Jeb Bush said he wants Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, to be the first woman on the American dollar bill. Somehow, that wasn’t even the most eye-opening statement recently made by a GOP presidential candidate.
would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I
absolutely would not agree with that,” said Ben Carson on NBC’s “Meet
Carson's comment came shortly after fellow candidate Donald Trump, while taking questions at a rally, did not disagree with a man who said, “We have a problem in this country — it’s called Muslims.”
is just business as usual for some American politicians said Zainab Chaudry,
outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
seen a trend of anti-Muslim bigotry in the months leading up to
presidential elections, and this year is unfortunately turning out to be
one of the most extreme cases," she said.
So, why would a candidate so candidly denounce an entire group of people?
appealing to right wing conservatives, but there’s also — and Trump has
been a master of this too — the ability to say things that are
controversial for the sake of being controversial,” said Rahsaan Maxwell, UNC political science professor.
a tactic can prove both beneficial and detrimental to a campaign,
depending on the particular audience the candidate is hoping to reach.
“I think it can both help and hurt,” said Matthew Andrews, UNC
history professor. “It can appeal to some Americans who are looking to
point the finger of blame at easy answers to complicated problems.
History has demonstrated that it can help, but it is a dangerous
The George Wallace Effect
decade is the 1950s, the state is Alabama and the politician is
Democrat George Wallace. A moderate on race relations with the backing
of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
Wallace lost the gubernatorial race to John Malcolm Patterson — a man
Andrews said was “a hard line segregationist, who did not flinch when
using the N-word in Alabama.”
his defeat, Wallace vowed to out-racist his competition moving forward,
said Andrews. Adopting a hard line segregationist stance, Wallace went
on to become one of the South’s flagship politicians in the 1960s, and
even made a legitimate run for president in the 1970s.
on his loss to Patterson, reportedly said, "You know, I tried to talk
about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been
part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about
n*ggers, and they stomped the floor."
Wallace is among a class of
politicians who are able to ride fear mongering all the way through
elections. “He was appealing to the anxieties and the fears of the
people whose votes he needed,” Andrews said.
But this is 2015,
and the political landscape is different. Debashis Aikat, associate
professor in the UNC School of Media & Journalism, said the base
that fear-mongers appeal to has diminished.
is always an ignorant minority that is very vocal. These leaders are
not doing themselves any favors by pandering to that ignorance,” he
said. Trump particularly, may be living his salad days in the polls.
The Birth of Islamophobia
Muslim community now finds itself in a place that many other racial,
ethnic and religious groups in American history have been in before. The
Wallace Effect is not just a political example — Muslims are the target
of bigotry, attacked for their appearance and used as a political ploy.
“You could imagine that in a couple of decades the Islamic
[fear] thing disappears, and hopefully they won’t fall into the same
complications as the black-white relationship,” Maxwell said.
the fall of the twin towers came the rise of Islamophobia — dislike or
prejudice against Muslims or Islam, particularly used as a political
force. Post-9/11, a wave of anxiety swept across the nation, and no
Muslim-American escaped suspicion.
This case is analogous to the
events following Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes surprise attacked
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in the early morning — after which the meaning of
being a Japanese-American changed.
“There was no effort made to differentiate between Japanese Americans who were loyal versus unloyal,” Andrews said.
Muslims in the U.S. have endured a very similar stereotype.
short version: The construction of new Islamic cultural centers faced
violent and vocal opposition. The Quran was “put on trial” by a pastor
in Florida, who threatened to burn 200 copies of the Islamic holy book. A
Muslim 14-year-old was detained by police for bringing a ticking clock
to school, thought (incorrectly) to be a bomb. A Sikh man was attacked
in Chicago, while allegedly being called “terrorist” and “Bin Laden.”
Islamophobia — while in the national spotlight — exists on a local
level as well in Chapel Hill. In Feb. 2015, three young Muslims were
killed, including Deah Barakat, a second year student in UNC’s School of
Dentistry. His wife planned on enrolling, and her sister was a student
While the shooter’s defense points toward a parking
dispute and mental health issues, the victims' families assume race
played a factor.
“It’s complicated and we still may not have the
full story, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to ask whether their
identity as Muslim Americans had something to do with it. I have talked
to Muslim American students who have told me they don’t feel safe in
Chapel Hill, and I can’t speak for them, but that is troubling to hear
from anyone,” Andrews said.
UNC also faced controversy when a UNC
freshman accused a first-year seminar — called ‘Literature of 9/11’ —
of sympathizing with terrorists. “I believe that someone who studies the
literature of 9/11 best knows what to teach in their class, so I resent
the idea of people telling this instructor what they should or should
not say,” Andrews said.
“Rather than trying to dismiss what they
did, I think the point of studying the past, studying history is to try
to learn why people did what they did. It doesn’t mean we have to accept
or agree with what they did, but what can we as a nation learn from
this. Why did they feel so aggrieved that they did this? September 11th
was not just a New York story, it was a global story," he said.
Social media isn’t just for this sharing this, or this
— it’s become a news cycle and the collective voice of a people, Aikat
said. Twitter, especially, became the medium people took to to respond
to Carson's anti-Muslim statements, adopting the satirical hashtag
Any carpeting or mats shall be removed from the white house.
don’t have to be rich or be a politician to say what you think," Aikat
said. “I think this country has shown a lot of maturity in trying to
share opinions that countered Ben Carson’s and it shows that
Islamophobia is a perception. America is a place where different
religions, different people, all thrive together."
But while the
media — particularly Twitter — can #bless, it can also perpetuate
harmful stereotypes. “I think there are so many misunderstandings about
the religion itself and about Muslims, and I think the media has had a
large role to play in that,” Chaudry said.
This 2005 poll
reveals that while Muslims were not viewed unfavorably as a whole, they
were viewed as by far the most dangerous religion. So what can we do?
Let’s Talk About It Fam
Aikat said the best thing that can be done to combat blindly
anti-Muslim views is to discuss it in the mainstream. “The fact that we
are talking about Islamophobia is a sign that our nation is ahead,” he
So, keep talking. Keep asking why. And congrats reader, this conversation is important. Help yourself to some artisanal water.