Georgetown: Anti-Muslim rhetoric linked with increased violence to US Muslims

Rambunctious. Nasty. Unprecedented.

So are some of the words used to describe this year's presidential election campaign. Muslim Americans now can use another word: violent.

That is the conclusion of a Georgetown University report published by the Jesuit school's Alwaleed Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. The report links anti-Muslim political rhetoric with an uptick on physical assaults against Muslims in the United States. It is titled When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections.

The study notes:

  • During the course of 2015, there were 174 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence, an increase from 154 hate crimes in 2014. The surge coincides with the start of the election campaign season, which the report dates from the March 2015 announcement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's candidacy.
  • Since the start of the presidential election cycle, there have been 180 reported acts or threats of anti-Muslim violence.
  • American Muslims are now six to nine times more likely to suffer such attacks than pre-9/11.
  • American Muslim men are twice as likely to be victims of physical assaults than women and 11 times more likely to be victims of murder.

Much of the report focuses on the impact of Republican presidential presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Other Republican candidates were also criticized for utterances which the report described as Islamophobic.

"We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. Our current president is one ... When can we get rid of them?" stated a questioner at a Trump rally in September 2015 in New Hampshire.

"We need this question. We are going to be looking at that," responded the candidate.

After the December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Trump suggested that Muslims be at least temporarily prohibited from entering the country. Cruz suggested more intense monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods and mosques.

Trump and Cruz were not the first perpetrators, however, said the report. Former candidate Dr. Ben Carson, now a Trump backer, was the first candidate to indulge in strong anti-Muslim rhetoric when he said that no Muslim should ever hold the office of president.

Carson's fundraising numbers went up after that comment.

"The candidates received the message that bias pays, literally," said Engy Abdelkader, author of the report and assistant director of the Georgetown center's Bridge Initiative project.

Abdelkader told NCR that while causality is hard to prove, some incidents included overt references by perpetrators to political statements made by the candidates. She used incidents reported in the media to compile statistics on anti-Muslim hate crimes. The height of the anti-Muslim attacks took place in December 2015 when reported hate crimes spiked five times. Hate crimes included attacks on mosques, Muslim Americans and those thought to be Muslim. The reported assaults against Muslims took place nearly every day that month. 

She said that Islamophobia was the exclusive domain of Republican candidates this election season. By contrast, said Abdelkader, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former candidate Martin O’Malley all made public statements supportive of the rights of Muslim Americans.

Trump and the Trump election campaign did not respond to NCR inquiries about the report.

[Peter Feuerherd is a professor of communications and journalism at St. John's University in New York and contributor to NCR's Field Hospital blog.]

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