North by Northwestern: Muslim Americans still facing discrimination

It’s no question that Muslim Americans face discrimination in the United States — whether in “random” checks at the airport or being accused of crimes simply for “looking” Muslim. But just a couple weeks ago, a greeting card was found that featured a Muslim girl with the caption “she’ll blow your brains out.” When negative associations of Islam start becoming mainstream enough to casually be put in a card, it’s no question that the 12 years since 9/11 have done nothing to curb Islamaphobia.

Maryam Arain of CAIR Chicago reported this greeting card, which was eventually picked up by the Huffington Post, who wrote a piece about this card.

“I had gotten into a tiff with the store owner about it, and I work at the right organization to be doing something about it,” Arain said. “International news even picked it up.”

According to Arain, so many people complained to the card company that the card was taken off the markets.

“I’ve never felt more empowered in my life,” Arian said. “This incident occurred and then I did something about it and that there were repurcussions.”

Islamaphobia has been on the rise since 9/11, and despite the horrific act being almost 12 years ago, Muslims in this country still face discrimination on a daily basis. Simply trying to live is increasingly difficult as a Muslim American. According to Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Muslims in the United States say that our anti-terrorism policies single out Muslims for “increased surveillance and monitoring.”

Another survey conducted by Pew shows that Muslim Americans face more discrimination than several other minorities, including gays and lesbians, Hispanic Americans and women. Professor Brannon Ingram, who teaches several Islamic classes at Northwestern University, thinks many don’t fully understand Islam and Muslims, and thus reach the wrong conclusion about this group.

“Part of this is due to an almost willful ignorance among many Americans towards Islam,” Ingram said. “There’s an attitude that suggests we already know everything there is to know about Islam.”

And everything we know is violence, largely because of the small percentage of Muslims who have committed horrible acts of terror in this country. What the media doesn’t show is that other minorities have this same issue but are not discriminated against because of it. Arain believes that the people who turn to violence often link it to some “jihad” and therefore religion, when their acts are really motivated by personal and political reasons.

“I think we need to contexualize it in that way instead of in a religious way: recognize that it’s political and social,” Arian said. “It just happens to be that right now, the parts of the world that are disenfranchised are Muslim.”

These select groups of people are the ones who get the most attention by the media. However, according to Ingram, throwing the negative stereotype on to the entire Muslim population is not only wrong, but also simply illogical.

“If every Muslim were uniformly motivated by some jihad, given that there’s 1.6 billion of them, there would be a lot more acts of Islamic terrorism than there are,” Ingram said.

A Pew study released just last month shows that 42 percent of Americans think Islam is more likely to encourage violence among believers than other religions – a number that was only 25 percent in 2002.

However, many think this without having a basic understanding of Islam and its teachings. In 2010, 55 percent of Americans said they had little to no knowledge about Muslim. Yet, many of them believe this religion incurs violence.

Ingram and Arain both say that with time, this fear of Muslims will pass, largely due to the growing Muslim American population. Several minorities faced their periods of struggle in this country, from African Americans to Jewish Americans to women.

“I think religions go through these phases and cycles, and right now Islam is just going through this cycle,” Arain said.