By Junaid M. Afeef
Many people ask American Muslims why they do not condemn ISIS or do more to counter the political violence committed by their co-religionists. My rejoinder would be, “Why don’t more Americans outside of the Muslim community speak out against the double standards in law enforcement and against the rampant anti-Muslim bigotry that thrives in America?”
A lot has been said about what American Muslims should be doing. We need to have a conversation about how other Americans can help, too.
Double standards in law enforcement and in the media as well as the rampant and unchallenged Islamophobia in America are making it harder for American Muslims to speak out and to be heard. At the same time, this artificially created divide only serves to bolster the ISIS trope that Muslims are not a part of American society. This hurts America as much as it helps ISIS.
Two Muslim men recently tried to attack an event in Garland, Texas; predictably, the media was all over the story. And, much to ISIS’s delight, the media and law enforcement immediately attributed the failed attack to ISIS.
Contrast the Garland incident with the recently foiled terrorist ambitions of a white, Christian man in Tennessee that virtually no one in America heard about. Last month, Robert Doggart, a 63-year-old failed congressional candidate, plotted with private militia groups in the United States to attack a town called Islamberg in New York. Doggart planned to burn down a mosque, a Muslim school and a cafeteria, and was recorded by the FBI saying he was ready to gun down any Muslims (or others) who tried to stop him. The majority of residents in Islamberg are African American Muslims.
There was little media attention surrounding Doggart’s arrest (unless coming from Muslim journalists). No press conferences by the FBI about a potentially devastating terror attack against Americans. Stranger still, this man who plotted to commit arson and murder with the intention of “sending a message” to Muslims was not charged with any terrorism related offenses.
Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty to simply making a threat. It’s the federal equivalent of a local “disturbing the peace” offense. Given the scale of violence Doggart openly planned, the plea agreement was a slap on the wrist.
Any reasonable person can look at these two cases and recognize the double standard. The Garland, Texas case involving Muslims received a lot of media attention with the attackers labeled terrorists, while a Christian man with an arguably more nefarious and bloody plot never made a major headline nor was charged with anything as serious as terrorism.
This is law enforcement hypocrisy, and the American public should be outraged. Imagine how they would be if the roles were reversed.
President Obama assured the American people during his February 2015 Countering Violent Extremism summit that law enforcement is concerned about violent extremism no matter what the underlying political motives may be. In the wake of the Doggart plea agreement, that claims rings hollow.
Unfortunately, the caustic Islamophobia espoused by Doggart is not isolated. It is all over America, and it is corrupting our society.
Members of Congress, governors and state and local politicians have their own ad hoc “Islamophobia Caucus” where vitriolic attacks against Islam and Muslims are a mainstay of campaign rhetoric intended to whip up fear and votes. Recently, at the South Carolina Freedom Summit, numerous aspiring potential presidential candidates dished out Islamophobic comments.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) quipped that the Garland police officer who killed the two armed assailants helped the attackers “meet their virgins” in heaven. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently — and quite idiotically — pointed out the nefarious nature of the word “al,” or “the” in Arabic. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), two of Congress’s most radical members, both have very notorious records of Islamophobia.
These individuals are bigots. But by virtue of their positions as members of Congress, they carry the imprimatur of authority – particularly when it comes to matters of national security. Their Islamophobia taints important policy debates such as the one now taking place regarding the renewal of certain portions of the USA PATRIOT ACT. Fundamental issues of liberty and security should be considered with facts, but the “Islamophobia Caucus” repeatedly injects hyperbolic rhetoric to sway public opinion in favor of further erosions of our liberties.
The Islamophobia industry is well funded, and it has access to many media outlets (including the notoriously unfair and unbalanced Fox News). Despite the efforts of the American Muslim community over the last 20 years, Islamophobia continues to grow.
It cannot be ignored by the American public and the policymakers any longer. Like the hypocrisy found among some law enforcement agencies, the bigotry against Muslims is helping ISIS make a case that America hates Islam.
Six million Muslims in a nation of 300 million people cannot fight against the hypocrisy and hate alone.
So again, I ask: where are my fellow Americans – the tens of millions who are fair, rational, and reasonable – and whose hearts and minds tells them that stereotyping and demonizing an entire community is un-American? We need your help.
Junaid M. Afeef is an attorney and the founder of Common Good Advocates. He is also a Partner with the Truman National Security Project. His views are his own.