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30 Oct, 2015

Americans Worldwide Must Break Silence on Islamophobia to Preserve Constitutional Freedoms

by Zainab Chaudry

October 28, 2015  – One afternoon last week, while checking email during an Uber ride in Washington, D.C., a message caught my attention. Exclamation points dominated the subject line.

I mentally braced myself before opening the message.

The email began: “In case you missed it, I want to bring this article to your attention…”

Coalition partners from ACLU-MD, CAIR, IAHR, and JVP-DC hold press conference on 10/22/16 outside Carroll County Executive Office Building calling on Board of County Commissioners to repudiate Commissioner Rothschilds Islamophobic editorial.

10/22: Coalition partners from ACLU-MD, CAIR, IAHR, and JVP-DC hold news conference outside County Exec. Office Bldg. calling on Board of County Commissioners to repudiate Commissioner Rothschild’s Islamophobic editorial.

The article in question was a disturbing editorial written by Republican County Commissioner Richard Rothschild for the Carroll County Times.The headline – “Carson Right About Islam, Presidency” – referred to irresponsible, Islamophobic comments recently made by GOP Presidential candidate, Ben Carson.

Predictably enough, the full extent of the article focuses on vilifying Islam by correlating the religion of millions of peaceful, law-abiding Americans with patriarchal, archaic traditions falsely attributed to Sharia law, which anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists insist is stealthily creeping into our country and jeopardizing our norms and values.

As we come off the heels of nationwide anti-Muslim protests and numerous high-profile incidents targeting Muslims and Islamic institutions, one would think this tired rhetoric would finally be laid to rest.

Instead, it is harnessing new energy.

A growing number of predominantly Republican lawmakers are pandering to their base and capitalizing on ignorance and fear to boost their own favorability ratings.

But policymakers alone don’t have a monopoly on ant-Muslim bigotry; an increasing number of GOP presidential candidates have also lent their voices to the discordant chorus.

This phenomenon is not new. Key GOP leaders including Senator Lindsey GrahamRNC Chair Reince Priebus, and Governor Chris Christie have spoken out against Islamophobia in the past, but this is too often the exception, not the norm.

The sound of crickets chirping in the silence from other influential GOP leaders has often been even louder than the intolerance being regurgitated by their own party representatives.

The stark reality is that history has taught American Muslims to brace for rising levels of hostility and intolerance in the months leading up to local, state, and federal elections.

Before our communities and allies can neutralize this hostility, we must acknowledge that attempts to demonize Muslims are lucrative and supported by the Islamophobia industry.

In fact, the quickest method by which Republican politicians and candidates can generate headlines and curry favor among segments of their party seems to be by throwing Muslims under the proverbial bus.

Take Ben Carson, for example. He raised $500K+ in mere days following his polarizing, Islamophobic remarks.

As media attention focused on him, Donald Trump galvanized into action and declared he would shut down mosques in America – despite being admittedly uncertain about the legality of this action.

Suddenly, Trump was back in the spotlight as national media outlets thrust their cameras and microphones back towards him.

Many Americans positioned on the sidelines stoically devoured popcorn and swiveled their gazes, impassively observing the hate fest.

By engaging in this undignified exchange, Carson, Trump, and Republican lawmakers are joining their predecessors in typical right wing fashion and following a long-standing political tradition of attacking ethnic, racial, and religious minorities for a perceived lack of Americanism.

But indigenous and immigrant American Muslim communities are growing weary and impatient of constantly being singled-out and marginalized because of our faith.

Election Day in America is still over one year away. Candidates and politicians flexing their political Muslim-bashing muscles must recognize the harmful consequences of their rhetoric and its grave impact on religious freedom and tolerance in our country.

Openly exhibiting prejudice towards some six million Americans because of their religion is unethical, and unacceptable of any official elected to public office who is sworn to represent his/her constituents without partiality or bias.

Politicians who make irresponsible, ill-informed statements that incite anger and violence especially endanger the safety and security of vulnerable communities.

The pandering of candidates who construct their campaign platforms with bigoted views serves as a chilling premonition of policies and legislation their constituents can expect if they were to win the election.

10/22: Post-news conference debate between Rothschild supporters and opponents.

This dangerous rhetoric sets a disturbing precedent for the unconstitutional infringement of our rights, freedoms and ideals that has become increasingly normalized and even encouraged in Western society.

The beauty of America is that her ideal is not that we all agree or even like each other, but rather that we respect each other’s right to practice our religion freely without persecution.

This ideal is predicated on the understanding that we are one nation and one community comprised of millions of diverse Americans whose well-being is inextricably bound to one another.

History looks favorably upon people and institutions that protect, preserve, and uphold this ideal.

Unfortunately, lawmakers and politicians like Rothschild, Carson and Trump have adopted a platform that does not support this ideal, and the history books will reflect their position.

Meanwhile, it is the duty of every American who cherishes and seeks to preserve our constitutional freedoms to break their silence and challenge divisive, incriminating rhetoric through advocacy and activism.

Dr. Zainab Chaudry is a civil and human rights activist and interfaith advocate who was born and raised in Baltimore, Md. She is passionate about pursuing justice and equality for marginalized people, dispelling stereotypes about Muslim women, promoting youth empowerment, and masala chai. She can be reached at zchaud1@gmail.com.