This weekend, fliers threatening Muslims with mass murder were left at an MBTA station minutes from my home in Revere, Massachusetts. The warning on the fliers: Muslims in America be ready to face death if ISIS did not surrender within the following three days, as if Muslim Americans command and control the actions of the terrorist group.
This incident follows a series of anti-Muslim hate crimes in America in the past few days. The brutal execution-style killing of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill over an alleged 'parking dispute' is being investigated as a hate crime. This was followed by an arson attack on an Islamic community center in Houston, Texas. "Let it burn...block the fire hydrant," posted a fireman on his social media page. Another man was arrested for making a bomb threat at a Muslim community center in Austin, Texas. A Hindu temple, mistaken for a Mosque, and a nearby school in Bothell, Washington, were spray-painted with a swastika and the words "Muslims, Get Out." Then, a Muslim day school in Rhode Island was vandalized with the words, "Now this is a hate crime" and "pigs," along with expletives referring to the Islamic faith.
The Muslim American community is rightly concerned on this sudden rise in Islamophobia. Why so much hate? And who is responsible?
Anti-Muslim bigotry has been systematically nurtured in America for quite some time. The Islamophobia network, which includes funders, organizations, media outlets, propagandists, activists and political players, has been busy creating a climate of fear, hate and suspicion of Muslims in America. Far-right anti-Islam hate-mongers and leaders of the new atheist movement both play into this dynamic. Different as the two groups are, they have found a romantic connection in their common anti-Islam agenda. They continuously, and erroneously, portray extremism in parts of the Muslim world as representative of the Islamic faith.
Like any other religion, Islam is no monolith. I, for example, belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; a global reformist movement with tens of millions of members in over 200 countries in the world, all united under one leader, the Khalifa of Islam. Ahmadi Muslims promote freedom of speech and universal freedom of conscience in accordance with the teachings of Islam. We reject violent Jihad, apostasy laws, blasphemy laws and theocratic rule as un-Islamic. In turn, we face the wrath of extremists who seek to impose their hateful narrative on us by force. Like me, thousands of Ahmadi Muslims escape brutal persecution in countries such as Pakistan to find home in the West.
There is no denying the fact that religious extremism is a genuine problem in parts of the Muslim world. The biggest victims of such extremism are the Muslims themselves. Hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. To identify our faith by the actions of our killers is therefore callous and uncalled for. It is like defining Christians by the actions of the KKK, Jews by the JDL, and atheists by the atrocities committed by the League of militant atheists.
The Islamophobia network is guilty of exactly this. They are not fond of Muslims like me - and the vast majority of Muslims worldwide of all sects - who fight the terrorist ideology. A pluralistic, tolerant worldview from a Muslim is anathema to their anti-Islam agenda. This is why instead of siding with our reformist narrative, they flaunt the extremist narrative as the only credible one on Islam.
And this is what has led to the rise of Islamophobia in America.
For if in fact groups like ISIS are the true face of Islam, and if the propaganda that Muslim Americans engage in "stealth Jihad" to take over the country is true, why should my neighbor not look at me with suspicion and disgust? According to the family of the victims, radicalized new atheist Craig Hick viewed his Muslim neighbors in Chapel Hill the same way. For such a hate-fed paranoid neighbor, a 'parking dispute' is all it would take to tip them over.
The current climate of Islamophobia in America is disturbingly reminiscent of the anti-Semitism that was rife in early twentieth century Europe. The latest mass murder threat, in the backdrop of increased anti-Muslim bigotry, should therefore be taken seriously. We must not let the Islamophobia network instill paranoia of a patriotic and law-abiding American community and destroy the fabric of our society in the process. We must neutralize the rampant Islamophobia and call out those behind the mass hysteria.
So I leave you with this. Imagine your reaction if someone distributed fliers on your street calling for your murder. Now multiply that as a nationwide campaign against you and your entire demographic. Now multiply that as a well-funded campaign over the last 14 years against you, your entire demographic, and your children. That is the frightening glimpse of America's Islamophobia problem.
By working together against intolerance with education and outreach, we can solve this problem.