Taif Jany is a rising young policy expert who was born and raised in Iraq and now lives in Washington, DC. His family is Mandaean, not Muslim, but his birthplace and brown skin make him feel like a target all the time. He sometimes looks over his shoulder when he walks through DC, where he works as policy coordinator for the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network Action, a program of People for the American Way. Over the last year, his feelings of insecurity have only gotten worse.
“Personally I feel intimidated when I walk around the street,” said Jany. “I feel like I’m an easy target, even though I’m not Muslim. I hear from some of my Muslim friends about daily harassment in cities, suburbs, everywhere.”
And that was before Donald Trump won the presidential election.
Jany and his friends have good reason to be scared. Muslims, along with Arabs and South Asians more broadly, are under assault in the United States. While anti-Muslim bigotry has a long and grotesque history in this country, the shape and nature of the bias has intensified during the last few years, with Muslims suffering the fallout in deeds as well as words. In 2015, 78 mosques were targeted for arson or other forms of vandalism, more than triple the number of mosques targeted in the two years prior. Since 2010, ten states have passed “anti-Sharia” laws, with a majority of the rest pushing to add “anti-Sharia” measures to their books, never mind the fact that Sharia poses zero threat, legal or otherwise, to American constitutional law. And hate crimes are on the rise across the country, with official reports of anti-Muslim crimes jumping from 154 in 2014 to 174 in 2015.
Then there is the rhetoric—poison-tipped words and proposals deployed, not merely by fringe-racist characters like Pamela Geller but also by leading political figures who have turned Muslim bashing into campaign-season sport. Trump has rightly garnered the most attention with his pitch for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” seeking to come to the country, followed by the allegedly toned-down version of that pitch—his call for “extreme vetting.” He has also said he would “implement” a database to track Muslims. But he has hardly been the only one to embrace bigotry. Almost all of his Republican primary competitors trafficked, at some point or another, in anti-Muslim slurs, with Ben Carson comparing Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs” and Mike Huckabee describing Muslims as “uncorked animals.” And such rhetoric hurts; it has real, often violent, consequences. One recent Georgetown University study found that anti-Muslim attacks corresponded with calls from prominent politicians to ban Muslim immigrants.
That’s why Jany, along with hundreds of politicians and local leaders across the country have begun pushing back. Under the aegis of the American Leaders Against Hate and Anti-Muslim Bigotry Campaign, progressive officials at every level of local government have begun introducing legislation and pressing for policies that combat Islamophobia. From school-district initiatives in California and elsewhere that require schools to monitor religious bullying, to advertising and education campaigns in cities like New York that aim to teach non-Muslims about Muslim communities, local officials are joining forces with Muslim constituents to show what true leadership looks like. In the last month alone, the city councils of Columbus (Ohio) and New York City passed resolutions condemning Islamophobia—and affirming support for Muslim communities.