If I were a betting woman I’d say the future looks pretty grim for Muslims. I’m no pessimist, but the evidence is a bit overwhelming. In the western world we are witnessing the progressive institutionalization of religious and cultural discrimination against Muslims, and swept along way are other faiths in which individuals that happen to practice their religion by wearing certain clothing and jewelry.
We are not helping ourselves by continuing to kill each other in Iraq and Syria in an effort by some alleged Muslims who seem to think that murder is a righteous path to establishing a caliphate. Many of us living in Muslim countries and in the West sit idle because we mistakenly believe that wanton mass murder has nothing to do with us.
Western societies react to this barbarism in typical knee-jerk fashion. For all of their hyperventilating love to rescue the Muslim woman from the clutches of evil men, Muslimahs (women) are usually the first targets of discrimination. France, a country I once loved for its love of culture, language and beauty, but now I fear, set the tone some years ago by banning the hijab in schools and government buildings and then the niqab on French streets. It implements draconian hate speech laws that target the Muslim community, and ignores hate crimes committed by others.
France started another creative way to practice its discrimination when a schoolmaster sent a teenage Muslim girl home because she was wearing a long dress. Just recently, a Belgium school followed suit by sending 30 Muslim girls home for wearing long dresses. Really, Europe, in what world do we live in which wearing a long dress constitutes the outward display of religious symbols? It boggles the mind. When will Belgium and France turn their attention to Hasidic Jews? Another incident of Islamophobia occurred just this week when an airline attendant denied a Muslim woman an unopened can of soda pop on a commuter flight in the United States because it could be used as a weapon. The attendant gave her non-Muslim seatmate an unopened can of beer without comment. When woman complained another passenger used profanity to tell her to shut up.
The irony is that the woman, Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim chaplain at Northwestern University, was traveling to speak at a conference in Washington D.C. to promote dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli youth. Ahmad filed a formal complaint with United Airlines, the carrier, and a spokesman for one of the airlines’ subsidiaries, which operated the flight, acknowledged there was no policy prohibiting flight attendants from giving passengers an unopened soft drink container. Ahmad called the incident “systemic injustice.” Governments and corporations routinely deny religious, cultural and ethnic minorities equal rights either by subverting existing laws or implementing new laws that strip away our civil liberties.
Many Muslims see religious discrimination for what it is: Fear and punishment. We fear what we don’t understand, although we often don’t take the time to understand another religion or culture. We punish for the same reasons. We lack understanding about specific events occurring worldwide, so governments implement laws to punish the many for the crimes of the few. Daesh or the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda accomplished what western governments promised its people it would not do: Capitulate to fear by eroding the rights of its citizens and waging a campaign to marginalize the already marginalized minorities in their communities. The Ummah, and I mean all of us, are paying for crimes committed by a minority.
There is a smidgeon of hope. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman against the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch might proceed. The woman, Samantha Elauf, was denied employment because she wore the hijab and didn’t fit the company’s dress code. The Supreme Court ruled that Elauf was protected under law that gives individuals reasonable accommodations to practice their religion. Here we have one example of a dispassionate government recognizing existing laws to protect minorities rather than one that passes new laws to disenfranchise a specific segment of society. This is a true democracy, a lesson apparently lost on France.
Another positive sign is the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, which was adopted by the UN in 2011 and reaffirmed annually. The resolution commits the UN to addressing religious discrimination without restricting free expression. It emphasizes education, outreach and interfaith efforts as well as enforcing laws against violence and discrimination. Governments, however, still must adopt the resolution and make it law. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is hosting an annual meeting this week in Jeddah to discuss the progress of the resolution and work toward strengthening it. One battle the OIC still must overcome is the perception among westerners that the resolution focuses only on Islam and not other faiths.
This continues to be a problem among Muslim organizations in which there is little time and energy spent on promoting the protection of all faiths. We truly have a perception problem and have done little to wage a public campaign to correct the myths surrounding Muslims and Islam.