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Muslim lawmakers call out Islamophobia in election cycle

Kalia Abiade • May 25, 2016

Islamophobia problem is bigger than Donald Trump, congressmen say

“You think that you’re going to be the chicken that doesn’t get fried up. I think you better guess again.”

Those were Rep. Keith Ellison’s words of advice for Muslims who support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He said such people are like chickens rooting for Colonel Sanders.

The congressman from Minnesota spoke alongside Rep. Andre Carson (IN) on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., about the impact of Islamophobia in the current election cycle. Ellison and Carson, who are the only Muslims serving in Congress, told reporters that hateful anti-Muslim speech has “real consequences.”

Both lawmakers said this isn’t only about Trump, who has publicly called for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the United States. They pointed out that former candidate Ben Carson said that Muslims should not be allowed to run for president, highlighting the lack of political consequences for speech that maligns an entire religious community.

As the presidential campaign has progressed, Ellison and Carson said they have both been targeted by hateful, anti-Muslim emails and have come under scrutiny for their faith.

Elected officials and candidates collaborate with anti-Muslim activists

At Tuesday’s press conference, they rightly pointed out something even scarier than the harmful comments: the collaboration between known members of the organized Islamophobia movement and candidates for elected office. The most notorious example is Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement that Frank Gaffney—a notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist—would serve as his national security adviser. Gaffney’s tenure with the Reagan administration and his “think tank” Center for Security Policy lend him at least the appearance of credibility, but his words give him away. Gaffney has claimed everyone from Grover Norquist to President Obama are secret “Muslim Brotherhood” operatives working to take over the United States.

Islamophobia on display is inspiring movements for justice

For all of the hate, the anti-Muslim rhetoric this election cycle has shed light on the ugliness of Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. The media seems to be paying attention. A recent report by the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown shows that the use of the term “Islamophobia” quadrupled from 2014 to 2015. This year is on track for even higher numbers.

“In a time when anti-Muslim attacks continue, this is a positive step,” the Bridge report says. “The naming of prejudice is crucial, and signals that a society has begun to recognize how wrong it is.”

Ellison may agree. During Tuesday’s press conference he said the Islamophobia that’s marked this election cycle is motivating people to act:

“I believe that this anti-Muslim hate is going to be responded to with a renewed investment in activism. And the people who promoted this kind of hateful behavior are going to wish they had never done it because they’re awakening a group of loyal, dedicated Americans who love their country and appreciate the Democracy we have.”

Kalia Abiade is the Advocacy Director at the Center for New Community

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