The FBI interviewed my husband, Tariq, in 2002 because of some attenuated connection with a family friend falsely accused of connections with a terrorist organization, whom he hadn’t seen in years. At the time, Tariq was in his second year of residency in otolaryngology at the University of Oklahoma and had little time between studying and pulling 24-hour shifts at the hospital to be questioned without a warrant. After the agents quickly realized my husband knew nothing, they let him go.
Two years later, my bearded Muslim husband received a bat to the head after being called “a sand nigger” in Norman, Okla., by a drunk white man. This was a road-rage incident gone worse. The man who assaulted Tariq was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, before pleading no contest on a lesser charge. He received a one-year suspended sentence and paid a $100 fine.
I was five months pregnant with our first child and in my third year of law school when Tariq’s head was being stitched up by his junior colleague at the hospital. Fourteen years later, my husband has yet to return to that intersection. And he never will.
My husband has a permanent scar on his head. His assailant received a slap on the wrist.
Little seems to have changed. In 2015, a swarm of hatemongers congregated to protest a Muslim conference in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where we now live, some carrying signs saying, “Islam Breeds Hate.” “Mamma, why do they hate us?” each of my four children asked me.
I didn’t have an answer then. I do not have one now.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last month over President Trump’s third attempt at an executive order banning people from five majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
But no matter what the legal determination, Muslims have been dehumanized and politicized since long before this executive order or this administration. It’s the natural outgrowth of a society that’s been fed a long-standing and toxic diet of Islamophobia.
I know this firsthand. And so do most Muslims living in America.
In his new book “American Islamophobia,” law professor Khaled Beydoun defines Islamophobia as the belief that “Islam is inherently violent, alien, and unassimilable, a presumption driven by the belief that expressions of Muslim identity correlate with a propensity of terrorism.”
Islamophobia is the inherent suspicion cast on a body of over a billion people globally. It is the representation in TV shows and movies such as “24” or “American Sniper” where Muslims are relegated to a one-dimensional monolith, represented as either purveyors of violence or recipients thereof.
It takes the form of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, a President George W. Bush-era program, that registered noncitizen visa holders, mandated them to regularly check in with immigration officials and kept tabs on those leaving the country. All but one of the 25 countries listed were majority-Muslim. It was the first, and seemingly innocuous, iteration of a Muslim registry — and it did not result in a single terrorism conviction in the decade it was in force.
It is demonstrated in the toll of media coverage of Muslims for “foiled plots” outpacing non-Muslim counterparts by a factor of seven and a half times.
It is the type of sentiment that leads Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, to ask American Muslim human rights lawyer, Arsalan Ifthikhar, during a live interview, “Do you support ISIS?”
It is the affirmation of false binaries that led former President Bill Clinton to announce at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, “If you’re Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together,” as though our existence can only be understood within the prism of these two shades.
It is what allows the CIA, FBI and NYPD to regularly gather intelligence on Muslim communities, neighborhoods, and mosques without any specific underlying basis for criminal or terrorism-related activity, aside from religious affiliation.
It is the designation of an endless war, unlimited in time, scope, or geography against a nebulous, amorphous transnational nonstate actor: terrorism.
It is terming people “unlawful enemy combatants,” housing them indefinitely and denying them humanitarian rights guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.
It is waging war on and occupying Iraq after concocting the demonstrably false narrative that the nation was linked to al-Qaeda.
It is creating the power vacuum to enable the rise of the Islamic State and then castigating Muslims, as a people, for the violence to which they’re continually subjected, in presidential statements like, “I think Islam hates us” or demanding a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.
It is the story of the Fort Dix Five, the 2008 case I’ve spent several years researching and writing about, using material the government provided to the defendants in discovery. The government employed two informants to manufacture a terror conspiracy where none existed. It is one case of many.
It appears in the fact that it is somehow easier for the United States to bomb Syria in the name of humanitarian aid than accept any refugees from that country and provide them with safety, security and stability. This comes as no surprise to lawyers and activists studying the trajectory of Islamophobia and its inculcation both in the law as a system and in private conduct.
It is General Noel J. Francisco, Trump’s lawyer addressing the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing the Proclamation is not anti-Muslim. He argued that Trump “has praised Islam as one of the great countries of the world.” Islam, like Christianity, is not a country.
It has to stop. And it can.
On the day Trump first issued his ban last year, I stood at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport alongside thousands of leaders, activists, and everyday community members of all colors, creeds, and political expressions. Signs like, “Today, I am Muslim too,” and “Never Again” continue to testify to our collective power.
Local attorneys flocked to airports to offer pro bono support for immigration detainees from banned countries. Even non-immigration attorneys like myself volunteered to keep a 24-hour legal presence in the airport until the first injunction allowed entry to visa holders hailing from the banned countries.
When people come together and demand change, it is possible. When individuals together as a society examine conscious and unconscious biases regarding Muslims and Islam, change is possible. Addressing the forms of Islamophobia that exist systemically can indeed dismantle them.