Column: Xenophobia, an American tradition

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, gestures as he arrives to his family's home in Irving, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Ahmed was arrested Monday at his school after a teacher thought a homemade clock he built was a bomb. He remains suspended and said he will not return to classes at MacArthur High School. (LM Otero/AP)

Recently, 14-year old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his high school in Irving, Texas for possession of a “bomb.” This “bomb” was actually an improvised clock that Ahmed, who aspires to be an engineer, brought in to impress his teacher. But instead of seeing ingenuity and an aptitude for learning, “she thought it was a threat to her,” said Ahmed. 

It is a sad day when young students who try to rise above the curriculum and demonstrate their genuine love for learning are met not with praise but with penalty. It’s with near full certainty that this “incident” was no incident at all, but rather a microcosm of a larger collective sentiment seeded throughout much of America: a general distrust and distaste of Muslims.

On Thursday, Sept. 17 at Donald Trump’s town hall event in Rochester, New Hampshire, a man spoke out on the topic: “We have a problem in this country: it’s called Muslims.” The man continued by saying, “We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American. Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”

Frankly, there is a lot to be disturbed about in this short tirade. There’s the specific rhetoric, referring to Muslims as a “problem,” and forming a “them” versus “us” mentality that undoubtedly leads to widespread hostility. The legitimacy of the president, arguably the nation's foremost institution and one of the greatest symbols of the American way, is vehemently doubted. And the New Hampshire man’s question at the end of his rant on when Muslims can be evicted from this country is a bona fide call to arms to remove them. 

As hateful as the words spoken were, it was Trump’s silence on the topic that resounded in that hall and throughout the nation. His lack of a response and failure to correct the claims of this speaker, namely the president’s religious affiliation and citizenship, is indicative of the following scenarios: as a politician, he is merely catering to the zeitgeist of his party, harboring their ideas and feelings into votes to propel him to the presidency, or he actually believes in such claims. Both possibilities are profoundly unsettling.

Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, shared a similar sentiment, responding to Trump’s actions by saying, “I don’t know if Trump is using dog-whistle politics to win support in the polls, or if he genuinely believes the racist things he says. Either way, he showed a complete lack of moral courage…and he has shown once again that he is completely unqualified to be President of the United States.”

With these anti-Islamic feelings brewing in the United States, is it really a coincidence then at a young Muslim boy would be arrested on the suspicion of making a homemade bomb? After all, there are “training camps growing where they want to kill us,” as the New Hampshire man put it.

The truth is that it isn’t just Muslims, who are estimated to number between two and seven million in the United States, that have experienced such scorn. America has had quite a history of xenophobia. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Germanophobia during the First World War to the Japanese internment camps of World War II and the current Islamophobia – a fear of the foreign has pervaded America from the start.

In March 1939, six months preceding the start of the Second World War, author Raoul de Roussy de Sales said, “America is a permanent protest against the rest of the world.” Perhaps it is the fear of losing its identity that America shuns immigrants. But it is a great irony that much of our patriotism, including first transcontinental railroad, our engineering and military prowess as well as the very stone and steel comprising our cities, stems from the labors of expatriates.


Vinay Maliakal is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at vinay.maliakal@uconn.edu.