Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise. Here's what Donald Trump can do about it.
Fariha Nizam, 19, was commuting to her journalism internship from Queens to New York City's Financial District as she does every Thursday. But this Thursday was different, as she sat on the bus keeping to herself a white woman approached her and started shouting, "take it off!"
"Take that fucking cloth off," the woman shouted, Nizam said in an email to Mic. "You are not allowed to wear that anymore. Take that disgusting piece of cloth off."
She then proceeded to try and rip the headscarf off of Nizam's head. She told Mic she felt defeated by the woman's words and actions. "I got myself up and off of the bus," Nizam said. "I walked my way back home, crying in the entire walk, defeated."
If recent trends continue, many stories like Nizam's will likely continue to play out in Donald Trump's America. On Monday, the FBI's annual report on national hate crimes said that hate crimes targeting Muslims increased by 67% in 2015. There were 154 crimes in 2014, compared to 257 in 2015. Anti-Muslim violence in the United States is at its worst since 9/11, the report stated.
Enter Trump, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric ramped up throughout the course of his campaign. As he talked of "extreme vetting" of Muslim immigrants and criticized the father of a fallen Muslim soldier, Mic chronicled acts of violence in Bayonne, New Jersey; Boynton Beach, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Queens, New York, and several other places.
As president-elect, it certainly does not seem like he will soon address rising hate crimes against Muslims. Just look at recent news in his Trump's transition to the White House. He reportedly appointed notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney on Tuesday to his transition team and has discussed reinstating a program where Muslim immigrants would put their names on national registry.
If there was one hint that he wanted to tamp down violence, it came in a two-word demand in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday. Trump addressed the alarming rise of xenophobic hate crimes and told his supporters to "stop it." But that message — which comes after the politician spent over a year campaigning and galvanizing a base on the vilification of minorities in the United States — won't be enough to reverse the effects of that rhetoric.
So what should the Republican president-elect and his administration do to quell the rising tides of anti-Muslim violence? Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding, said three things must happen: Donald Trump himself must condemn anti-Muslim violence and rhetoric — repeatedly. Other conservative voices must also speak out against it. And the Justice Department should review the way hate crime laws are implemented and executed. Mogahed believes hate crimes should be legally prosecuted to the same extent of the law as terrorist attacks.
"The main advice is that American Muslims have to be seen as citizens first and not a tool for counterterrorism first, or worse, a pool of suspects," Mogahed said in a phone interview. "They're neither. They are citizens and they need to be treated as equal citizens."
History proves that simply humanizing Muslim Americans has worked in the effort to decrease hate crimes against them. Mogahed gave this advice to the Obama administration when she served on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009: Ensure that the nation sees Muslims as part of our society.
That same year, Obama gave his historic "A New Beginning" speech at Cairo University in Egypt. In a public address, Obama highlighted Muslims' deep-rooted history in the country and how they have "enriched the United States":
They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library.
This strategy also worked in a Republican-led White House. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a 1600% jump in anti-Muslim hate crimes. But remarkably, according to Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok, between 2002, and until 2010, anti-Muslim hate crimes decreased by about a third.
Potok, editor of the SPLC's magazine Intelligence Report, believes much of the credit is due to former President George W. Bush's rhetoric after 9/11 to combat Islamophobia.
Six days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush visited the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., and told the world that "Islam is peace." He also appeared with an imam at the National Cathedral promoting that same message and reiterating the point that Al Qaeda does not represent the beliefs of over 1 billion Muslims.
"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," Bush told a live television audience on Sept. 17, 2001. "That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."
When a major public figure displays moral courage and leadership by refuting the defamation of the Muslim American community, it has a powerful and everlasting effect on the country's social and political climate, Potok said.
In December, when Trump announced a complete and total shutdown on all Muslims entering the U.S., anti-Muslims attacks surged to 53 total reported attacks, according to a Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative report. Anti-Muslim attacks occurred almost daily and often multiple times a day.
"By comparison, when the presidential election season began just nine months earlier, there were only two anti-Muslim attacks," Bridge Initiative's senior researcher Nazir Harb told Mic in an email. "Attacks on Muslims in [December] constitute approximately one-third of all attacks last year."
Then just weeks before Election Day, three male white supremacists who called themselves "The Crusaders" plotted to bomb a mosque and housing complex for Somali Muslim immigrants in Garden City, Kansas. Law enforcement authorities arrested the white militiamen on Oct. 14 and charged them with "planning to use a weapon of mass destruction in a terrorist attack." At least one of the men reportedly wrote on Facebook that he was supporting Trump for president.
It's examples like this that fuels Potok's gloomy perspective on what life would be like for Muslims in Trump's administration.
"Donald Trump has helped unchain the beast of anti-Muslim hatred and that's not an easy animal to bring back into the cage," Potok said. "I think American Muslims are going to be facing really serious hatred in very large part of the demons Donald Trump has unleashed."