Islamophobia: Popular, Acceptable Form of Racism

Islamophobia, and the racial profiling of almost anyone not white, seems to be the popular and acceptable form of racism these days.  Following the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, a Nigerian and a Muslim, a majority of Americans favor racial and ethnic profiling be used in airline security.   Recent poll data from Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds:

“…59% of adults say factors such as race, ethnicity and overall appearance should be used to determine which boarding passengers to search at airports. Twenty-six percent (26%) say these factors should not be used to determine which passengers to search. Another 15% are not sure. Interestingly, however, even more Americans (71%) believe such profiling is necessary in today’s environment. Eighteen percent (18%) disagree and see profiling as an unnecessary violation of civil rights.  Men feel more strongly than women that profiling is necessary in the modern environment. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of men say profiling should be used to determine which boarding passengers to search, but just 51% of women agree. Sixty-two percent (62%) of whites and 52% of those of other races say profiling should be used at airports. African-Americans are more closely divided on the question.”

This is striking data suggesting that Americans are quite willing to jettison civil rights in the service of stereotypes and racial prejudice.   It’s also based on faulty reasoning.  Quite simply, racial profiling doesn’t work.  As Arsalan Iftikhar, writing for CNN, points out:

For years, the concept of “racial profiling” has reportedly undermined important terrorist investigations here in the United States. Most notably, these examples include the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in which the two white male domestic terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were able to flee while officers operated on the theory that the act had been committed by “Arab terrorists” for the first 48 hours of the investigation.

Similarly, during the October 2002 Washington-area sniper investigation, the African-American man and boy ultimately accused of the crime reportedly were able to pass through multiple road blocks with the alleged murder weapon in their possession, in part, because police ‘profilers’ theorized the crime had been committed by a white male acting alone.

According to a report last summer by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rights Working Group to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination: “Both Democratic and Republican administrations [in the United States] have acknowledged that racial profiling is unconstitutional, socially corrupting and counter-productive, yet this unjustifiable practice remains a stain on American democracy and an affront to the promise of racial equality.”

If the fact that racial profiling is tremendously ineffective doesn’t seem to deter the American impulse to want to “do something” following this lastest attempt at a terrorist act, perhaps considering the fact that this sort of knee-jerk, McCarthyism stands in stark constrast to democratic ideals of equality will temper this reaction.  I fear that such an appeal will fall on deaf ears and there’s growing evidence that this is so.

Consider, for example, a recent interview with Retired Lt. Gen. on Fox News (opens video), in which he flatly states that we should profile and strip search all 18-28-year-old muslim men.  In my view, this qualifies as Islamaphobia – prejudice and discrimination against Islam and against Muslims.  It seems clear that this is a popular, and increasingly acceptable, form of mainstream racism.

And, as another example, Ed Koch – former mayor of New York City – saying in another recent interview (opens video) that “not every Muslim is a terrorist, but “hundreds of millions are,” which is just patently false as the protest by peace-loving Muslims in Detroit, outside the courthouse where Abdulmuttalab was being arraigned, demonstrates.   But, as we see again and again on this blog, such racism is unlikely to be moved by logic and rational argument.

A writer using the name ‘unspeakable’ asks at Daily Kos: do Arabs and Muslims have a place in America? I want the answer to this rhetorical question to be a resounding, “yes, of course!”   Increasingly, I fear that my country is saying “no.”


  1. No1KState

    It seems irrational on the fact of it, without knowing the facts you stated, as not every Muslim is Arab, not every Arab is Muslim, and how would know a person’s religion just by looking at them?

    What’s most frustrating, though, is that instead of educating the problem, conservative politicians egg things on for their own benefit. And politicians who don’t identify as strictly conservative don’t say anything either way. I mean, I know the Dems are supposedly the “mommy party,” but I don’t of many mothers who’re such cowards. Especially when it comes to race.

  2. marcg

    This issue of Islamaphobia isn’t just directed at Islam but nonwhites in a more general sense. I’m not hearing that in the discussions about Islamaphobia.

    What I am hearing are whites (most, not every single one) misunderstanding this as simply an issue of profiling Islam. That misses the mark pretty seriously.

    However, even the discussion amongst progressives misses the point by identifying both Arabs and Islam as the target. The problem is still white supremacy and its target is much more ambitious than even Islam and the Arab world.

    The current cover of Newsweek (January 11, 2009) is a working example of what I am saying. The face of the young man known as the Underwear Bomber, Abdulmutallab, is pictured on the cover. Underneath his profile shot are the words, ‘THE CHILDREN OF BIN LADEN’. There are two primary reasons to consider this racially significant in terms of white supremacist propaganda to the general white supremacist thinking population, by which I mean most people who consider themselves white.

    The first thing is that Newsweek is a nationally distributed news magazine that is considered a ‘hard’ news publication. It isn’t a tabloid magazine. Millions see its cover and take the subject matter seriously.

    The second thing is that the photo of Abdulmutallab chosen for the cover depicts him looking like your average Black American youth.

    One really must view the cover to understand the psychic power of his Black American looking face and garb coupled with the words CHILDREN OF BIN LADEN (and it is in all caps).

    The larger point is that there is a broad effort to associate not only Islam and not only Arabs but nonwhites more generally with the War On Terror. Domestically this means coupling the racist prison industrial complex with Obama’s terror war.

    At a moment when more and more physically and technologically invasive measures are being pushed on to the public, is it a coincidence that white America’s two biggest fears, Black Americans and terrorism, are being psychically interwoven. I don’t believe it is a coincidence.


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