Despite the fact that millions of ordinary Muslims live unobjectionable, ordinary lives in North America and Europe, their faith gets them implicated in the terror scares and anti-immigration hysteria of the moment. Simply being Muslim, in the eyes of some Western leaders, conjures up a set of politics and intentions, in almost all cases negative.
On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls joined the fray, lending his support to a host of mayors who have enacted local bans on the "burkini," a type of Islamic swimwear. The garment, he said, was "not compatible with the values of France and the republic."
He went on to explain why: "It is the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on the enslavement of women."
In the reasoning of the French premier and a few others in his government, wearing an outfit identified with Muslim traditions can make you complicit in some kind of backward, alien plot. Burqas and hijabs, the traditional Islamic headscarf and full-face veil, are also banned in French public institutions as part of the country's secularist strictures.
The decisions are not simply about liberating women. French municipal authorities and public schools have also taken issue even with Muslim diets, in some instances ending pork-free meals for young students.
France has a tougher, more rigid understanding of secularism than the United States. But the underlying premise of its state-sanctioned cultural intolerance -- that the values of practicing Muslims are somehow at odds with the nation — has been made overt across the pond by the Republican presidential candidate.
Trump said Muslims who harbor "any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles" should be barred from entering the country. Never mind, say, Chinese, Russians, Venezuelans or whomever else may feel similar antipathy to Uncle Sam. It's Muslims, writ large, who pose the threat and need to be "tested."
An essay in Britain's Guardian newspaper delved into the writings of a popular Trump-supporting blog, staffed by a group of anonymous bloggers who have acquired a cult following. Unsurprisingly, their attitudes about Muslims are parallel to those of Europe's far-right. “The ceaseless importation of people unaccustomed to liberty,” they wrote, in a passage cited by the Guardian, “makes the American people less fit for liberty every day.”
To be sure, Trump and Valls are hardly kindred spirits. Last month, he bemoaned the "Trumpization of the mind" that he believed was motivating supposedly slanderous, right-wing attacks on the government. And Trump has won plaudits from Marine Le Pen, the far-right politician who hopes to supplant Valls's boss, President Francois Hollande, in elections next year.
Nevertheless, the burkini bans sparked outrage this week. There was particular consternation with the mayor of the famous seaside city of Cannes, who described the burkini as a "symbol of Islamic extremism."
"How can a mayor of a prominent city with obvious cultural wealth resort to such an oversimplification? Terrorism specialists have not identified a link between wearing modest clothing and subscribing to terrorism," wrote French-Muslim writer Ikram Ben Aissa in the Huffington Post.
"The greatest casualties of Isis have been Muslims," Huda Jawad, a British-Iraqi activist, wrote in the Independent, "and the banning of the burkini illustrates the extent to which France’s fundamentalist secularism is singling out the most visible and vulnerable group in society for blame."
In a column, The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker said the bans "continue a long history of men controlling women's beachwear."
The burkini, Parker wrote, "has become France’s Confederate battle flag. Like the flag, the burkini means different things to different people, yet it has become such a powerful symbol of the cultural clash between overzealous French patriots and Muslim immigrants that it has become a prompt to man the barricades."
It's worth considering what this fight is actually over. My colleague Adam Taylor wrote of the history of the burkini, a garment invented, perhaps surprisingly, in Australia in 2007. He spoke to its designer, Aheda Zentti, who said she wanted to create swimwear that would help modest Muslim women better "blend in" to the Australian beach lifestyle.
"It created a lot of confidence within our communities. Muslim women are much more active these days," she told Taylor.
And what about the name of the garment itself? "It's just a name that I invented. It doesn't mean anything," she said.