Ashley Rotchford, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD aniticipated May 2018
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed” – Doe Zantamata
Before many of our ancestors ever came to America, the first Muslim arrived on this soil that we now call the United States. Muslims have been in this nation for over 400 years, and yet, to many white Americans, “they” are foreign and “they” don’t belong. Since September 11th, 2001, Muslims worldwide have been blamed for every act of terror and every act of hate perpetrated by anyone who claims to follow the tenets of Islam.
It is ironic, really, to see so many white Americans so quick to cast blame on an entire faith. The largest domestic terrorist organization ever to exist in the U.S. was the KKK. Its members where white Christian men. They burned, murdered, tortured, abused, and treated as less than human any person who did not fit their ideals. In 86 years, the KKK lynched over 3,446 Black Americans. Yet no one blamed, or blames, Christianity as a whole.
In 2015 now President-elect Trump first proposed to ban all Muslims from the United States. He also once claimed in an interview at 27% of all Muslims were “very militant” (in reality only .00625% of Muslims identify as extremist). The theory behind such a ban is that it will prevent future terrorist attacks in the United States. This is inherently inaccurate. Statistics show that 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States between 1980-2005 have been by non-Muslims.
President-elect Trump recently confirmed his proposal post-election. Even though the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment were designed to prevent such persecution based on religion, the majority of Americans supported, and still support, the proposal. As James Madison once warned, “[i]n our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of constituents.” In essence, Madison worried that the power of the majority could trample the rights of the minority.
A ban of all Muslims would constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause, notwithstanding the President’s vast powers under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Establishment Clause bars the government from favoring one religion over another or disfavoring one religion over another. A proposal that explicitly bars Muslim immigrants would send a strong message that the United States disfavors Islam over other religions, such as Judaism and Christianity.
The response to such a charge will no doubt be that neither Jews nor Christians are a “danger” to American society and values. In reality, however, neither are Muslims. There are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. They make up almost a quarter of the world’s population, yet just over 106,000 can be identified as extremist. While nine in ten news articles about Islam portray it as violent and extremist, a person is as likely to die from being crushed by a television or furniture as from a terrorist attack.
After the initial call to ban all Muslims, there was a marked uptick in hate crimes against Muslims, or people that just happened to have brown skin. In one instance, several twelve-year-old students attacked a Muslim student during recess. In another, a Queens Imam and his friend were executed while leaving a mosque after Sunday prayers.
Since the election, reports of hate crimes have once again increased (over 400 hate crimes have been reported since Election Day), with the attackers often professing support for the President-elect and his policies. Muslim-Americans across the nation have been sharing the hatred, and fear, they have experienced since November 8th on social media platforms. One student in California was assaulted by a man who forcibly yanked her hijab off her head; choking her. One woman at Walmart had her hijab pulled off her head and was told to “go hang yourself with it around your neck.” A truck was seen driving around in Florida with the words “All Muslims are Terrorists. Deport Them All” written on its back windshield.
FDR once famously said, the “[o]nly thing we have to fear is fear itself.” At a time like this, those words could not be less true for American Muslims. I want to remind every American Muslim that by continuing to live the lives you deserve to live every day, you prove them wrong. By living up to your potential, you prove hate wrong. By standing up against injustice, you prove Islamophobia wrong.
And remember that you are not alone. While the country is seemingly divided, there are many standing in the same corner with you—people who realize that everyone deserves and is entitled to their inalienable rights. We stand with you, and we will fight alongside you—not only for you, but for everyone in this nation whose rights are currently under attack.
Finally, do not give up. Hold tight to the hope and knowledge that things will get better.
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today – Thich Nhat Hanh