On April 23, Obama declared that he has “taken an adamant stand to make sure that we’re not racially profiling in airports.” However, some members of our CPS community feel differently, and believe more could be done. Shehzaib R, a junior, almost never gets TSA Pre in airports when he goes to travel debate tournaments. He describes his experience, saying that, “People look at you differently based on your physical appearance. They see a brown person with a beard, and their first thought is ‘they’re a terrorist or related to someone who is a terrorist.’”
“Once, I was told that I wasn’t 16 so they needed to check my ID. I said, ‘I’m 16, you can ask my debate coach,’ and they were like ‘No, that’s not your debate coach.’” In fact, Shehzaib has done a lot of research regarding racial profiling in airports, as he runs a debate argument urging the removal of the SPOT program, or the Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques Program: “SPOT was a program created in 2007 by the TSA to facilitate ‘behavioral detection’, and they are granted jobs after only a four-day training course to subjectively pick up on facial features and stress levels. Officers are given a lot of leeway and there have been reports across the nation about officers falsifying their reports.”
A terrorist attack is one of the most feared disasters to strike a country, and for good reason – they’re meant to inspire terror. Tragedies have unfolded in Paris, where at least 129 people were killed and over 350 others were injured, and in California, where the San Bernardino attackers were armed with semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Most catastrophically, during 9/11, two Boeing 767s plummeted into the World Trade Center in New York, killing almost three thousand people.
However, in the wake of 9/11, the media conflates Muslims with extremists such as ISIS, and the backlash against Muslim Americans has gone too far. Increased federal surveillance and individual hate crimes have forced both Muslim people and people who look like Muslims to endure scrutiny and racism.
There has been a massive wave of state-sanctioned racial profiling and Islamaphobia in counter-terrorism efforts. The FBI is infiltrating mosques, using tactics eerily similar to the infamous COINTELPRO, in which the government tried to disrupt and discredit black activists by planting saboteurs in political organizations. In fact, 700,000 Muslims, almost half of all Muslim households, have been investigated and interviewed by the FBI. In addition, airport surveillance unfairly targets those who look like Muslims, while being largely inefficient. For example, the aforementioned billion-dollar SPOT Program purposefully engages in racial profiling, without having ever caught a single terrorist.
The amount of individual hate crimes and racism against Muslims has reached an all time high, according to a report at the end of 2015. Violence targeting mosques include everything from the recent Molotov cocktails in California, to vandalism, with some spray-painting the phrase ”Jesus is the Way” on the Islamic Center of Hawthorne. Individual violence has become routine, as an Indiana University student tried to tear off a Muslim woman’s hijab as she ate outside a restaurant.
President Obama spoke out against growing Islamaphobia this February, visiting a mosque in Baltimore. He denounced the conflation of ordinary Muslims with terrorist groups such as ISIS, saying that this conflation only played into the extremists’ hands, by granting them religious legitimacy. President Obama specifically rebuked Republican leaders, such as Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from the US.
However, some activists are criticizing this as “inclusionism”, arguing that the government is simply normalizing Muslim identity to be defined by the state, creating the ideal, “moderate” Muslim subject. Thus, Islamaphobia wouldn’t be a general fear of the “other”, but rather tied to Oriental hegemony, and efforts such as President Obama’s would only reentrench the idea of an acceptable “good Muslim” to be assimilated versus a “bad Muslim” to be exterminated.
Regardless, the material violence calls for a remedy. The Muslim hip-hop activist and spoken word enthusiast, Amer Ahmed, visited CPS, and spoke about his experiences post-9/11 as feeling as if he didn’t belong, and how people regarded him as foreign, although he was born in Ohio. Thus, the best option before us for the time being, regardless of any moral quandaries, is still to educate people about how moderate Muslims differ from extremists.
In light of increasing racial violence and federal surveillance unfairly profiling people who look Muslim, it becomes increasingly important to confront racial prejudices, especially as a CBS News exit poll of Palmetto State primary voters found that 75 percent supported Trump’s ban on all Muslims from the US, despite the proposal being derided as impossible to implement and accused of blatant racism. We must stay informed about Islamaphobia, racist policies, and what we can do to discourage the notion that all Muslims are extremists and terrorists.