America has borne witness to a sharp increase in Islamophobic hate crimes since the results of the US election were announced last week. For instance, in Ann Arbor, a female Muslim student at the University of Michigan was approached by a stranger who threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab. In Georgia, a female Muslim high school teacher was left an anonymous note. Scribbled on it was a message stating that her “headscarf isn’t allowed anymore”. It went on to suggest that once she had removed her hijab, she could use it to hang herself. Likewise in Ohio, a Muslim woman along with her children and elderly parents were threatened by a man while they were stopped in their car at traffic lights. Shouting obscenities at the terrified family, the man told the woman that “she doesn’t belong in this country”. In many ways, it is somewhat unsurprising that such an upsurge in Islamophobic hate crimes has coincided with Donald Trump’s emergence as president-elect.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit organisation that tracks hate groups and hate crimes, this post-election upsurge has been manifested in more than 300 recorded incidents of ‘hateful harassment and intimidation’. To give this figure some context, the SPLC report that 300 incidents is more typical of the number of Islamophobic incidents reported to them in a five to six month period rather a six or seven day equivalent. In a statement from the SPLC, the catalyst for this unprecedented surge has been “Trump’s hate-filled campaign”.
During his presidential campaign, Muslims were the repeat recipients for Trump’s ire. At various times, he promised to list and record details about Muslims in a national database, force them to carry special identification cards, and intensify surveillance measures in mosques across the country. As well as targeting Muslims within a broader crackdown on immigration, in December 2015 Trump told gathered supporters at a rally in Charleston, South Carolina – a few days after the San Bernardino shooting – that he was “…calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”. Far from deterring voters, there was widespread evidence available during the primaries which showed that very strong majorities in many states expressed direct support for the plan to ban Muslims from the country. What is maybe even more worrying is that roughly half of all American voters either went on to accept his rhetoric of hatred and xenophobia or at least abet it.
The sharp increase in Islamophobic hate crimes post-election has not however emerged out of a vacuum. As newly published FBI data shows, Islamophobic hate crimes have been increasing for some time: in 2015 alone, there was a 67% increase. As the data shows, this is the highest number recorded since 2001, which was when the Islamophobic backlash that followed the events on 9/11 occurred. According to the Council on American-Islamic-Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, this recent albeit dramatic upsurge is merely an acceleration of something that was already underway. For one of its spokespeople, Ibrahim Hooper, the future is looking particularly bleak for American Muslims, not least because he fears the levels of hate crimes currently evident will continue to increase.
It will be remarkable if Hooper is proven wrong whereby the number of Islamophobic hate crimes across the US does not continue to increase in the immediate foreseeable future. This is because if any leading political figure – Trump or indeed anyone else that has a global platform and stage from which they have a widely heard voice – repeatedly mainstreams and empowers Islamophobia, then it is inevitable that those with a propensity to perpetrate hate crimes on the basis of their victims being Muslim, whether perceived or actual, will increasingly find validation and justification for their own hate-fueled actions and beliefs.
Without an immediate change in Trump’s approach and rhetoric – which currently seems highly unlikely – the future does indeed look bleak. Bleak not only for those Muslims that have already experienced Islamophobic hate crimes – in various places in Michigan, Georgia and Ohio – while going about their ordinary, day-to-day activities, but so too for Muslims elsewhere, in those American states where reports of Islamophobic hate crimes are yet to emerge. What we are seeing – and what some American Muslims are experiencing – today may therefore be little more than a mere indicator of what is yet to come: a harbinger for a far more virulent and insidious Islamophobia, which will become increasingly apparent in an America under Trump’s presidency.