“How much could I give you to rip that off her head?” Just five men hanging out on the weekend. Taking bets on assaulting a woman with a young child living in the apartment above them. Such a casual proposition sent chills down my spine. Did it make you blink? The neighborhood continued on, never missing a beat.
This was my introduction to post-Trump America. My family and I had just returned to the U.S. after living abroad for 2 years. Watching the circus that is America’s presidential race from afar, not fully processing the results’ implications until arriving back home.
In response to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said, “This is also a moment of reckoning for leaders across the world who have encouraged or turned a blind eye to the scourge of Islamophobia. The politics of demonization has today cost 49 people their lives.”
Terrorist. Oppressed. Jihadist. Un-American. Radical. Extremist. Buzzwords carelessly used to describe over 1 billion Muslims worldwide. Each headline selling the Islamophobia industry. A systematic approach to dehumanizing me.
The world barely batted an eye as New Zealand mourned its Muslim brothers and sisters. So few hashtag campaigns and Facebook profile pics framed in solidarity graced my social media feeds. New Zealand ached while the world grieved a minor interruption on their newsreel.
Only a few weeks out and the “us-versus-them” narrative perpetuated by the Islamophobia industrial complex re-emerges. Once again, the Canadian province of Québec has proposed a religious symbols ban under the guise of secular freedom and human rights.
The “Othering” Effect
Last week, the Coalition Avenir Québec formally presented a bill to “prohibit public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab, kippa or turban.” Politicians claim the law will balance human rights and freedoms with religious neutrality. Basically, an extreme model of secularism wishing to repress religious liberties being sold as freedom and liberation.
When we restrict religious freedoms by dictating to women (who are most often impacted and singled out by these measures) what they can and cannot wear, the “othering” effect is in full force.
“They” and “them” are pronouns addressing people who choose to wear modest styles of dress for religious reasons. They are different. They do not dress like us. They hold different values. This “us-versus-them” mentality fuels Islamophobia by othering and dehumanizing Muslim women. It creates a perception that wearing hijab, for instance, is a rejection of widely held values of democracy, freedom and human rights.
Othering breeds distrust and builds a culture of fear around Muslims.
Othering normalizes dehumanizing terminology, like terrorist and extremist, to describe over a billion Muslims worldwide.
Othering allows for legal restrictions on religious freedoms. They are different. They must assimilate–look like us, talk like us.
When legislation is repeatedly proposed to oppress and to restrict religious freedom, it continues the cycle of fear and hate. It feeds Islamophobia.
It desensitizes others to the rights and concerns of Muslims.
Recall the men jokingly placing bets on forcibly removing my hijab. In that moment, Islamophobia dehumanized me. My individuality lost to an incessant cycle of hate permeating the globe against my faith.
I was not a neighbor, nor a mother with a young girl. The men saw terms politicians and news outlets so flippantly use to describe over a billion Muslims worldwide. Terrorist. Oppressed. Jihadist. Un-American. Radical. Extremist.
Amnesty International Secretary General Naidoo was right. People are losing their lives over the “politics of demonization.” We must break the cycle.