In 2008, presidential candidate John McCain assured the crowds in the stadium that Obama was, indeed, neither Arab nor Muslim. The crowds booed and responded with cries of “terrorist” and “liar.” This was a jarring moment for many; most of us were reminded at or around the age of 14 that Muslims were threats to our country. This, we learned in 2001. And again, in 2013, when the Boston Marathon was bombed. Acts of terrorism were sensationally linked to Muslims, sending waves of Islamophobia, which is prejudice against Muslims, especially as a political force.
While Islamophobia has often been dismissed as a “non-word” or fabrication, the 2016 GOP debates have demonstrated otherwise. Muslims have faced prejudice within the United States for decades. This incessant stream of prejudice has the unfortunate side-effect of desensitization. Not only America, but every community is in need of widespread, open-discourse about religious profiling and racism. It’s not a Muslim problem to fix; it’s an American plague to remedy.
The 2016 GOP debates have already generated numerous controversies and uproars. Former candidate Scott Walker asserted that there is only a “handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam.” Yet it is Donald Trump and Ben Carson who compete for the prize for the prize of biggest Republican Islamophobe. Upon failing to correct a supporter who inquired about how we could get rid of the Muslims, Trump affirmed that he would investigate the matter. Carson followed, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” on the basis that Islam is not compatible with the Constitution. After Carson declared that Islam and the presidency were incompatible, his campaign reached a fund-raising rate of nearly $1 million per day. Obviously, anti-Islamic sentiments are well-funded and absurdly public.
While many headlines sought to preserve the integrity of Obama’s identity, the conversation hardly centered on dismantling the insidious racism and religious profiling that permeates the presidential race. Effectively, calling Obama a Muslim is a slur. It is in 2015. It was in 2008. And it was most definitely a slur in the 1800s.
Obama isn’t the first president to be accused of practicing Islam. Thomas Jefferson has that privilege. The Connecticut Courant suggested Jefferson might be practicing closet Judaism or Islam. It lamented that few could determine “whether Mr. Jefferson believes in the heathen mythology or in the Alcoran [Quran].” Jefferson, after all, owned a copy of the Quran, convicting him of the felony as much as Obama’s middle name of Hussein does.
What remains is that Islamophobia is still as relevant as it was during the Middle Ages and after 9/11. It is pervasive but comes in different forms. Few Muslims were surprised when fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested because his teachers assumed that Muslims make bombs, not clocks. Why? Mohamed’s story is a common plot line.
It’s easy to become desensitized to Islamophobia — as with any form of racism or profiling that goes unchecked. However, to not speak up against racial profiling and oppression is to give it permission to exist. While many Muslims go unheard, it’s the moral responsibility of any informed community to seek understanding. Too often is Islam conflated with ignorance; an educated Muslim seems oxymoronic. And even at Wellesley, it is hardly uncommon to hear Islam lambasted for its purported oppression of women. Yet, often religious profiling exists because there is a lack of knowledge. When these misconceptions are considered to be the truth, it’s hard to be aware of the real problem that is Islamophobia.
We, the Editorial Staff, cannot determine the extent of Islamophobia within a community. It is, however, the responsibility of any human to seek understanding and engage in dialogue about mere misconceptions and unfortunate predispositions. Saying that Islamophobia doesn’t exist is like believing that America is post-racial; we all know that isn’t true.
It was not until 1960 that we elected a Catholic president. It was not until 2008 that we elected an African-American president. It may be in the next ten years that we elect a female president. Yet, let it be in our time that we, as a country, practice democracy and elect a president without buying into sensationalized stereotypes about her gender, skin color, sexual orientation or religion.