On Friday evening, when news of the Paris attacks spread, and reports that ISIS had taken responsibility for them emerged, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian activists in the United States began a process that has become all too familiar in the 14 years after 9/11. In the midst of expressing their grief and horror at these acts of terrorism, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian advocates are also placed in the position of having to condemn attacks that occur in the West, and to monitor for a backlash against their own communities.
Since 9/11, activists in the United States have come to expect this backlash in multiple ways. It includes anti-Muslim rhetoric in news coverage by mainstream media, calls for profiling by political leaders and policymakers, acts of discrimination and violence targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities, and government actions and policies that single them out in the name of national security. “As we join the rest of the world in mourning the innocent victims, we also cautiously prepare for potential backlash,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “Mosques are on high alert, and conversations are happening within organizations and families.”
This time around, the signs already point to an uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, given the immediate responses in conservative media outlets and remarks of some elected officials, including South Carolina’s representative, Jeff Duncan, who tweeted in the hours after the Paris attacks: “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now? How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world.”
Xenophobic and divisive rhetoric only reinforces a climate of fear and suspicion of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities that often results in racist attitudes and actions. Over the weekend, a mosque in St. Petersburg, Florida, received a threatening voicemail that said, “I personally have a militia that’s going to come down to your Islamic Society of Pinellas County and firebomb you, shoot whoever’s there on sight in the head. I don’t care if they’re [expletive] 2 years old or 100.” In Orlando, a Muslim family apparently found a bullet hole in their garage door. A Sikh man in Canada, Veerender Jubbal, found that his picture was being PhotoShopped and circulated over social media, characterizing him as a terrorist.
In addition to ensuring that communities are safe and aware of their rights in light of situations such as these, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian advocates are also preparing for the loud drumbeat of national security and immigration policies that target their communities. “Only three days have passed since the tragic attacks in Paris, and already our elected officials are already looking to reintroduce some of the most repressive policies and practices in the United States that unfairly target and demonize Muslims,” said Kalia Abiade, advocacy director at the Center for New Community, which monitors far-right movements in the country.