Column: It’s time to move past Islamophobia

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks to the crowd during a campaign rally held at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (Jessica Christian/Jackson Citizen Patriot via AP)

Recent events in America, such as Ben Carson’s comment about not believing a Muslim should be the president of America, and the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a clock that was thought to be a bomb to his school, have brought to light the disappointing phenomenon of Islamophobia that has gripped many Americans over the past decade and a half.

Xenophobia, the intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, has existed to some degree in America since the country’s conception. However, Islamophobia has spiked as a result of the tragic events of 9/11 and subsequent wars in the Middle East against terrorist organizations of predominantly extremist Muslims.

Since the events of 9/11 the word “Muslim” has been used in a more derogatory sense. President Obama has been accused many times during his presidency of being a Muslim. A recent CNN poll found that 43 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of the general population believe he is a Muslim.

These poll numbers are sickening, and not just because so many people have fallen prey to the lies of certain media outlets and far-right conservatives. The truly disgusting factor is that enough people believed that spreading this lie would discredit the president that they engaged in this campaign of deception. In other words, powerful figures in the media and GOP understood that there was enough fear of Muslims to warrant an effort to accuse Obama of being one. 

President Obama is a Christian, and the claim that he is Muslim is a lie. However, the president should never have been attacked for being a Muslim because there is no reason why we should view Muslims negatively. There is no reason that “Muslim” should be used as an attack. But because too many people are governed by their fear of terrorists (which is precisely what they aim to do, hence their name), it has become a rallying cry for extremists in opposition to the president.

There is no reason why a Muslim cannot serve as president, contrary to what Ben Carson believes. A persons’ religion should not even be considered when electing a candidate to this or any other office. That was also the opinion of the Founding Fathers, who wrote in the Constitution, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It is the right of anyone, no matter their religion or lack thereof, to seek public office in the United States. 

The only thing that should matter when electing a candidate is policy. If a candidate has an effective plan for the economy and wants to commit more funds toward education it should not matter what they believe in in terms of religion. What matters is whether they will be able to have a positive impact on their community, state, or country; depending on what position they aspire to take on. 

The question is how can we as a society move past this frame of mind, and get to the point where Muslim is simply the name of a religion and does not carry a negative connotation. The best thing that each and every one of us can do is to stop living in fear. President Franklin Roosevelt once said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and that is because when we are driven by fear this is how we act. We have behaved irrationally, blowing the threat of radical Islam out of proportion and using the actions of extremists to judge people who had no part in it, simply because they belonged to the same faith.

It is difficult for many to adopt this way of thinking. The country was attacked by a Muslim terrorist organization and we are currently involved in conflict with several other Muslim terrorist groups. But those groups are only a small percentage of Muslims.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the United States and around the globe are just ordinary people trying to do good in the world. And when we don’t even give them a chance, and treat them like second class citizens, we are abandoning the principles upon which America was founded.


Jacob Kowalski is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.