Donald Trump’s impact on Muslims in the US

Rahma El-Deeb, Staff reporter

Photo by Rahma El-Deeb. Lawrence Pintak (left) and Dean Dennis (right) at NU-Q on Feb. 18.

American Muslims have been a crucial part of American history, said Lawrence Pintak, journalist and author, whose life’s work has been focused on the relationship between America and Islam. As a founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, he taught courses that explored terrorism, Islam and the media.

Pintak visited Northwestern University in Qatar on Feb. 18 to share his views on the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on American Muslims in the country.

He began by highlighting Muslims’ strongly rooted American identity.

“Muslims have been in America since long before the colonies were even formed… scholars think that it was around 1527 that the first Muslims arrived on the American continent,” he said.

However, these facts tend to be disregarded. “Stereotypes run long and deep in the U.S. when it comes to Islam, this ‘othering’ of Islam,” Pintak said.

Othering is the alienation of a group of people that are characteristically different from one’s own, and in this case, Muslims are ‘othered’ due to their religious differences.

Pintak said the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were the major turning point in Americans’ perception of Muslims.

Pintak referred to a study by the Toronto-based 416 Labs, which reported that New York Times headlines, published between 1990 to 2014, portrayed Islam and Muslims more negatively than cancer. Only eight percent of headlines about Islam or Muslims were positive.

Although American Muslims became very active in response to the 9/11 attacks, they were quickly shut down by rising campaigns against mosques in the U.S., then later the Republican presidential nomination of Trump and the increased presence of ISIS in the West.

This negative portrayal was driven further by an “organized cabal” of Islamophobes who spent their lives fighting the religion. Many of these people have now ended up in the current White House administration, Pintak said.

As a result, American Muslim activists went underground and in many ways this was a “perfect storm” for politicians, according to Pintak. Americans’ perception of Muslims became more negative, and American Muslims were too afraid to be defensive.

This negative rhetoric began to undermine American Muslims when they tried to say they were different from the terrorists, especially when the terrorists were also American Muslims, Pintak said.

All of this was then followed by the 2016 elections which heavily revolved around anti-Muslim sentiment.

“In past American campaigns, we see American politicians bending over backward to seem more pro-Israel than the other guys, but in this campaign, we saw politicians bending over backward to seem more anti-Islam than the other guy,” Pintak said.

Yet, despite the rise in hatred against the Muslim community, there was still great disbelief among American Muslims that Trump would become president. They believed that Americans were too good, too smart or too welcoming to vote for him, Pintak explained.

But when Trump became president, chaos broke.

“[The imam] was speechless. He said, ‘I’ve told my wife not to leave the house tomorrow,’ and he said ‘My kids will go to school but I told them to be really careful. I know they are gonna get harassed, I just hope they don’t get beaten up,’” Pintak said, as he recalled a phone call he had with a local imam after the election results were announced.

This fear was only the beginning.

Cases of racism, harassment, and Islamophobia have become recurrent and all too common in the U.S., he said. Pintak recalled a news story where two men were killed for intervening against a white supremacist harassing two African-American Muslims.

However, despite all this, Pintak noted that “Muslims themselves are becoming much more proactive” against radicalization.

“There is a feeling that we need to police ourselves… we need to intervene when we see a kid going in the wrong direction,” Pintak said.

In response to this change of perspective, they are mounting early intervention campaigns and “running programs within the mosques and Muslim community that educate parents on how they can educate their kids if they see their kids going down the wrong road,” Pintak explained.

American Muslims are also stepping up and running for office in the 2018 midterm elections.

Pintak was especially happy to see that American Muslims have maintained their sense of humor too. This was showcased after Newsweek published a cover portraying a mob of Muslim men titled “Muslim Rage,” which led to a satirical Twitter hashtag. Under the hashtag #MuslimRage, some American Muslims began to tweet jokes, such as “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. #muslimrage.”

At the end of the day, though, what matters most is proactivity, he said. No matter what method American Muslims choose to fight back against their demonization in the media, they have now become “engaged in the community” and “energized rather than falling back into a siege mentality,” Pintak said.


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