Is America Becoming More Islamophobic?

September 13, 2010

Two weeks ago Ahmed Sharif, a Bangladeshi taxi driver in Manhattan, was stabbed repeatedly after confirming that he was indeed Muslim.

It was, of course, a hate crime. Micheal Enright, the man held in custody and suspected of attacking Sharif, hailed Sharif's taxi and greeted him with the Muslim greeting of "assalamu alaikum," or, "peace be upon you," before deriding Sharif for fasting for Ramadan, declaring that it was a checkpoint, and finally revealing a knife and slashing at Sharif's neck and face several times.

At first I responded to the news that another Muslim American had been violently attacked because of his religion with shock, but also sadly with a sense of routine.

Take for example the ludicrous controversy surrounding the Park51 community center, also known as the "Ground Zero Mosque" (even though another mosque has existed in the area for over thirty years). Or similar opposition to mosques in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. Or "International Burn a Quran Day," slated to occur on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Or the recent "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day," which was organized in support of the television show "South Park" but was actually a call to insult and demean Muslims everywhere. Or a recent Pew report that a growing number of Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim in disguise. And a recent fire at a Tennesee mosque is said to be the result of arson.

A friend writing an article on the controversy surrounding the Park51 mosque actually asked me the other day whether anger toward Muslims in America is subsiding or becoming more commonplace. At first I hesitated, for although recent events suggest that Islamophobia in America is increasing, it is possible that it is not.

But a New York Times poll shows that many Americans think that construction of Park51 should not continue — 29 percent believe that Muslim Americans do not even have the right to. And here what was before merely a suggestion is now more or less evidence: Almost a third of Americans think that Muslim Americans do not have what is notably one of America's finest freedoms — the freedom of religion.

The stabbing, the controversy surrounding Park51, etc. can be ignored as chance, or not actually a sign of an increasingly hostile attitude toward Muslims in America. But if a third of Americans think that their Muslim peers do not deserve the right to worship where they please, then a third of Americans deny that they are American, or, at the very least, deserve less than the full set of rights granted to all other Americans.

A few days after 9/11 I was asked by my school principal (I was an eighth grader at the time) whether I had been called a terrorist or otherwise harassed. I said that I had, but I remember also being puzzled by her concern. I was sure that any anger toward Muslims in general (instead of the few actually responsible for the attacks) would soon pass. It has not: nearly 10 years have passed and my younger brother, who is now an eight grader himself, reports that he too is sometimes called a terrorist at school.

Time Magazine's cover story this month asks: "Is America Islamophobic?" The answer is apparantly yes.


Saif Ansari


Saif Ansari graduated recently from UCLA with a BA in philosophy and is now an MA student at NYU, also in philosophy. He is interested mostly in political philosophy, ethics and law. Saif wrote for two years as a columnist for UCLA's student-run newspaper The Daily Bruin. He wrote for and edited several other publications at UCLA and maintains a personal blog at Follow him on Twitter @vetoshield.