You might be Islamophobic if…

Do you think Arabs and Muslims just can’t be trusted?  Do you distrust Obama because you suspect he may be a secret Muslim?  Do you believe that Muslims want to conquer the West and instate sharia law over the whole world?  Do you think that the real problem in the Middle East is that hateful anti-Semitic Muslims (Palestinians, Arabs, etc.) eagerly teach their children to hate Jews and become suicide bombers?  And that Israel will never have peace because the Muslims want nothing more than to kill all the Jews in a second Holocaust?  Do you know that Muslims hate America and freedom?  Does the rise of “Islamofascism” scare you more than anything since the Communist threat, and that it will be the downfall of the U.S. and western civilization if we let our guard down?  Do you think Islam breeds so many terrorists because it is a violent and intolerant religion, unlike Judaism and Christianity, which are peaceful religions? Do you think the views of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden reflect the views of most Muslims?  Do you see Hizbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, and Iran as all part of the same radical Islamic movement?  Do you believe that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim?  And, do you see proof of this in the “fact” that no moderate Muslims have spoken out against terrorism?  Do you think that when government officials express tolerance toward Islam, they are dangerously letting their guard down and ignoring the perilous threat of radical Islam, leaving us more open to secret attack?  Are you interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict because it proves how hateful Muslims are and how Islam causes terrorism?

If you answered any of the above questions with “yes,” then you hold some Islamophobic beliefs.  American fear of Islam increased after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent War on Terror, and this fear was also exaggerated and encouraged by media and U.S. government officials in the wake of 9-11 to justify a major shift in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but many Americans already had some preexisting fears about Arabs and Muslims that have added to the negative stereotyping of Palestinians.  After 9-11, the Israeli government under prime minister, Ariel Sharon, made an effort to connect the U.S. war against Al Qaeda to the harsh Israeli military response to the Palestinian Second Intifada.  This rhetorical strategy (along with the real examples of suicide bombings by Hamas and other radical Islamic militant groups, as well as skewed U.S. news coverage) was largely successful in convincing many Americans that Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation was simply another example of Islamic radicalism. 

The tone, arguments, and use of fear appeals of some of this anti-Islamic rhetoric very closely mirrors that of previous wars and that of other countries against their own “enemies.”  We were told that Communism wanted nothing more than to destroy our freedom and way of life—that the Vietnamese use of guerilla tactics against U.S. forces in Vietnam showed that they were merciless terrorists who didn’t value human life like we do and that the only language they understood is the use of force.  Hitler argued that an international Jewish conspiracy, which included Germany’s own Jewish citizens, was out to control the world and destroy Germany and German culture.  The “enemy” is always less human and more evil than we are.

For centuries some Westerners have hated and feared Muslims—dating as far back as the Muslim conquests in southern Europe in the Middle Ages and the subsequent Crusades in which thousands of Muslims (and Jews) were killed by Christian European forces who sought to re-take control of Jerusalem and Christian pilgrimage routes. 

In the 1970s, the Palestinian American academic and cultural critic, Edward Said, wrote a book called Orientalism in which he described the ways Arabs and Muslims have been consistently and negatively stereotyped by the West for the past hundred years.  To the Christian West, Said argued, Arabs and Muslims were and continue to be seen as exotic, mysterious, untrustworthy, crafty, backward, brutish, and cruel—among other traits.  In addition to this suspicion and fear resulting from the fact that they practice a different religion, culture, and lifestyle, Arab Muslims, being darker-skinned people of color, have also often been victims of Western racism.

The stereotype of the Muslim Arab terrorist didn’t begin on 9-11.  Similar negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims had been around for over one hundred years before a few well-publicized incidents in the 1970s and 1980s began popularly associating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism.  They were not the first to use “terrorism,” which has existed in one form or another for thousands of years, nor were they the first to use the modern practices of hijacking, kidnapping, or suicide bombing—other non-Muslim, non-Arab groups get credit for these horrific developments.  And contrary to popular opinion, Palestinian Muslims are not the only ones who have used terrorism in the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.  The militant Jewish terrorist groups Irgun (Etzel), Lehi, and the Stern Gang operated in Palestine during the British Mandate, and before the creation of the state of Israel they planted bombs that targeted Arab civilians and British officials, killing hundreds. 

Though there have been a few highly-publicized incidents in recent years, Muslim terrorists are also not the only terrorists who have targeted the U.S.  Right-wing anti-Castro Cuban terrorist groups have planted bombs over a dozen times in the US since the early 1960s, for example.  The second highest death toll from terrorism in the U.S. next to 9-11 was the Oklahoma City bombing, which was carried out by a white, right-wing, Catholic army veteran named Timothy McVeigh.  Other right-wing domestic groups include the recent Hutari militia and the anti-abortion terrorist group Army of God that support violent attacks against abortion providers.  Perhaps the most active terrorist group in U.S. history is the Ku Klux Klan.

For a starter on international terrorism since the 1800s, see:

Yes it is true that there are militant Islamic terrorist groups operating throughout the world, and many of these groups have killed civilians in their attacks.  These groups hold a variety of beliefs and political motivations; they are far from a united movement, nor do they share all of the same goals.  Much like other terrorist groups throughout history, these groups have political goals that cannot be realized through democratic processes—often in countries where the U.S. supports a dictatorial regime.  They sometimes believe that using violence is the only language that their government, the U.S., or Israel, etc., can understand, and they see no other political alternative.

The problem with Islamophobia is that Muslim terrorist groups are seen as further evidence that Islam is a violent religion and that Muslims are thus violent, hateful, evil people.  This generalization is not made, however, with other groups.  So, even though the terrorist Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed hundreds of civilians and British troops in the decades of the late 20th century, we do not associate Catholicism or the Irish with terrorism to the same degree.  Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) also used violence for decades and was labeled a terrorist group by many countries until they finally renounced violence in the early 1990s.  However, even after Yasser Arafat renounced violence in the late 1980s and signed the Oslo Accords, he continued to be viewed by many Westerners as an untrustworthy supporter of terrorism and enemy of peace.

Another feature of Islamophobia—one that is shared with many other negative stereotypes and hatreds, including classical anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and other forms of racism—is that Muslims are seen as less than fully human.  One way this is done in American culture is by rarely showing alternative voices or positive depictions of Muslims and Arabs.  For example, in the U.S. news media, we are less likely to see a humanized portrayal of Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks, but we are very likely to be shown a personal and sympathetic portrayal of Israeli victims of suicide bombing or rocket attacks.  We are also less likely to hear the perspectives of Palestinian nonviolent activists and more likely to be shown images of Palestinian militants firing rockets or angrily burning Israeli and American flags.  Islamophobia is thus fed as much by what is not shown as it is by what is shown.

Islamophobia has spread in recent years partly as a result of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent rhetoric and media coverage, but it has also been supported by theories like Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.”  Huntington’s thesis, which has been adopted by many neo-conservatives, conservative Christian evangelicals, right-wing Israelis, and the Bush administration, is that from now on, war and conflict in the world will happen between the civilizations of East and West—with the U.S. and the “Judeo-Christian” West on one side (the side of “good”) and the Muslim world as the main actor on the other—the “bad” or even “evil” side.  This thesis fit nicely with the Bush administration-created “War on Terror” after 9-11.  Though President Obama has sought to take a different, more tolerant, and less belligerent approach, at least in his rhetoric, his administration has not openly questioned the underlying foundational logic behind the “War on Terror,” and the U.S. is sending even more troops to Afghanistan and expanding drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation has continually been portrayed in similar stereotypical ways, with legitimate Palestinian grievances and suffering largely ignored while they are often portrayed simply as hateful anti-Semitic terrorists.  These days, it is often overlooked that Hamas wasn’t even formed until the late 1980s and that the PLO and Fatah are secular organizations.  After 9-11, and as Hamas was gaining popularity, Ariel Sharon and other Israeli leaders successfully linked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the larger “War on Terror,” thus playing on Americans’ Islamophobia after 9-11 to justify Israeli actions against the Palestinians and prevent us from sympathizing with them or questioning Israeli actions and policies.

  1. Piece discussing the nature and origins of Islamophobia in the US:


  3. News article about opposition to mosques in the US:


  5. A short montage of Hollywood’s depiction of Arabs:


  7. A 50 minute documentary about representation of Arabs and Muslims in US popular media, called Reel Bad Arabs:


  1. A short article about the history of Islam and its relation to the West:

  2. WorldWithoutIslam.pdf

  3. A description of Islamophobia in the US from CAIR:


  5. Notes on Anti-Arab racism from the Arab American Institute:


What role do Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?