Commentary Religion

Anti-Islam Rhetoric Will Do Nothing to Stop Terror

Nashwa Khan

Each time an attack occurs, public figures seem willing to conflate terrorists and Muslims as interchangeable subjects. It draws divides of “us” versus “them” more blatantly. It reiterates that our people’s lives are worth less than non-Muslims.

The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have spurred a wave of anti-Islam sentiment among politicians and public figures in the United States.

In the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday, politicians and public figures at first focused on offering condolences, many while still defending the right to bear arms. Once Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were revealed as the suspected shooters, however, many, like Ted Cruz, were suddenly changing their tunes to push militaristic agendas.

Donald Trump has proposed asking Muslims to wear “badges” and claimed he saw people “cheering” as the World Trade Center collapsed. Bill Maher implied that Muslims do not share values with Americans, although there are many Muslim residents of the United States. Ted Cruz has called for a “religious test” for refugees in order to screen out Muslims hoping to flee the Syrian conflict zone. Following the tragedy on Wednesday in San Bernardino, Cruz also cited this as a “time of war” on Twitter, implying that President Obama has been “rationalizing radical Islamic terrorism,” presumably by not taking aggressive action overseas or in the United States.

Perhaps most tellingly, presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich gave a speech last month showing how he would create an agency mandated to spread “Judeo-Christian values,” followed by a piece in TIME reiterating his stance on the need for boots on the ground to combat the terror group ISIS.

Far from spreading any nuanced understanding of the political climate or empathy between communities, these sentiments play into an imperialist framework, one that suggests the only moral way of life is one consistent with a narrow set of beliefs belonging to specific faith groups in the West. For that matter, “Judeo-Christian values” will not stop terror, because promoting them in the way Kasich proposes reiterates the very divisions ISIS is exploiting and makes the assumption that Muslim values are synonymous with terror, which is both Islamophobic and untrue.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In a poor showing of understanding, this kind of rhetoric actually builds the growing tensions between communities. ISIS has positioned itself as a paradise for marginalized people, luring isolated Muslims and converts; public figures in the West stoking Islamophobia fuels the type of divisive narrative that makes that marginalization more severe. Kasich’s agency is particularly troubling in this context as it promotes continued interference abroad in the name of “freedom,” which Kasich cites as a “Judeo-Christian value,” along with “human rights” and democracy.” Arguably, the last decade of war and invasion was done with the intention of spreading these “values.” Terror groups like ISIS cite these years of Western interference, which have also included droning campaigns, religious persecution, and colonial legacies, as reasons for their attacks.

The speeches and discourse surrounding women and the “Western ethic” have also been extremely troubling. Kasich and others are quick to throw around the need to send messages of “respect for women,” presumably non-Western women. The military action taken on these women’s “behalf” seldom has a well thought-out plan and rarely seems authentic, robbing them of their agency entirely. And it is not as if these women are being offered any shelter in the United States once they have been displaced, either by Western action or terrorist groups. So who is to say initiatives like Kasich’s would do a better job?

And exclusionary, Islamophobic policies on U.S. soil will do nothing to stop terror. As Zack Beauchamp writes at Vox, denying refugees is doing exactly what ISIS wants:

ISIS despises Syrian refugees: It sees them as traitors to the caliphate. By leaving, they turn their back on the caliphate. ISIS depicts its territory as a paradise, and fleeing refugees expose that as a lie. But if refugees do make it out, ISIS wants them to be treated badly — the more the West treats them with suspicion and fear, the more it supports ISIS’s narrative of a West that is hostile to Muslims and bolsters ISIS’s efforts to recruit from migrant communities in Europe.

Furthermore, the values Kasich identifies as “Judeo-Christian” are not inherently linked to religion alone. Kasich stated, “U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering our opponents’ propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core, Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share—the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association.”

When has Christianity or Judaism ever been the only places for such values to exist—and where in those scriptures are these values particularly promoted? It seems as if Kasich is using these religions to disguise a paternalistic, condescending agenda that overlooks the possibility of morals without Judaism or Christianity, implying that they have to be taught to those who are not Jewish or Christian. This agenda also erases the fact that Islam promotes many of the same values as the Jewish and Christian faith. A number of fundamental Muslim values are anchored in human rights and equity, but all of these have been erased in the waves of Islamophobic rhetoric.

More broadly, the narratives being espoused by Trump, Kasich, Maher, and others overlook the fact that Muslims are being put at risk. Kasich, for example, seems to think that only Christian Syrians are the victims of ISIS. Not only is this inaccurate—more Muslims than Christians have been killed by ISIS—it ignores the fact that ISIS does uphold faith as an exclusionary criterion for its practice. Shia Muslims are a very specific target for ISIS, which has contributed to their genocide.

And as politicians have stoked more fear, an increasing number of stories of hate crimes and dangerous behavior toward visible Muslims have been arising in the U.S. media. Over Thanksgiving weekend, a Muslim taxi driver was shot in Pittsburgh; he told authorities that the passenger who did so faked a missing wallet, entered his home, and emerged with a rifle, shooting the driver. The driver told the Post-Gazette that the passenger spoke throughout the ride of the Prophet Mohammed and ISIS killing people. Meanwhile, a Texas man who had organized an armed protest outside a mosque also published on Facebook the home addresses and names of Muslims and “Muslim sympathizers.”

Still, when asked about those in the United States who don’t necessarily belong to the Jewish or Christian faiths, Kasich was unwavering. He said, “I also think that we have many moderate Muslims who share our views. … There are many of them that stand up and speak out and they should be included in this and they’d be a very effective part of this,” he responded. “So to support the Jewish and Christian tradition also involves the ability to have tolerance.”

As a practicing Muslim and active member of the larger community, this statement makes me uncomfortable. Kasich infers that many people should subscribe to religious traditions to which they don’t belong in the name of “tolerance.” Arguably, this undermines the entire foundation of tolerance, as true tolerance would encompass acceptance of people, regardless of faith.

Countless Islamic groups, scholars, religious leaders, and people, including myself, have denounced ISIS, yet each time an attack occurs, public figures seem willing to conflate terrorists and Muslims as interchangeable subjects. It draws divides of “us” versus “them” more blatantly. It reiterates that our people’s lives are worth less than Western non-Muslims.

It’s 2015. Beyond tolerance, can we move forward with co-existence?  

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

News Law and Policy

Texas Could Be Next to Give Police Hate Crime Protections

Teddy Wilson

Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed. There were 2 officers killed by firearms in Texas in 2015.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Monday that he would ask the state legislature to pass a law classifying acts of violence committed against law enforcement officers as hate crimes, mimicking a similar measure passed by Louisiana lawmaker.

Abbott said in a statement that the proposal is intended to send a message.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said.

Abbott will ask the GOP-held Texas legislature to pass the Police Protection Act during the upcoming 2017 legislative session, which convenes in January. The proposal would extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Abbott’s proposal would increase criminal penalties for any crime against a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether or not the crime qualifies as a hate crime. The proposal would create a campaign to “educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities.”

Abbott’s proposal comes in the wake of a shooting in Dallas that left five police officers dead, and six others injured. Micah Xavier Johnson targeted police officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, before he was killed by law enforcement.  

Police officers killed at least 1,146 people in the United States in 2015, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted. Police officers have shot and killed 165 people in Texas since the start of 2015. Of those, 35 were Black men, 12 of whom were unarmed, according to the Guardian’s database. There were two officers killed by gunfire in Texas in 2015, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Police in Texas have shot and killed 53 people so far in 2016, per the Guardian‘s database.

The Dallas shooting increased the urgency of calls to increase the penalties for violence against law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced similar legislation in Congress, designed to make killing a police officer a federal crime. Cornyn said in a statement that police officers protect communities and deserve “unparalleled support.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in May signed into law the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill, which amended the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against any “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

Proponents of laws creating more penalties for crimes against law enforcement claim these measures are needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while killings of civilians by police officers have risen dramatically.

Violent attacks on law enforcement officers are lower under President Obama than they have been under the previous four presidential administrations, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of data from the Officers Down Memorial Page.

During the Reagan presidency, there was an average of 101 law enforcement officers intentionally killed per year; during the George H.W. Bush administration, there was an average of 90 police killed per year; during the Clinton years, there was an average of 81 police killings annually; and during George W. Bush’s presidency, there was an average of 72 police killings via stabbings, gunfire, bombings, and vehicular assault per year.

There have been an average of 62 law enforcement officers killed annually during Obama’s seven and a half years in the White House.

The number of Texans who died during the course of an arrest almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, according to an analysis of state data by the Dallas Morning News. The increase in deaths coincided with a 20 percent reduction in the number of arrests statewide.

Matt Simpson, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that the number of deaths during arrests in Texas add to the evidence of systemic racism within the justice system.

“We have pretty strong evidence in a variety of ways that the criminal justice system is disproportionate,” Simpson said. “These numbers are unfortunately stark reminders.”