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It’s the Work of Madmen!

Islamophobia After the San Bernardino Mass Shooting

written by S.C.

For Bennetta Betbadal of Rialto, CA, Christmas was a cherished holiday. As a refugee from “Islamic extremism...that followed the Iranian Revolution", she was naturally delighted to celebrate the holidays with her co-workers at a workplace party in San Bernardino, CA. On December 2, 2015, however, Betbadal became a mere name, accompanied by thirteen others, on a list of victims of a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center.

 

Fourteen partygoers commemorating an exceptional year for their municipal public health department were ruthlessly massacred by a fanatical and suicidal couple, comprising of a zealous wife and her husband, a disgruntled former employee who used Islam as an excuse to massacre innocents. The victims of their rampage ranged from fresh college graduates eager to start their careers to baby boomers keen on retiring with a comfortable pension; nonetheless, they all shared a similar dream — working towards a more enjoyable life — and suffered a similar fate, dying at the hands of madmen during what was a moment of celebration.

 

The major news outlets gave immense coverage to the entire situation and explained thoroughly what exactly happened and any possible ramifications. Yet, due to the perpetrators claiming to represent the Muslim faith, mass hysteria swept over the nation as the media emphasized the shooters’ religion, turning the words “Islam” and “Muslim” into synonyms for “death” and “destruction”. Although already widely spread in the USA, Islamophobia exploded as Muslims began being singled out for assisting the shooters by simply belonging to the same religious denomination. In both red and blue neighborhoods, Islam became synonymous with evil. Even worse, the leading Republican primary candidate at the time and current president-elect, Donald Trump, added fuel to the fire by declaring a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the United States "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." For the first time since Reconstruction, a major party presidential candidate spewed out blatant racism and hatred — not to a particular race or ethnicity — like historically, but to a religion with a following of more than 1 billion, most of whom are ostensibly not terrorists. Furthermore, Trump not only encouraged Islamophobia and the ostracization of Muslims in his denunciations but also advocated a ban on its followers from legally immigrating to the USA, a nation founded on diversity and tolerance. In other words, Trump deemed and still deems Muslims, especially refugees such as Betbadal, to be unfit to pursue the American Dream purely because of the antics of an extreme faction of Islam. Clearly, with an anti-immigrant and isolationist firebrand in our nation’s highest office, Islamophobia will continue to grow unchecked.

 

Case in point, the San Bernardino attack was used by Trump as a medium to scapegoat the entire Muslim community in America for, according to our next commander-in-chief, not “reporting the problems when they see them”. Much like in his earlier response to the IS-coordinated shooting in Paris, Trump laid the blame on a religion and its followers for the tragedy instead of on the actual perpetrators and refused to propose any solution with substance, being rather satisfied with solely arousing prospective voters with chants of hateful and intolerant rhetoric. Trump wasn’t the only one, though; many others, like Trump loyalists Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, similarly used inflammatory buzzwords immediately after the incident to paint Islam as a religion of fanatical suicide bombers and ruthless beheadings. Islamophobia cemented itself into the minds of the American populace as the only rational choice to combat the fear of terrorist bombings and shootings.

 

To illustrate this rapid growth of fear-induced hatred, since the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, more than 73 acts of Islamophobic violence have occurred in North America alone. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the rate of hate crimes in the U.S. towards Muslims on 9/11/2016 was actually substantially higher than following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Terrorism has waned since the 9/11 attacks, but hate crimes towards Muslims have not. From the cold-blooded execution-style murders of two Muslims walking home from service to near-daily verbal harassments towards the lay Muslim, Islamophobic incidents have especially skyrocketed since the Paris attacks and the following San Bernardino shooting. This violence isn’t just affecting certain Muslim communities in heavily conservative parts of America. In fact, Islamophobia has cemented itself into the minds of Americans everywhere. Even in liberal and tolerant neighborhoods, bigoted rhetoric has left its mark. To learn more regarding the effects of the current phenomenon of ignorance towards Islam in normal American towns, I spoke to ordinary practicing Muslims in my community.

 

Muhammad is an archetypal American, born in America to immigrants, residing in a suburban neighborhood, and going to a reputable public high school. However, as a Muslim, Muhammad is discriminated against occasionally, whether being directly targeted for his religion or being the victim of the subconscious passive-aggressive actions of others.

 

According to his personal experience, though, the prejudice towards Muslims found in our community, nestled in an extremely liberal area of California, is “dwarfed by the prejudice faced by Muslims in larger and more conservative communities. Prejudice is still prejudice, but it’s mainly offensive words and gestures that I encounter.” As a matter of fact, Muhammad states that Islamophobia isn’t the people’s natural reaction to terrorist attacks; it’s the media’s. Although excellent in covering terrorism as it happens, editorialized news networks often succumb to ignorance in covering the aftermath of a particular terrorist attack. As the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting has shown us, the victims of these tragedies are silenced and aren’t able to voice their personal concerns, while radical figures such as Trump receive free press to stir up angry mobs with uninformed and narrow-minded policies. This imbalance in coverage is what causes Islamophobia to be present everywhere but vary in severity. In addition, watching coverage of all the terrible things IS does daily won’t help anyone feel sympathy for Muslims. In lieu of discrediting Islam as a religion of peace through its broadcasts, the media should rather be memorializing terrorist victims and covering the global efforts to eradicate terrorism. This way, viewers will understand the situation better and not succumb to the inflammatory rhetoric Trump and others spew.

 

Fourteen human lives were lost in a brutal massacre during a festive celebration. Bernetta Betbadal was killed without cause and without warning by deranged extremists. In order to prevent further violence against innocents in America and around the world, communities everywhere, whether in tolerant or intolerant areas, must take a step back and modify their stances on Islam to prevent both further terrorism and further Islamophobia. The fact of the matter is that the two evils are intertwined and everywhere. Luckily, we can destroy both by shunning ignorance and embracing the hard truth.