Islamophobia is Real, Mr. Mayor—A New York City Muslim Explains

My colleague, Haroon Moghul, wrote a masterful piece here called “What’s Islamophobia, and Do I Have It?” In it, he expounds on the myths that serve as the bases for Islamophobia. His voice is one of a growing chorus that shows that Islamophobia exists and has a persistent logic of its own, often grounded in anti-Semitic tropes.

In fact, one of the amazing elements of Islamophobia is the denial of its own existence—as Nathan Lean explains. In his article, Lean also offers several examples of the impact Islamophobia has had on the lives of Americans; Wajahat Ali has written about the fear and death that an Islamophobic environment sanctions; Erik Love gives us sociological background on the impact of Islamophobia. I want to offer a reflection of what a New York Muslim sees and hears as Islamophobia becomes so normalized that it becomes an institution.

Let’s begin with the double-standard tango. We hear about about an Alabama teen who is reported to have a near-operational plot to attack his school. He is allowed to go back home. A couple in New York, where one partner is a serial offender, is found with explosives in their apartment, ready to blow things up. In both cases, there is no ongoing coverage of these attempted terrorist plots. They are released on bail and told to behave themselves. Yet, any Muslim who meets another Muslim is tarred by six degrees of separation as being a potential terrorist, deserving of NYPD surveillance.

The situation of the NYPD is one of the great travesties of Muslim life in the city. The extensive program has, admittedly, resulted in no leads. We at RD have covered the betrayal of trust that Mayor Bloomberg’s policies represent. This betrayal is further compounded by the fact that members of the NYPD call it the “most corrupt police department,” and try to harass people for exercising their freedom of expression. Yet, by giving them unsupervised, unchallenged power, Mayor Bloomberg makes it easy for them start with the assumption that Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. And again, much like the Islamophobia Industry denying Islamophobia in the presence of a preponderance of evidence, no NYPD policy changes, despite the overwhelming evidence that the surveillance is misplaced. 

This type of Islamophobia is becoming so ingrained into the mayor’s administration, that when Sunando Sen was slaughtered on the altar of Islamophobia, the mayor urged us to remember that while it was sad, it was okay because the real story was how cool the NYPD was. This statement was a day after he talked about the unappreciated deaths of the 34 people killed everyday by gun violence. Clearly, some causes of violence and some victims of violence are to be appreciated more than others.

If the words of Fox News can lead to an arson attack against a mosque, and general Islamophobia results in knifings in pizzerias, then the words and actions of the Mayor of New York have a much more profound impact.

Muslims in the city are bombarded by media coverage that paints us as suspect. The city’s police department paints us as suspect. Advertising in the veins of the city paints us as suspect. The mayor made a rousing speech during the Park51 controversy, but he has not internalized or exemplified those words. We are a community besieged by Islamophobia. Instead of building strong, resilient communities, we are left with “Be safe,” as our most potent protection. We cannot trust the police, we cannot trust people on the subway, and the mayor fiddles. 

Islamophobia is real. People die because of it. Communities are weakened, and the only people profiting from it are the police state and the Islamophobia Industry. As a New York Muslim, I hope Mayor Bloomberg leaves us a better legacy than bike lanes and broken communities.