Biden won the election... now what for America's Muslims?

Biden won the election... now what for America's Muslims?
7 min read
13 Nov, 2020
Comment: America's deep-rooted structural challenges will not go away with the inauguration of President Biden, and correcting these inequalities must be a priority, writes Dalia Mogahed.
Almost 70% of American Muslims voted for Biden [Getty]
On Election Day, my WhatsApp was flooded with messages from fellow American Muslims sharing everything from minute-by-minute updates on the election to chocolate chip cookie recipes for managing anxiety. But one friend's post perhaps captured the mood best. It was a popular prayer, usually recited during times of distress; "Oh God, do not give authority over us to one who has no spiritual awareness of You and no compassion for us."  

Like so many other vulnerable minority groups this election, the stakes were high for the American Muslim community. According to exit polls, the majority of American Muslims cast their vote for Joe Biden, and many will be relieved about his victory. Yet despite their preferred choice prevailing, Muslims have a lot of work to do moving forward.

Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris have vowed to overturn the so-called Muslim Ban on their first day in office, and this would be a significant step forward, uniting millions of families and putting an end to a racist-campaign-promise-turned-policy.

However, the challenges Muslims face cannot be overturned with a single executive order. Institutional Islamophobia goes well beyond the Muslim ban... and Trump.

Islamophobia is often cast as microaggressions - a nasty stare, verbal assault or at worst a targeted act of violence from an angry individual or group. While all of these experiences are incredibly damaging and unacceptable, by far the greatest perpetrators of Islamophobic harm is the state - in both Republican and Democratic administrations.  From mass surveillance of Muslim communities, to casting the commuinty as a pool of suspects with Countering Violent Extremism programmes, the state under both parties has targeted Muslims disproportionately.

The state under both parties has targeted Muslims disproportionately

In one study, ISPU found that from 2001 and 2015, i.e. under both a Republican and Democratic administration, Muslim-percieved defendents accused of attempting ideologically motivated violent plots received far harsher sentences than white-supremicst or far right defendants accused of almost identical and sometimes more severe crimes. 

Likewise, under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the Department of Justice was far more likely to issue a press release touting a "foiled plot" when the defendants were Muslim. Interesting, undercover law enforcement supplied the would-be weapon in almost all the cases involving a Muslim defendent, and almost none of the cases involing right-wing extremists.

The same study also found that the so-called "liberal media" epitomised in the New York Times and the Washington Post gave cases involving a Muslim-percieved defendent 770 percent more coverage than similar cases not involving a Muslim.

While involvement in such criminal proceedings only involves a tiny fraction of the community, structural Islamophobia impacts many ordinary people just living their lives as law-abiding citizens. Year after year, the majority of Muslims say they've experienced discrimination because of their faith, and among them, between roughly a quarter and a half say it occured while applying for a job, receiving healthcare or flying while Muslim. 

These deep-rooted structural challenges will not go away with the inauguration of President Biden, and correcting these inequalities must be a priority of the next administration and those who engage them.  

The legacy of Trump won't go away overnight

After the 2016 elections, nearly half of Muslim women said they feared for their personal safety and that of their family from white supremacists and neo-Nazis. They weren't just being paranoid. President Trump's hateful rhetoric and nods to white supremacy have emboldened and fueled hate groups to carry out record numbers of violent attacks on Muslims and other minorities.

A contested loss to their favoured presidential candidate will likely fuel further targeted violence, not less. Biden released a three-point
plan to address hate crimes on the anniversary of the Poway synagogue shooting, which increases funding for communities to protect their non-profits and other measures. American Muslims must work hand in hand with other targeted groups to address this legacy of the Trump presidency.

Sadly, targeted harassment is not limited to adults.  Roughly half of Muslim families with children in school say their kids have been bullied for their faith in the past year, and in a full third of the cases the bully was a teacher or adminstrator.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to claim that Islamophobia started with President Trump. However, the belief among ordinary Republicans that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths has skyrocketed during the past four years, despite the fact that white supremacists and right-wing extremists were responsible for nearly all ideologically motivated violence on American soil during this time. 

American Muslims must work hand in hand with other targeted groups to address this legacy of the Trump presidency

For perspective, in 2002, shortly after the attacks of 9/11, when then Republican President Bush called the nation toward calm and not prejudice, 33 percent of Republicans held this view. In 2017, despite no new attacks by Muslims, that number was 70 percent, underscoring the power of leadership to calm the country or stoke hate.

Similarly, The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where I serve as Director of Research, found that partisanship, namely being a Republican, was a strong predictor of anti-Muslim views. More specifically, one of the qualities Trump supporters shared was higher average scores on the Islamophobia Index, a measure of the public's level of endorsement of anti-Muslim tropes.

Muslims and their allies must work to challenge and confront bigotry and racism in the US with education and relationship building, and this includes internalised Islamophobia.

Muslims are consuming the same rhetoric and media as everyone else, resulting in a level of endorsement of Islamophobic tropes among Muslims themselves. Muslims are also the most likely faith community to say that they feel personally ashamed when a member of their faith community does something violent. Not only have many Muslims internalised Islamophobic tropes about their own community, but they have internalised the collective blame that goes along with them.

It also includes intra-Muslim racism and colorism. Roughly a third of Black Muslims report experiencing racism from their own faith community in the past year. While Muslims who are Black report experiencing more frequent racial discrimination from outside their faith community, it always hurts more when its from a sibling in faith. The majority of non-Black Muslims say they support Black Lives Matter, with Muslim women and young Muslims on a par with Black Muslims in this regard. It is time to turn this sense of solidarity into a strategy of racial healing.

Building on progress

Muslim communities have often responded to the hostile political climate of the past four years with greater civic engagement and solidarity with other targeted groups.  

Among eligible voters, registration has steadily increased from 60 percent in 2016 to 78 percent in 2020. Moreover, though still behind other faith communities in voter registration, American Muslims actually surpass Protestants in their likelihood to volunteer for a political campaign or attend a town hall, both examples of deepening civic engagement.

We also know that after the results of the 2016 elections many Muslims reported increasing their support for Muslim civil society through volunteering and financial contributions.  

Many Muslims internalised Islamophobic tropes about their own community

And this engagement includes greater solidarity. The majority of Muslims in the US of all racial backgrounds favour their faith community building coalitions with The Black Lives Matter movement. We also know that anti-Black racism in the general public is linked to Islamophobia, and that a full third of Muslims are Black so the two communities are not mutually exclusive by any means.

Another ray of hope from the past four years is the improvement of Jews' views of Muslims. The Jewish community has been singular in their diminishing levels of Islamophobia year after year. In 2020, American Jews were as likely as Muslims themselves to endorse anti-Muslim tropes. 

Moreover, perhaps Trump's famed "tell it like it is" style has helped Americans to recognise Islamophobia as a real problem, and over the past four years the majority of Americans have come to agree that Muslims face discrimination because of their religion. The first step in solving a societal problem is to acknowledge it exists.

Muslims and their allies would do well to leverage these assets to call America to her espoused values. 

Dalia Mogahed is the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where she leads the organisation's pioneering research and thought leadership programs on American Muslims.

Follow her on Twitter: @DMogahed

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.