In our efforts to combat Islamophobia in our workplaces and beyond, we must first understand how governments, media, and NGOs spread harmful ideas that Muslim people and Islam are inherently dangerous and a threat to the “progressive values” of “civilized nations”. The widespread and consistent nature of these false narratives becomes deeply ingrained in the public and is held as truth. Consequently, Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim are demonized, overly surveilled, threatened, and excluded. One of the most important methods of combating such well-funded sources of surveillance is to identify and expose the baseless harm they cause. Let’s take a look at several publications and platforms calling out Islamophobic ideas across these institutions.
In the U.S., a report found that charities had donated an astonishing amount of over $105 million to anti-Muslim groups between 2017 and 2019. With some charities uninformed about the Islamophobic efforts of some of the groups they donated to, we can see how the insidious agenda to target and surveil Muslims that is often hiding in plain sight is quietly and successfully funded. There is an ugly irony to the blanket accusation of Muslims being secretive or deceptive, while anti-Muslim groups are the ones who have convinced so many charities into backing hateful campaigns they may not have otherwise supported. This is significant not only because it gives anti-Muslim groups greater resources to spread Islamophobic ideology, but it also reinforces to a wider public that these ideas are permissible and legitimizes perpetuating oppression against Muslim people in response.
When we focus on the media, a study of 200 popular films found that around one-third of the movies’ Muslim characters perpetrate violence, and more than half are victims of violence. Most recently, the Sundance Film Festival is rightfully under attack for screening an Islamophobic film called “Jihad Rehab” directed by a white woman that tells the story of Yemeni men sent to a rehabilitation center to be “deradicalized.” This follows a long history of centering violence as inherent to Muslim people, such as during former U.S. President Obama’s “Countering Violent Extremism” policies that asked Muslim students to spy on each other, rather than address the political and social conditions that may have led to their disenfranchisement.
A New York Times podcast called “The Trojan Horse Affair” covers an Islamophobic event in the UK about a presumed “Islamist plot” to Islamicise Birmingham schools, which was ultimately proven to be false. Even though it was widely discredited, it ended up ruining the careers and lives of Muslim people in Birmingham, revealing the destructive power of oppressive political speculation. After flaws were exposed in the government’s legal handling of a school disciplinary hearing, the Department of Education ended up paying hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees. The government was so adamant on vilifying Muslims for a conspiracy they had no part in, that they were willing to waste taxpayer money to do so.
These reports and publications seek to emphasize the real impact of all these policies, donations, and media rhetoric: Islam and Muslim/Muslim-perceived people are falsely and harmfully labeled as a civilizational threat to society, leaving Muslim people excluded, surveilled, threatened, and ultimately discouraged from authentically expressing themselves in their workplaces and communities because they have to spend so much effort proving that they are not guilty. Given these realities, centering stories told by Muslims themselves, and exposing political agendas that demonize Muslims is critical to dismantling deeply held narratives that harm Muslim communities.