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December 9, 2015

Threats of loss to “American identity” drive anti-Muslim fears

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The recent increase in terror attacks and mass shootings may be contributing to heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States and abroad.

In the wake of last week’s San Bernardino attack, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for the U.S. to stop allowing Muslims to enter the country. Trump’s statement started a public conversation about religious discrimination and drew criticism from other candidates, Republican and Democrat alike.

Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, said she understands people’s concern over safety due to violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists in recent months, but that fear should not be placed on the entire Muslim community.

“The reason that’s dangerous, not only unproductive, is because that’s exactly what ISIS wants us to do. This is playing into their narrative,” Mogahed said, adding that anti-Muslim rhetoric feeds into ISIS’s ability to recruit foreign fighters.

Khaled Beydoun, an associate professor of law at Barry University in Orlando, said anti-Muslim rhetoric is nothing new in the U.S., pointing to the U.S. government’s history of implementing policies aimed at excluding non-white immigrants and citizens from the rest of society, such as Japanese internment during World War II or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

An increase in anti-Muslim sentiment comes alongside a heated debate on American identity and the 2016 presidential campaign, said Ron Brownstein, who writes about changing demographics in the U.S. for Atlantic Magazine.

Mogahed said it’s especially important for Americans to be aware that anti-Muslim sentiments affect everyone’s freedom.

“It makes us more accepting of authoritarianism, conformity and prejudice. And this is corrosive to our democracy,” Mogahed said.

Vocab

rhetoric — the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques

internment — the act of putting a person in prison or other kind of detention, generally in wartime

Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882 — a federal law prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S.

Warm up questions
  1. What is religious extremism?
  2. Can words or actions influence the way a group of people is treated?
  3. At what points in history have the civil rights of one group not been the same as those of another?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why did Trump’s statement about not letting Muslims enter the country prompt such a strong response?
  2. Do you agree with Dalia Mogahed’s statement that turning against the Muslim community in the U.S. is “exactly what ISIS wants us to do”? Why or why not?
  3. What should the U.S. be doing to ensure that people feel safe without infringing upon individual rights?
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