U.S. national rhetoric plays significant role in the rise of anti-Muslim activities, think tank finds

A non-partisan data visualization project by the non-profit New America think tank has found that national rhetoric in the USA has played a significant role in the rise of hate against Muslims in the country[1].

The project, which is part of the organisations Muslim Diaspora Initiative, was conceived when the think tank became aware of widespread concern in Muslim communities in the United States about anti-Muslim activities taking place but not being covered by national media outlets. The resulting database therefore aims to create a better understanding of anti-Muslim hate crimes, and allow for the evaluation of “the scope and scale of anti-Muslim activities at the state and local level”[2].

The data was analysed by breaking the sample down into five categories;

  • ‘Anti-Sharia Legislation’ – “includes bills that seek to ban Islamic law from being considered in U.S. courts”.
  • ‘Opposition to Refugee Resettlement’ – “Legislation or action by public officials that hinder the refugee resettlement process or voice opposition to the resettlement of refugees in a certain area”.
  • ‘Opposition to Mosques, Muslim Cemeteries & Schools’ – “Cases where local governments have rejected mosques, Muslim cemeteries, or schools in their communities”
  • ‘Anti-Muslim Actions & Statements by Elected & Appointed Officials’ – Incidents of Islamophobic statements by local officials.
  • ‘Media Reports of Anti-Muslim Violence & Crimes’ – A category drawing “from news reports of threats and violence to Muslim communities, including criminal acts and hate crimes”[3].

The project does not include anti-Muslim actions by federal officials, federal legislation, and Presidential Executive Orders. New America notes this is because they consider these actions to attract significant attention from national media outlets, and therefore to include them “would replicate much that is already well documented”. “Incidents at the state and local level by elected and appointed officials receive far less attention”, and so these are focused on instead[4].

The interactive maps reveal trends about these categories. Six hundred and fifty Islamophobic incidents have taken place between 2012 and the present. While these incidents appear to rise after terrorist attacks (although their numbers were still “relatively scant”), as previous research has suggested, the sharpest spikes, and around 87% of the total number of incidents, have occurred since 2015. 25% of all hate crimes occurred within the periods of 13 November to 31 December 2015, and 8 November to 8 December 2016. Robert McKenzie, director of the project and senior fellow at New America, says this indicates “political rhetoric from national leaders has a real and measurable impact”, particularly with reference to the 2016 presidential cycle[5].

Anti-Sharia law legislation appears every legislative cycle, with some consistency. The website provides a list of these bills and laws, and shows that only 11 cases in the 147 instances of these kinds of bills being introduced have become law. McKenzie said of this category, “The point is that there’s no place in the country that I’m aware of where Muslim communities are calling for Sharia law … The purpose of [these bills] is really about ‘othering’ a faith-based community; it’s really about drumming up fear”[6].

A map showing the geographical distribution of anti-Muslim incidents reveals California had the highest number of total incidents, which is not surprising, as California is the most populous state and has the largest Muslim population. Meanwhile, Maine had the highest number of per capita incidents[7].

The researchers note they took a “conservative approach” towards data collection, and that they will keep the project updated as new incidents occur. Their goal is to make “it possible for a range of stakeholders to discuss anti-Muslim incidents with a shared set of facts. Is there an increase in anti-Muslim incidents? Where and when has anti-Muslim incidents been at its most pernicious and threatening?”[8]

However, they caution the database is not comprehensive, and that it excludes qualitative information on the impact of these incidents on U.S. Muslim communities. McKenzie said these Islamophobic incidents causes these communities to wonder about their safety and their place in the U.S. He says, “[The project] does not capture the kind of fear each incident creates for the community”[9].

[1] Misra, 2018.

[2] New America, no date, b.

[3] Misra, 2018.

[4] New America, no date.

[5] New America, no date; Misra, 2018.

[6] Misra, 2018.

[7] Misra, 2018.

[8] Misra, 2018; New America, 2018.

[9] Misra, 2018.

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Misra, T. (2018) ‘United States of Anti-Muslim Hate’. [online] 9 March. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/03/anti-muslim-hate-crime-map/555134/?utm_source=twb?utm_source=twb?utm_source=twb. [Accessed 13 March 2018].

New America. (2018) ‘New America Launches Project on Anti-Muslim Activities in the United States’. [online] 8 March. https://www.newamerica.org/muslim-diaspora-initiative/press-releases/new-america-launches-project-anti-muslim-activities-united-states/. [Accessed 13 March 2018].

New America. (no date, a) ‘Anti-Muslim Activities in the United States’. [online] https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/anti-muslim-activity/. [Accessed 13 March 2018].

New America. (no date, b) ‘FAQ’. [online] https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/anti-muslim-activity/faq/#how-was-the-project-conceived. [Accessed 13 March 2018].