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After the New York Bomb, Muslim Americans Are Braced for a Backlash

It is profoundly unfair to hold Muslim America collectively responsible for the violent acts of a few.

September 20, 2016

This article originally ran at The Guardian.

Terrorism has strained traditional American notions of individual responsibility. While such attacks fortunately remain rare in our country (data shows that out of 14,000 murders in the United States, a few dozen per year are motivated by religious or political ideologies of any persuasion), violence by a Muslim is often attributed to the entire American Muslim community. Sometimes, it is accompanied by calls for sending them home or clamping down on them in various ways. Even before police identified Ahmad Khan Rahami as the person suspected of setting off the bomb that exploded in New York on Saturday night, social media was awash with anti-Muslim slurs and threats. A Twitter campaign launched to support Muslims was hijacked to spread fear and hatred instead.

Already reeling from the divisive and bitter rhetoric that has marked the current presidential campaign, Muslim Americans are bracing for the backlash. My own Facebook page is flooded with warnings not to leave home and tips for staying safe if one does venture out, especially directed to those of us who look “Muslim” – like the two young Brooklyn mothers in headscarves who were attacked earlier this month while out walking their infants in strollers. Their fears are hardly misplaced. According to a recent analysis by California State University, a compilation of official hate crime data from 20 states shows that in 2015 anti-Islam incidents increased by 78.2% and anti-Arab incidents jumped by 219%, “the most precipitous rise since 2001”. Another study shows that mosques have been attacked at rates not seen since the 2010 controversy over building an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

Increased monitoring and visits by law enforcement officers is another consequence often faced by Muslim communities in the wake of a terror attack. While investigative needs no doubt require police to question those who knew any person suspected of a violent crime, too often these nets are cast so wide that neighborhoods and communities – rather than individuals – become targets. This too creates fear among Muslim Americans and a sense that they are collectively regarded as suspects rather than citizens. While calls for profiling might create a splash in the news, study after study has shown that it is an ineffective tool for keeping us safe.

We do not yet know much about the motives of the person or people responsible for the weekend’s attacks. We do know that it is profoundly unfair to hold Muslim America collectively responsible for the violent acts of a few. It is also exactly what terrorist groups want: to sow fear and provoke governments and people to overreact. Our elected officials have been commendably restrained in their reaction to the most recent attacks. We would do well to pay attention to those like Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota (which also saw a knife attack over the weekend) who called on Americans to “rise above this tragic incident and to remember our common humanity, our shared citizenship, and our shared desires to live together peacefully.” That is the type of collective responsibility we should all embrace.

(Photo: Getty)