Omar Chatriwala/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Table Talk: Family Conversations About Current Events
When there are periods of heightened violence and war in the news, oftentimes one or more marginalized identity groups can become the focus of attention, anger, hostility and bias even far removed from the location of the conflict. In the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel in October 2023, ADL has tracked an uptick in antisemitic attacks in the U.S. and around the globe, and there have also been incidents of anti-Muslim attacks. As the crisis continues, there’s an expectation that discrimination, online harassment and hate crimes will rise in the U.S. and elsewhere.
One such act of bias-motivated violence took place on October 14, 2023 when a six-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death in what is being investigated as a hate crime. The alleged suspect shouted, “You Muslims must die!” during the attack and also stabbed the boy’s mother, seriously wounding her. The suspect allegedly stabbed the boy twenty-six times and his mother more than a dozen at their home in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield, Illinois. On November 25, three college students of Palestinian descent were shot on a street in Burlington, Vermont. The young men told relatives they were speaking in both English and Arabic before the gunman shot them and two of the men wore Palestinian kaffiyehs (traditional scarf/headdress). A Vermont man was charged with three counts of attempted second-degree murder and investigators are determining whether the shooting could be classified as a hate crime.
What is Anti-Muslim Bias?
Anti-Muslim bias is the marginalization and/or oppression of people who are Muslim based on the belief in stereotypes and myths about Muslim people, Islam and countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Anti-Muslim bias is a form of religious bias and a form of racism. This means that in some communities, Muslim people face disadvantages or exclusion relative to people who are not Muslim because within the community there is a religion that is considered default or “correct.” In other cases, Muslim people are racialized (to attribute racial identities to a group in order to convey superiority or exclude) and viewed as outsiders, threats or assigned other stereotypical traits.
Anti-Muslim bias can be intentional and explicit (e.g., attacks, hate crimes, bullying) and can also be unintentional or implicit. For example, people may believe certain myths, misconceptions and stereotypes about Muslim people that are long-held—they may not even realize they hold those beliefs. People may also use language, intentionally or unintentionally, that is dehumanizing to Muslim people. That makes those stereotypes difficult to identify, unpack and challenge. These stereotypes and myths are often reinforced by narratives about current day events, public discourse and the media.
Anti-Muslim bias can show up and impact Muslim people in many ways including biased slurs and offensive anti-Muslim name-calling, bullying, stereotyped or limited representation of Muslim people in the media, conflating Muslims with terrorism, vandalism of mosques, attacks against Muslim people, religious or racial profiling, hate crimes, death threats, laws that forbid head scarves to be worn, online and in person hate and harassment, job discrimination, etc.
Decades of Bias against Muslim People in the U.S. and Beyond
After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001, Muslim people and those perceived as Muslim or Middle Eastern became the targets of increased hostility, harassment, attacks and hate crimes. In the decades since 9/11, the U.S. population of Muslims in the U.S. has grown. With that growth, Muslim people continue to report encountering discrimination. In 2017, about half of Muslim American adults (48%) said they had personally experienced some form of discrimination because of their religion.
A recent example of one of the deadliest large-scale hate crimes against the Muslim community was in 2019 when Brenton Harrison Tarrant murdered 51 people and severely wounded dozens of others in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The attack, fueled by white supremacist ideology, was the deadliest in the country’s history. The gunman used social media to amplify his attack, streaming a live video of the shooting on Facebook. He also posted a manifesto online prior to the shooting. Tarrant was convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to life in prison in 2022.
How Bias and Hate Escalate
The Pyramid of Hate shows us the prevalence of bias, hate and oppression in our society. It is organized in escalating levels of attitudes and behavior that grow in complexity from bottom to top. Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels. Unlike a pyramid, the levels are not built consecutively or to demonstrate a ranking of each level. Bias at each level reflects a system of oppression that negatively impacts individuals, institutions and society. Unchecked bias can become “normalized” and contribute to a pattern of accepting discrimination, violence and injustice in society.
Anti-Muslim bias can be examined and understood through the Pyramid of Hate lens. For example, stereotypes and attitudes about Muslim people and biased and belittling “jokes” are at the bottom two levels of the pyramid. When these levels of bias are not addressed, they can lead to higher stages on the pyramid. Going in the other direction, employment discrimination and bias-motivated violence, like the murder of the six-year-old Plainfield, IL boy, are at the upper levels of the pyramid but can affect attitudes and actions at the lower levels. Each of the levels can impact each other. This is why challenging bias is critical. When we challenge biased attitudes within ourselves, others and society, we can interrupt the normalization of bias and make it more difficult for discrimination and harm to take hold. The Pyramid of Hate can inspire us to address bias in order to foster a more inclusive, just and equitable community and society.
Acting as an Ally
One way to address bias when we see or experience it is to act as an ally. When people face anti-Muslim or any type of bias, different feelings about what to do can emerge—fear, discomfort, excitement, confusion, anger or a sense of powerlessness. However, it is important and helpful to consider that we are not powerless when trying to address bias. We can act as an ally to those targeted by anti-Muslim bias. This can include reaching out to and supporting someone who’s been bullied, challenging slurs when you hear them, addressing anti-Muslim stereotypes and myths (either privately or publicly) in person and online, questioning our own assumptions about Muslim people, and learning more about the Muslim community by reading books, watching videos, talking with people and using other sources of information. With these strategies, always assess whether it’s safe to do so.
Another way to engage in allyship is in partnership with others or in a more community or systematic way, sometimes referred to as advocacy or activism. Ideas and strategies include advocating for legislation by reaching out to your representatives, speaking out on social media, connecting with media to share your point of view, volunteer and support elected officials who want to address anti-Muslim bias, create and implement surveys to help make your case, donating and fundraising, etc.
Engage in the Conversation
11 and up
Questions to Start the Conversation
What examples of anti-Muslim bias have you seen in the news, online and among your family and friends?
How do you feel about what you have seen and heard about the bias against Muslim people?
Why do you think this may be happening more now?
What do you think can be done to stop these incidents from happening?
What is the danger of myths and stereotypes that exist about a group of people?
Questions to Dig Deeper
Where do you think the myths and stereotypes about Muslim people come from? How can we prevent stereotypes from taking hold?
What is one thing you can do to act as an ally when a Muslim person is targeted?
What is one thing you can do to advocate against anti-Muslim bias?
Ideas for Taking Action
Ask: What can we do to help? What actions might make a difference?
Consider how you can act as an ally if you see a Muslim person being targeted in your school, community or online.
Help to organize an educational forum in school to talk about anti-Muslim and other forms of bias, discrimination and oppression. In the forum, explore and strategize what can be done about it in school, your community or society. Start a public awareness campaign in school and online.
Learn more about the bias faced by people who are Muslim and write an article in your school or local newspaper with your thoughts and possible ideas for actions you and others can take.