American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear

American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear

by Khaled A. Beydoun

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“I remember the four words that repeatedly scrolled across my mind after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. ‘Please don’t be Muslims, please don’t be Muslims.’ The four words I whispered to myself on 9/11 reverberated through the mind of every Muslim American that day and every day after.… Our fear, and the collective breath or brace for the hateful backlash that ensued, symbolize the existential tightrope that defines Muslim American identity today.”
The term “Islamophobia” may be fairly new, but irrational fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims is anything but. Though many speak of Islamophobia’s roots in racism, have we considered how anti-Muslim rhetoric is rooted in our legal system?
Using his unique lens as a critical race theorist and law professor, Khaled A. Beydoun captures the many ways in which law, policy, and official state rhetoric have fueled the frightening resurgence of Islamophobia in the United States. Beydoun charts its long and terrible history, from the plight of enslaved African Muslims in the antebellum South and the laws prohibiting Muslim immigrants from becoming citizens to the ways the war on terror assigns blame for any terrorist act to Islam and the myriad trials Muslim Americans face in the Trump era. He passionately argues that by failing to frame Islamophobia as a system of bigotry endorsed and emboldened by law and carried out by government actors, U.S. society ignores the injury it inflicts on both Muslims and non-Muslims. Through the stories of Muslim Americans who have experienced Islamophobia across various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, Beydoun shares how U.S. laws shatter lives, whether directly or inadvertently. And with an eye toward benefiting society as a whole, he recommends ways for Muslim Americans and their allies to build coalitions with other groups. Like no book before it, American Islamophobia offers a robust and genuine portrait of Muslim America then and now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520305533
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 612,857
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Khaled A. Beydoun is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law and Senior Affiliated Faculty at the University of California–Berkeley Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project. A critical race theorist, he examines Islamophobia, the war on terror, and the salience of race and racism in American law. His scholarship has appeared in top law journals, including the California Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review. 
In addition, he is an active public intellectual and advocate whose commentary has been featured in the New York Times and Washington Post as well as on the BBC, Al Jazeera English, ESPN, and more. He is a native of Detroit and has been named the 2017 American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Advocate of the Year and the Arab American Association of New York’s 2017 Community Champion of the Year.

Read an Excerpt


What Is Islamophobia?

Through its policies of racial profiling and racially targeted immigration enforcement, the state has adjudged all "Muslim looking people" to be terrorists.

Muneer I. Ahmad, "A Rage Shared by Law"

I think it is because of the way we look and the way we dress.

Yusor Abu-Salha

Yusor Abu-Salha was far more than the headscarf she carefully wrapped around her head every morning and removed every night. The twenty-one-year-old was a fresh college graduate, having just earned a degree in biology from North Carolina State University. She had plans to attend the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry — her top-choice program — in the fall of 2015 and had begun prepping for it months before she would formally set foot in a dental school class. She wore a wide smile on her face nearly every day after ripping open the envelope that contained her letter of acceptance, and she felt absolutely fortunate about the opportunities her country granted her. She wrote, "Growing up in America has been such a blessing. And although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is ... our culture."

Yusor was also a newlywed. She had just married her college sweetheart, twenty-two-year-old Deah, who, like her, loved hip-hop music and community service, and who was working toward a career in dentistry. The two were tied at the hip, pushing their close friend Omar Alnatour to call them "the most perfect couple I have ever seen." Deah himself was a second-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry and had helped his wife piece together a compelling application so that she could follow in his footsteps. In fact, the young couple frequently talked about establishing their own dental clinic and one day lending their skills to help poor patients in the Middle East, as well as serving neglected patient communities at home in North Carolina.

These are dreams that young people in their early twenties often have. But anybody who knew Yusor and Deah also knew that these two possessed the drive and work ethic to convert these dreams into reality. Yusor's younger sister, nineteen-year-old Razan, who roomed with the young couple in their Chapel Hill apartment, certainly believed that her older sister and brother-in-law would one day make good on their dreams. Razan, who had an infectious sense of humor and loved watching Animal Planet, had dreams of her own, which included becoming an architect, something she began to work toward as a freshman at the NC State School of Design. Yusor, Deah, and Razan were three young Muslim Americans with their entire lives ahead of them, with dreams not unlike those held by other young people their age.

On February 10, 2015, the dreams of these three Muslim American students were permanently deferred and violently put to rest. Sometime before 5:00 p.m. on that day, a forty-four-year-old neighbor, Craig Hicks, executed Yusor, Razan, and Deah. The two girls were shot in the head and Deah was sprayed with bullets by Hicks after an alleged "dispute over a parking spot," several news outlets reported. Yet the execution-style murder of the three students, and the blood that poured from their heads and stained their apartment carpet, evidenced that this was no parking dispute, but a hate crime — a hate crime aimed squarely at the faith of the three. "Parking disputes don't end in triple murders," my mother later told me, dismissing the weak motive that could hardly conceal the unhinged Islamophobia that triggered Hicks's actions that February afternoon. The gruesome facts, and the history of tension between Hicks and the three students, revealed that hate was at the heart of this murder. One didn't need a law degree to draw this conclusion.

Hicks's violent murder of Yusor, Razan, and Deah shook Muslim America. It spurred vigils on college campuses and at community centers, prayers at mosques nationwide, and heartfelt displays of mourning by friends, family, and complete strangers on social media. "It could've been my friends, or maybe even me," said my eighteen-year-old niece, Du'aa Hachem, then an incoming freshman at the University of Michigan–Dearborn who, like Yusor and Razan, wore the hijab — the headscarf many Muslim women choose to wear to express their spiritual devotion. This sentiment was hardly hers alone, but was shared by Muslim Americans across the country, particularly students and young women.

The murder of the three Muslim American students also signaled that Islamophobia was racing at a frightening new clip. The sisters' hijab often invited strange looks and stares from strangers. After all, North Carolina is in the heart of the South, which becomes more "southern" when one travels beyond the relatively tolerant confines of Chapel Hill, Durham, and the broader Research Triangle area. For Hicks, Yusor's and Razan's headscarves signaled that they were Muslims — a faith routinely vilified on Fox News, one singled out as the source of "homegrown radicalization" by the Obama administration's national security program, and one brazenly slandered by the entire field of Republican presidential hopefuls vying for their party's nomination. As Yusor said to her father before she was killed, "I think it is because of the way we look and the way we dress.'" In the United States today, this hatred is especially potent given the heightening degree of Islamophobia coming from the media, the state, and other sources.

Although they lived next door to him, Hicks did not regard Yusor, Razan, and Deah as neighbors. In fact, he did not even perceive them primarily as college students. He perceived them, rather, as outsiders, interlopers, and foreigners — above all, as enemies of the state who warranted the suspicion and scowls he routinely darted their way when they crossed paths in the hallway, the common areas, or in the parking lot — and on that Tuesday afternoon inside the Finley Forest Condominiums in Chapel Hill, he believed they deserved extrajudicial punishment in the name of patriotism. Hicks decided to take the law, and the anti-terror objectives of the state, into his hands by executing them. While the students grew accustomed to Hicks's stares and scowls, they likely could have never imagined that their hate-filled neighbor would become their reaper. However, the ideas and images Hicks consumed about Islam, terrorism, and the hijab on television would mobilize his hate into unspeakable violence.

But what role did war-on-terror law and policy, founded on the narrative that Muslim identity correlates with terror suspicion, have on the murder of these three Muslim American students? Was Hicks's fear and hatred of Islam irrational, or was it fueled by the stereotypes of the faith and its followers he regularly heard on the radio and watched on television, and, therefore, rational? Furthermore, was he a deviant actor whose horrific acts were the result of his own motives alone? Or was Hicks collaborating in the broader national project of policing, prosecuting, and punishing Muslims — the formal mission of the war on terror, that ambiguous and unconventional war authorized by counterterror laws like the USA PATRIOT Act, Countering Violent Extremism, and, two years after the triple murder, the Muslim ban enacted by President Trump?

Could Hicks's murder of the three students, fondly remembered as "our three winners" by their family members and Muslim American activists, be tied to formal state policy? To what degree does a broadening and deepening body of national security, immigration, and local law enforcement policy — policy that holds Muslim identity as presumptive of terror suspicion — encourage Hicks and other hatemongers to express their private Islamophobia through words or slurs, violence, or votes? What are the connections between the state policies and structures tasked with policing Muslim citizens and immigrants and the acts of individuals who target, victimize, and in the case of Yusor, Razan, and Deah, murder Muslims? By advancing a new and comprehensive definition of Islamophobia, this chapter uncovers this nexus and the other salient connections that tie the official pronouncements and programs of the state to the behavior of individuals.

The media coverage following the murders at Chapel Hill profiled Hicks as an irrational actor who was not influenced by the legal structures that aimed to cast Muslims as presumptive terrorists, a characterization that aligns with the prevailing understanding of Islamophobia as a "dislike of or prejudice against Muslims" generally exhibited by individuals. However, this narrow framing not only overlooks the state's role in authorizing and emboldening the unfathomable acts (of private Islamophobia) undertaken by individuals like Craig Hicks, but it also overlooks the mutually reinforcing relationship between the state and media institutions like Fox News.

Furthermore, understandings of Islamophobia that tie it exclusively to private actors also fail to acknowledge that Islamophobia is structural. It is propagated by law and perpetuated by policy, policy that fluidly communicates damaging stereotypes and misrepresentations about Muslims to the broader polity, which has the effect of endorsing popular views and misconceptions, and at the extreme, emboldening hate and violence directed at Muslims and individuals incorrectly perceived as Muslims. Framing Islamophobia as more than merely hate held or violence inflicted by private individuals, and tying it to government structures and legal pronouncements and policies, is vital for uncovering and understanding each of its three principal dimensions. I will start with a foundational definition of Islamophobia, followed by a careful examination of these three dimensions.


This book offers a new understanding of Islamophobia, defining it as the presumption that Islam is inherently violent, alien, and unassimilable, a presumption driven by the belief that expressions of Muslim identity correlate with a propensity for terrorism. Islamophobia is the modern progeny of Orientalism (analyzed in the next chapter), a worldview that casts Islam as the civilizational antithesis of the West and that is built upon the core stereotypes and baseline distortions of Islam and Muslims embedded in American institutions and the popular imagination by Orientalist theory, narratives, and law. Core to this book is the contention that Islamophobia is not an entirely new form of bigotry, but rather a system that is squarely rooted in, tied to, and informed by the body of misrepresentations and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims shaped by Orientalism.

Underlying this definition are three dimensions of Islamophobia: private Islamophobia, structural Islamophobia, and dialectical Islamophobia, the ongoing dialogue between state and citizen that binds the private Islamophobia unleashed by hatemongers like Craig Hicks to the war-on-terror policies enacted by Presidents George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump.

Furthermore, the definition of Islamophobia advanced by this book seeks to collapse the wall between private and structural Islamophobia that perpetuates the latter as a legitimate form of Islamophobia. Current popular discourse and the political moment have cemented a broad understanding of Islamophobia as an exclusively deviant and aberrant private violence. State policy and policing targeting Muslims is viewed as entirely divorced from the private hatemongering sweeping throughout the United States today. This limited framing diminishes grassroots, political, and legal challenges to Islamophobia, which must contemplate the state's manifold role in advancing Islamophobic policies and emboldening private violence. Therefore, my definition of Islamophobia frames the state as a potent collaborator that influences and (periodically) drives the acts of individual hatemongers, or Islamophobes, making it complicit in the range of hate crimes and hate incidents targeting Muslim individuals and institutions. A complex and multidimensional form of bigotry requires an equally complex and multidimensional conceptualization. Indeed, one cannot effectively counter or combat a system of hate without thoroughly understanding it and uncovering the myriad sources from which it originates.

It is important to recognize that Islamophobia does not exclusively rise from the right. Contrary to popular caricatures and flat media portrayals, Islamophobes are not always conservatives, far-right zealots, "lone wolf" killers, presidential hopefuls — or presidents — using hateful rhetoric, evangelical ideologues, or Trump voters. Moving beyond a narrow conception of Islamophobia requires dismissing these common caricatures. Islamophobes are also Democrats and liberals, libertarians and progressives, city dwellers and Ivy League graduates.

For example, liberal comedian and talk show personality Bill Maher, of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, referred to the Qur'an as "Islam's hate-filled holy book." Maher callously conflates the whole of Islam with the deviant interpretations of the faith subscribed to by terror groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and in front of a live audience in the heart of Los Angeles he routinely vilifies Muslims and Islam to rousing applause. With little knowledge of Islam, and panels that seldom include Muslims when discussing Islam, Maher pawns off expertise about the faith and its people on an audience that knows just as little, or even less, about Islam. Bill Maher, an Islamophobe by any measure, illustrates that a figure championed by the left can be wed to the trite stereotypes and monolithic view of Islam that drive Islamophobia. His large following indicates that he is hardly alone.

Hamid Dabashi, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, writes that liberal Islamophobes like Maher "talk about the 'battle of ideas' without a single citation of any living or dead Muslim theologian, philosopher, mystic, poet, artist, or public intellectual evident in their vertiginously vacuous prose." Condemnation of Muslims is engaged in without Muslims sitting across from Maher as studio guests, and it masquerades as intellectual critique without even a rudimentary understanding of the faith and its various schools of thought. Certainly, ignorance of Islam feeds Islamophobia. But an intimate familiarity with the damaging tropes and flat narratives propagated by news media is a more potent source, and in the case of Maher, is passed off as adequate enough expertise to engage in a "battle of ideas" that frequently sounds more like a "clash of civilizations" (discussed in chapter 3) than informed critique.

Furthermore, it must be noted that Barack Obama, a Democratic president heralded by many as the most progressive in U.S. history, embraced counter-radicalization policing and expanded the surveillance state beyond that of the Bush administration, under the supposition that Muslim identity was presumptive of terror threat. Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee defeated by Trump, generally referred to Muslims with qualifiers such as "terror hating" or "peace loving," implying that the word "Muslim" alone would conjure up images of terrorism and therefore be too politically costly to utter without some kind of modifier.

Islamophobia coming from the left (and center) is often more latent and harder to detect than that which emanates from the right, and particularly the far right. However, it is still there. The news media covering the (first) Muslim ban vividly illustrated this. From January 30 through February 3, 2017, cable news coverage of the immigration order featured predominantly white men weighing in on an issue that targets Muslims, with Muslims watching from the sidelines. "Aligning with the spirit of the immigration order, mainstream news media effectively excluded Muslims from the airwaves. This was not exclusive to 'conservative' media outlets like Fox News, but even more extreme on outlets commonly perceived as liberal mediums," I wrote in an op-ed in the wake of the ban.

Research by media watchdog Media Matters confirmed my observation. Only seven of the ninety commentators (7.8 percent) CNN featured to discuss the ban during this five day span were Muslim analysts. MSNBC, widely perceived to be the most progressive of the three major cable news networks, only featured two Muslim analysts out of the twenty-eight (7.1 percent) invited to speak during that period. Fox News, on the other hand, had the highest proportion of Muslims on air, with five out of the fifty-eight contributors (8.6 percent) identifying as Muslims. The effective exclusion of Muslim analysts from a concern that directly impacts their communities and very lives demonstrates not only latent Islamophobia but also the corollary belief that others (overwhelmingly white men pegged as "Muslim experts") are more qualified to speak on Islam and Muslims than Muslims themselves. Islamophobia is not merely fear or animus toward Muslims, but also erasure of Muslims. In the case of the Muslim ban, they were not only denied the lead on addressing concerns that directly impact their lives, but even materially barred from involvement in the discussion. Whether latent or patent, liberal or conservative, rural or urban, Islamophobia is a system carried forward by private and state actors and by the ongoing dialectic between the two.


Excerpted from "American Islamophobia"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Khaled A. Beydoun.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Crossroads and
1. What Is Islamophobia?
2. The Roots of Modern Islamophobia
3. A Reoriented “Clash of Civilizations”
4. War on Terror, War on Muslims
5. A “Radical” or Imagined Threat?
6. Between Anti-Black Racism and Islamophobia
7. The Fire Next Time
Epilogue: Homecomings and Goings


About the Author

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American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very informative! It peaked my interest regarding the history of Muslims in America. It doesn't go too in-depth on the historical side, but still a good read!