Today, there are about 3.3 million Muslims living in America. Many Muslims describe experiencing some form of Islamophobia during their daily lives and report that such incidents are on the rise. The experiences range from explicit hostility, to what are described as “odd looks.” It has become commonplace to ascribe any terrorist event as the work of “Islamic extremists,” long before the facts are complete.
The way people look at us has changed, Tongues have loosened. No one is afraid of telling a Muslim to ‘go back home’ anymore.
— Halima Djalab Bouguerra – The New York Times
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many Americans became fearful of anyone who looked as if they were from an Arab country. People would not board an airplane if a woman was wearing a Hijab or a Burqa, or if a man wore a Taqiyah or a Keffiyah. Passengers will often report a person speaking in Arabic to airline staff. While many Muslims regard this as Islamophobia, many non-Muslims say it is only showing caution.
The rise of ISIS with its extreme history of personalized violence has reinforced this fear. To many Americans, it makes sense to heighten surveillance of Muslim Americans to search out the radical extremists within the larger group. How to achieve a balance between respect for the religion and the legitimate concern that there are a significant number of Muslims living in the U.S. who follow Sharia Law and support the terrorist activities of ISIS, will continue to challenge the country.
Many Americans differentiate between Muslim people and the Islamic religion. Donald Trump can say, “I love Muslims,” in one sentence and propose a ban on anyone who believes in Islamic law in the next.
The percentage of Americans who have an unfavorable view of Islam has increased in the years since 9/11. A Brookings Institute poll showed that 61 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Islamic religion. The same poll revealed that 53 percent hold a favorable view of Muslim people.
Islamophobia has taken hold even more firmly in Europe. Many observers felt that Britain decision to exit the E.U. was a rejection of the open immigration policies requiring Britain to accept Muslim immigrants. A Pew Research poll reported that only 33 percent of people across 10 EU countries said that multiculturalism had made their country a better place to live.
At the end of the day, it often comes down to whether or not people have a personal connection to a Muslim. Bill Murray captured this quite nicely:
There is a phobia about what Muslims are like. I have known about two-dozen [Muslims]. I went to school in Paris with Muslims. Most were from Iran. I found them much to be like friends back home. I was raised as a Catholic. It was always Catholics against Jews. I’m in Hollywood. There are lots of nutty Jews and lots of nutty Catholics. Muslims are just as goofy, too. It is what makes the garden beautiful: Not every flower is the same.
— Bill Murray – The Daily Beast