It has appeared in some form in almost every major publication. It's a concept that has certainly filled some of the endless hours of cable TV commentary and news. It's probably got some kind of trending topic status on social media and an accompanying, almost impossibly clever hashtag. And it's a set of ideas that may well ring true for some individuals.
But it's also one that is inherently gentle in its conspicuously time-limited critique of the country. It's hopeful yet deceptively "real." It is, in many ways, false.
It's true in that same way that some insist that the financial lives and material holdings of Oprah Winfry and Magic Johnson provide a universal manual for black economic uplift in the United States. It's true in the same way that suggestions that all women really need to do to resolve wage inequality is ask for more money and engage in some strong negotiations if their employers don't immediately comply. And, it's true in that way that some Americans -- including some people with control of text books used in public schools -- believe that an accurate telling of American history must include intentionally limited or no mentions at all of slavery, Jim Crow, the fight for women's suffrage, anti-immigrant political movements and so on. It's an assessment of American life that, really, is about as deep as a puddle.
Doubt that? Consider this.
Anti-Muslim attacks have ranked among the most common forms of religiously motivated hate crimes reported in the United States since 2001 (See Table 1 here and here and the FBI statement on the rapid increase between 2000 and 2001 in the forward of this report.) Or consider the below chart.
In 2014, the most recent year for which national data is available from the FBI, religiously motivated hate crimes tied for second with sexual orientation-related bias crimes. Together, the two were almost as common as the No. 1 hate crime, race-related attacks.
Then consider this. While the majority of race-related hate crime is directed at black Americans, there is reason to believe that part of the reason the total 2014 data report looks the way that it does has everything to do with the way the government collects its data. Right now, bias crimes motivated by what the FBI describes as "Anti-Arab" sentiment (people attacked or property damaged due to the attacker's belief that the victim is Arab, a representation of Arab culture or has an "Arab appearance") are counted among the 734 hate crimes in the United States directed at white Americans. For the first time in U.S. history, the FBI began collecting data on so-called "Anti-Arab" hate crimes in 2015.
We won't have that information until late next year, but the change suggests federal statisticians saw something in the recent hate crimes data suggesting that more detail is needed. The hints likely lie in the charts below. It is already a list of hate crimes categories so long that The Fix's technical limits required we break it into two parts. (Click on them to enlarge.)
Anti-Muslim sentiment -- or at least the drive toward group suspicion -- is so common that when the New York Times solicited the stories of Muslims about their daily experiences, the results were pretty grim. A collection of comments from people who live or work in the New York City metro area -- one of the most diverse in the world and where immigrants and people with different religious traditions have always been present -- were (to apply the most neutral term possible here) striking.
Please take the time to read it for yourself. The stories of go-to insults heard at work, regular experiences with perceived suspicion and physical distancing on the subway and the largely misinformed public commentary about the contents of the Islamic faith are all there.
But what isn't there is utter shock or surprise that these ideas exist, these incidents happen or any indication that these experiences began sometime in the past few weeks. The Washington Post found something very similar last week, when a trio of reporters talked to a number of Muslim Americans and dug into public opinion data over time.
That, folks, comes a lot closer to the experiences created by the American public and by extension American voters, than it does any one individual -- including the often-cited font of ostensibly new or renewed open public expressions of bias, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
And if the data above and the stories of ordinary Muslim Americans about their day didn't convince you, this last bit is worth considering too. The Washington Post's Lena Sun reported Friday on a first-of-its-kind survey of Muslim American doctors. Mind you, these are people with highly specialized, often life-saving skills. (That's the stuff that matters to those who believe that those who experience group suspicion should simply behave well and gain more education in order to guarantee access to their constitutional rights.)
The survey found that 10 percent of Muslim doctors had patients refuse care because of the doctor's faith. And 14 percent told researchers they had experienced religious discrimination in their workplaces, including from some of their own colleagues. And this was a survey conducted in 2013 and 2014, well before events in Paris or San Bernardino or Trump's presidential run. This is a picture of some people's everyday American life.
We won't go on. We won't even remind you the way that the school officials who accused a middle-school student of Sudanese decent of bomb-making are now regarded, by some Americans, as the real victims in that suburban Dallas political conflagration. The student wasn't just called into the principal's office or questioned by teachers or school security. He was placed under arrest.
(Well, okay, just a few words were necessary.)
The point is this: There are reasons to use all of your preferred melancholy and restrained-but-pessimistic language to describe the lives of Muslims in the United States. And some will inevitably stop there. But anti-Muslim sentiment has become a matter worthy of collective reflection and a pronounced part of our national politics at this time not simply because of the anxiety and anger the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino produced. Those feelings and ideas are layered on top of a multi-tier confection of hate, distrust and suspicion that distorts some people's lives and almost always has in the United States.
With that kind of mixture somewhere in the national batter, the probability of creating policies or implementing ideas that will one day make future generations shudder remains high.