Toolkit for Mobilizing to Protect and Support American Muslims
Please note: This toolkit is a living document- we will be updating it as new developments arise in order to help equip you to work against anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SPECIFIC THREATS THAT AMERICAN MUSLIMS FACE TODAY?
Throughout and following the 2016 elections, we heard a lot of rhetoric demeaning and threatening Muslims, and we saw a spike in hate crimes and incidents of violence against Muslims in our country. There were many times that people stood up and spoke out against this trend, particularly after the most overt and egregious incidents. We will likely continue to see overt attacks on Muslims, but we also know that many of the policies that threaten American Muslims are less overt. People of faith need to be ready to push back against all types of anti-Muslim policies, including the ones that are a bit more difficult to understand or to see the bigotry immediately on the surface. Here are a few key things we are watching for:
Executive Order on Refugees and Immigrants
President Trump’s first attempt to ban Syrian refugees, put a temporary stop to refugee resettlement more generally, and ban persons from certain Muslim-majority countries did not hold up in court. But, he has tried again with a new Executive Order, set to go into effect on March 16. Things are moving quickly with this, and action from faith communities is critical to put pressure on elected officials to take strong stands against these measures, which, among other things, are clearly meant to target Muslims in particular. Our partners in the refugee resettlement field have put together this action kit for March 16, and you can stay updated on legal & political developments, as well as action steps to take, at the #NoBanNoWallsNoRaids website and at UnitedAgainstMuslimBan.com.
The threat of a Muslim Registry
During the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, President-elect Trump made comments suggesting a “Muslim Registry.” While it was often unclear whether he was suggesting a registry for citizens and permanent residents based on their religion, or suggesting a registry of immigrants and refugees entering the country, this proposal is extremely alarming either way, and harkens back to Japanese internment camps.
Background: The United States has had a form of a “Muslim Registry” before, called the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Through this program, established after 9/11, the U.S. government required non-citizens from certain countries (deemed as “terror prone”- all but one were Muslim-majority countries) to register themselves with the government. These individuals had to check in regularly with the government, and a number of those who registered were subsequently faced with deportation hearings, while others experienced government harassment in a variety of ways (read about one family’s experience here).
All of the countries on the NSEERS list were removed by 2011 because the program was costly and ineffective in its stated national security aims. It remained on the books in a shell form until December of 2016, when President Obama officially shut down the program, stating that the program is obsolete.
What should we expect?
Because President Obama officially shut down the NSEERS program, if the new administration wants to revive it, they will have to re-introduce (and make a case for the value of) such a program, and it is expected that they will have to allow for public comment for a period of time. Should this happen, people across the country will need to raise their voices in opposition to any such discriminatory program. Additionally, we may see more widespread surveillance measures targeting & further securitizing American Muslims.
While many of the cabinet nominees have rejected the idea of an explicit “Muslim registry,” many have entertained the idea of carefully monitoring people from certain countries. Additionally, there has been talk of “extreme vetting” for people coming from countries with “high propensity for terrorism” (which would include refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere). If this is put forth as policy, people will need to speak into the conversation, as this would slow or even grind to a halt the US refugee resettlement program. [For more information on how to take action specifically on policy related to the refugee resettlement program, take a look at this toolkit from Refugee Council USA]
The bottom line is that, right now, we don’t know what to expect. It is also possible that the Trump administration would try to introduce some sort of registry for Muslim citizens of the United States, which is unprecedented. In this case, we would need all hands on deck to speak up and push back against any such move. More important than publicly pledging to register yourself (which is an important symbolic act of solidarity) is to stand staunchly against the creation of any such registry in the first place. This would involve letters, petitions, op-eds, public demonstrations, visits & calls to legislators, and much more- be ready to move and move quickly if anything along these lines is introduced.
Threats to American Muslim Institutions
There have recently been pushes to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group (see legislation introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and colleagues, although the broad authority to make this designation lies with the Administration, rather than with Congress). There have also been threats of an Executive Order to this effect. The legislation itself is highly problematic and breaks with US precedent (read more here and here), and many believe that this move would lead to the scapegoating of American Muslim institutions by “opening investigations” into them (you can read more about that here and here). Read up on the issue, then keep paying attention, so that you know how and when your public voice will be helpful.
Ongoing Violence and Harassment
Hate crimes, vandalism, attacks on houses of worship, and bullying against American Muslims rose steadily throughout the election cycle and have continued to occur at high levels since November 9. Both the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University and SAALT have issued reports on this trend. Muslim Advocates is tracking & mapping hate crimes targeting American Muslims (and reports these incidents to authorities- see here for how you can report incidents), and the site Hate Hurts is monitoring hate incidents as well.
Local responses to these incidents are particularly important. Consider contacting the affected community and ask what you can do. Many have come together after incidents of vandalism to repaint the mosque, for example, or to raise money for the community for repairs. In cases of violence against individuals, notes of concern and raising money have also been helpful ways that the community has come alongside those targeted, as well as advocating for hate crime investigations and demanding that the incident be taken seriously by the relevant authorities. The bottom line is that, after such an incident, it is important that the affected community feels supported by the broader community, and that there is a message sent publicly that this is not acceptable. Communities can come together and send a strong message against violence and hatred. An attack on one is an attack on all and we will not stand for it. There are many creative ways to make sure those things happen.
In addition, law enforcement and media responses to hate crimes are critical in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Consider coming together with other local community organizations to urge law enforcement officials to consider all possible motives for the crimes, and to ensure the safety of the victims and their communities. Given that media plays such an impactful role in the way communities are perceived, hold media outlets accountable if their coverage is biased.
It’s also important to note that part of the rise we are seeing in anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is due to an organized, well-funded network of groups and individuals interested in spreading negative (and false) information about Islam and Muslims. You can read more about that network here, and about a number of the players in it here and here.
OK, SO WHAT CAN I DO NOW?
Educate yourself & your community about Islam and American Muslims
There is a lot of bad information out there about Islam and Muslims, and if you only learn about this religious community through the news, you’re hearing a very tiny fragment of the story. Here are some resources to learn more:
● American Muslim poll, from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
● The Diversity of Muslims in the United States (a report from US Institute of Peace)
● Responses to FAQs about American Muslims
● Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative has put together a Heritage Series webpage with numerous resources highlighting the diversity of the American Muslim community, linked here
● Learn from ISPU how anti-Muslim legislative measures overlap with other legislative pushes that target and marginalize minorities and vulnerable communities, and thereby presents both a theoretical and very tangible threat to all communities.
● Read about organizing happening through Muslims for American Progress.
● There are a LOT of good books out there to learn more about Islam, the Qur’an, and American Muslims. Here’s an (always growing) list we’ve compiled.
Get to know your Muslim neighbors.
Call up your local mosque, reach out to a Muslim parent at your school, or contact Shoulder to Shoulder if you need help finding Muslim partners in your area to connect with. You don’t need to put together a major interfaith gathering to get to know people- just have dinner or coffee to get started! Here are a few resources that might be helpful in taking the first steps:
○ Here’s a guide from Ilhan Cagri, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, for starting a relationship with Muslim neighbors
○ This Dinner Dialogue guide is helpful if you are looking for something a bit more structured
Push for local resolutions.
Team up with others in your area to press your city council or school board to adopt an anti-Islamophobia resolution (linked here, with resources for making it happen).
Be an upstander.
One of the discouraging things about a number of the recent incidents of harassment and hate violence directed at Muslims (as well as other communities) is that there have been several incidents where bystanders didn’t do anything to help the person being harassed. Be ready to step in if you see something happening- here’s a great comic showing what that might look like.
Raise your voice publicly.
As an individual, you could write an op-ed or Letter to the Editor (LTE) to push back against hateful rhetoric or incidents. Here’s a guide on lifting your voice publicly, including some (tested!) messaging advice.
As a community, your house of worship could put up a banner indicating your solidarity with your Muslim neighbors. Here’s a link to purchase one!
Pay attention, take action, & spread the word.
Following American Muslim leaders on social media is one helpful (and expedient) way to stay up-to-speed on policy issues as they come up.