahmadis or Christians or Hindus are treated in our land.

    Time for introspection before we criticise others ?Recommend

  • Naeem Khan
    Jan 8, 2016 - 8:23AM

    Well, Trump wants to become President and I say more power to him. It seems he has already alienated the Latinos, the black Americans and now the Muslim communities. How is he going to get elected by alienating these three very important vote banks. The whites who are his followers are blue collar workers and are not very educated and above all they don’t vote. There is no way he will be elected if by any chance nominated, Republican party is digging their own hole by not coming out and openly opposing his mean spirited and hateful rhetoric. I am happy he is on the hate wagon which will be circling round and round and going no where. Yes, keep it up Donald Trump, we love it when you bash every minority in this country. Recommend

  • raw is war
    Jan 8, 2016 - 9:01AM

    You have obviously not read the news on Cologne attack on German women by refugees.Recommend

  • wiserneighbour
    Jan 8, 2016 - 9:17AM

    @woz you are spot on bro! People who migrate to west are aware of the ups and downs of that life.But in Pakistan ,Racism against minorities is state sponsored.Dontblive in glass hoses and throw stones at others!That is called Hypocrisy!!Recommend

  • Jan 8, 2016 - 1:21PM

    Very well argued with dignified restraint and fine, controlled penmanship: salutations, Dr. Sahiba!Recommend

  • James
    Jan 8, 2016 - 2:49PM

    Ah…Surprising……see who is preaching multiculturalism……citizen of a country which came into existence on the basis of a religion denying its multicultural roots is preaching multiculturalism in America…..first deny your Quaid’s TNT….then speak about tolerance in US.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Jan 8, 2016 - 5:15PM

    So basically the author is saying that,America shouldn’t become Pakistan?Recommend

  • sohail bhatt
    Jan 8, 2016 - 5:54PM

    The author is of the opinion that Islam is a religion of peace only and no muslim can ever commit an act to violence and that it is the responsibility of every citizen of USA to show respect and reverence to Islam believing that any terrorist act committed in the name of islam should be deemed as conspiracy hatched by a troika of jews christians and hindus. Any other narrative opposed to it should be deemed and condemned as islam phobia. Superb analysis,Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jan 8, 2016 - 7:39PM

    Intelligent people like you should be countering what is happening by explaining the four or five main points that religious extremists propagate misusing Islamic scriptures in order to further their agenda by explaining why they are wrong and what is right…..instead of accusing the west of their behavior ( which is understandable ) to justify a state of denial ( which is not understandable ).Recommend

  • pk
    Jan 8, 2016 - 10:22PM

    Very good writeup. Promote multiculturalism in other countries but promote more monotheistic Islam in you own country.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2016 - 11:45PM

    Obviously that’s not where America is. But it is a step closer, thanks to the Republican campaign mainstreaming Islamophobia, and Donald Trump’s outrageous policy prescriptions like limiting entry of an entire religion to the country.

    I do not mean to be rude madam, but it would seem that like many others from your home country you appear to be overreacting to the confused situation in the USA which is usual during the Presidential campaign. The xenophobic posture of one or other candidate is also not unusual, the anti black, anti latino and this time anti muslim, is also the routine to grab the attention of the electorates, Donald Trump taking the lead as a Maestro currently in face of the weaker democrat representation, whereas the incumbent Obama having lost on race issue is once again playing the role of a pacifist and preaching for the control on Guns.
    America is not going to change in the near future, its new immigrants must have the spirit of pioneers and the will to work hard and live in a homogeneous community of his/her own choice, the germans with the Germans and the French with the French and so on in a multicultural environment. Unlike Europe, where the immigrants are usualy integrated in homogenious communities and progress as one people.
    Donald Trump is a comedian, wait for the medical report of the Presidentil candidates, there ill be some surprises, last time it was Senator Maccain with 100 pages medical prifile. If you are afraid of xenophoby or racism, then the USA is not the country for you, Canada which is colder but have a young Prime Minister with 26 professionaly qualified ministers(13 women and 13 men)

    Rex Minor
    . .


  • cautious
    Jan 9, 2016 - 5:55PM

    Tashfeen Malik received more media attention than Rizwan Farook because immigration policy is currently being debated – not because of media bias against Non American’s.Recommend

  • Ken
    Jan 10, 2016 - 1:23AM

    This sounds like a liberal hate I mean hit piece.
    The U.S. government under Obama is not ensuring that Americans will be protected so Trump is saying quarantine until you get it figured out. The only hate is with the liberals who believe apparently that the right to immigrate here trumps our right yo be safe entirely.Recommend

  • Phil
    Jan 10, 2016 - 3:11AM

    Though Dr. Afzal’s observations may be somewhat inaccurate, her message still needs to be seriously considered.Recommend

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