We have a long history of prejudice towards Muslims.
For decades if not centuries, there have been pockets of Islamophobia and anti-Arabism in the United States. For example, throughout the twentieth century, numerous American films depicted Muslims and people from the Middle East as devious, violent and murderous, and popular Objectivist writer Ayn Rand disparaged the Arabs during their war with Israel in October 1973, declaring, “When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are.”
Generally, waves of prejudice against Muslims and Arabs have coincided with turmoil between the U.S. government and countries with a predominantly Muslim population, such being the case during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran and the Persian Gulf War of 1991. In fact, following the Gulf War, many Americans suspected that such tragedies as the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City and the crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 were the work of Muslims, even though the terrorists behind the Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols, and Timothy McVeigh were both born in the U.S. and the midair breakup of Flight 800 was likely caused by an explosion in a fuel tank, perhaps triggered by a short circuit.
In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, hostilities against Arabs and Muslims rose to an all-time high. From 1996, to 2000, hate crimes against Muslims only averaged roughly 25 per year. In 2001, there were nearly 500, with an appreciable bulk doubtlessly happening after September 11. Though there was a sharp decrease to roughly 150 the following year, the average yearly number of prejudicial crimes against Muslims has fluctuated between approximately 100 and 150, more than five times the yearly average before September 11.
The lingering effects of this particular paradigm shift are particularly evident some fourteen years later, as evidenced by responses to a question asking Muslims how 9/11 has affected their lives posted to Reddit on August 24, 2015. The stories people tell regarding their shame about being named Osama, a common Arabic name meaning “lion,” with one having his name changed shortly afterward and another reluctantly taking the nickname “Ozzie,” are the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the thread, there are tales of ostracism from social circles, menacing cries of “sand nigger,” shaming by teachers, terminations of employment, vandalism, assault, fears that Muslims would be herded into concentration camps during the George W. Bush years, and in one particular story, a crippling case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of course, none of the people who jump on the “I hate Muslims” bandwagon never imagine that the both the Old and New Testaments of the Judeo-Christian Bible contain more than twice as many violent verses as the Quran; that since September 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims, or that the majority of the world’s Muslim’s oppose terrorism. Hell, I have known dozens if not hundreds of Muslims throughout my life, and there was not a single terrorist among them. As a matter of fact, the only times any of them subjected me to anything resembling violence was at the chessboard. However, I am happy to say that not only was nobody actually physically hurt in that case but that at times, the moves I played were pretty damn devastating.
Unfortunately, regardless of what the hard data says, confirmation bias, particularly the kind that has gripped American society since September 11, 2001, is a bastard to shake.
Featured image: Khaled Bey via Twitter.