Recent murders of Muslims illustrate the dangers of Islamophobia
originally published of the Socialist Organizer website
By John Leslie
The murder last week of 3 Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC, followed a few days later by the arson of an Islamic school in Houston, and an assault on an Arab-American family by two white men in a grocery store in Dearborn, shows the dangers of anti-Muslim rhetoric, prejudice and hatred.
The victims of the Chapel Hill murders: Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were excellent students who lived quietly. Deah, a dentistry student, was raising money for Syrian Dental Relief, a charity intended to provide dental care to refugees of the Syrian civil war in Turkey. Yusor, a graduate of NC State planned to enroll in the UNC dentistry school and her sister, Razan was an architecture student at NC State. The families of the victims are demanding that prosecutors consider this a hate crime.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, the release of the racist snuff film, American Sniper, and the much-publicized ISIS murder of a captive Jordanian pilot, anti-Muslim rhetoric has reached a fever pitch in the US.
The day after the murder of the students in Chapel Hill, Obama requested a 3-year authorization for the use force against ISIS.
Further US intervention can only bring more misery and despair to a region that has been wracked by war, disease and hunger. Obama’s war against ISIS can only be seen as the extension of a decades-long US imperialist war against the peoples of the Middle East. While carefully stating that the US is not at war with Islam, Obama has made it clear that he considers Islamic “extremism” a threat to the US citizens.
Islamophobia is a political and ideological prop for the national security state and imperialist intervention in Middle East and Africa. While prejudice against Muslims is nothing new, Islamophobic language has been used to legitimize imperialist interventions in the Middle East and Africa. Islamophobia has also served to demonize Muslims domestically and to justify the crackdown of civil liberties after the 9/11 terror attacks.
European far right and fascist parties have exploited fear of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, with attacks on Muslims and Mosques reaching record proportions in recent years. The growth surge of the European far right is a function of the incapacity of the traditional workers’ parties, both Social Democratic and Communist, to defend their traditional base from the effects of the world capitalist economic crisis. Often, these parties are complicit in neoliberal austerity schemes. Reactionaries have been able to exploit working class fears and insecurity by blaming immigrants for their woes.
Islamophobia exists as a sort of cultural racism which is based on the notion that Muslims are violent, barbaric and opposed to values of western society like free speech and democracy. This is even reflected in the liberal support for the war in Afghanistan under the guise of protecting the rights of Afghani women from the misogyny of the Taliban.
Islamophobia is not solely the territory of the Christian right. The role of the so-called “new” atheists has been particularly rotten. People like TV host Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins and former leftist Christopher Hitchens have placed themselves in service of empire using arguments against religion to drum up anti-Muslim hatred. Sam Harris, another of the new atheists, opined that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”
The Chapel Hill shooter, is not a supporter of the far right. By all accounts, he considers himself an atheist and is opposed to religions of all sort. He is even, reportedly, a supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
The murders in Chapel Hill must be seen in the context of the constant media barrage and inflammatory rhetoric against Islam by politicians of both parties. Muslims are less than one percent of the population of the United States, but many see them and their religious values as a threat to the United States.
This perceived threat flows from the way Muslims are portrayed on a day-to-day basis as unthinking, violent and barbaric. For example, the fake assertion on Fox News and by politicians like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that Muslims are intent on creating “no go” areas where only Muslims are welcome. Speaking on Fox News, Jindal referred to Muslim immigration to the US as an “invasion.” Anti-Muslim crimes make up about 13 or 14 percent of religiously-based hate crimes.
Building solidarity with Muslims against racism and xenophobia is an urgent task. The labor, antiwar and civil rights movements must take a clear stand against Islamophobia and religious hatred. As socialists, we believe in the democratic rights of all of the oppressed and exploited, including the right to free exercise of religion. We cannot rely of the politicians of either party or police agencies to defend the rights of Muslims. United front mass actions and educational campaigns against racism and Islamophobia are crucial in this period.