Masking Anti-Muslim Hatred: U.S. Hate Groups & their False Fight for Human Rights
By Emma Bernstein and Chelsea Wilson Miller
On June 10, ACT for America organized marches “against Sharia law and for human rights” in 28 cities across the United States. The county’s largest grassroots anti-Muslim hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ACT for America claims to oppose sharia law in the interest of protecting women, children, and LGBTQ people. But its rhetoric reveals its true intent: to demonize Muslims.
The marches are more evidence that hate groups have been emboldened by President Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies like the stalled travel bans from Muslim-majority countries. They should be seen in the context of a surge in anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States—the SPLC reports that number grew from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016—and a corresponding spike in hate crime.
The most recent FBI data indicates that anti-Muslim hate crimes grew by 67 percent, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015. While official numbers for 2016 will not be available until the fall, hate crime data for several metropolitan areas confirm this trend.
The political appeal of anti-Muslim hate groups is limited, however; in many cities, counter-protesters outnumbered ACT marchers. To try to broaden their appeal and moderate their image, ACT for America has appropriated the language of human rights. Purporting to empower the oppressed and advance freedom of religion, ACT claims that sharia law oppresses women and is “incompatible with our laws and our democratic values.”
In reality, the group invokes the language of equality to demonize an entire religion. While some interpretations of sharia law, such as the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia, discriminate against women, rhetoric that casts an entire religion as dangerous or oppressive does little to advance the cause of human rights.
The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution establishes that the Constitution is the supreme law of our land. The First Amendment also dictates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” ACT for America and other hate groups’ conspiracies that sharia law will take over the United States are more than far-fetched; they raise this specter to stir up hatred.
Their language mirrors the rhetoric of then-candidate Trump. Just over one year ago, President Trump proclaimed that “Islam hates us,” and suggested that Muslims “want sharia law” instead of the “laws that we have.” Trump has since paid lip service to tolerance. He opened his first address to a joint session of Congress by “condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” He also included messages of peace and tolerance in his speech in Saudi Arabia.
Yet this is not enough to distance himself from the hatred he spewed during his candidacy, and the discriminatory policies he has pushed as president. Even as courts rule against discriminatory travel ban, he continues to tout it. And as horrific instances of hate violence continue to make headlines, Trump’s condemnations have been slow and soft, or non-existent. Last month, when an extremist killed two Portland men who tried to stop his anti-Muslim verbal assault on two teenage girls, President Trump was silent all weekend, before issuing a half-hearted denunciation on Monday.
To stem the tide of hate, President Trump should vigorously denounce the rhetoric and any violent acts of hate groups, make clear he condemns all forms of bigotry, and scrap the policies that are making hate groups feel ascendant.
Most importantly, President Trump must speak out for victims of hate crimes, especially in his own country. Yesterday, when a terrorist plowed his van into a crowd of people outside a London-area mosque, the Trump Administration said its “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims and their families. However, when Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl was murdered yesterday outside her Virginia mosque, Trump did not even so much as tweet his condolences.
On June 10, the voices for inclusion outnumbered the voices for hate. But without moral leadership from the president and our other elected officials, this agreeable imbalance isn’t guaranteed to last.