When Middle Eastern people are automatically assumed to be Muslim.
Earlier this week, an Iranian-American refugee in Troutdale, Oregon, had his house broken into by vandals. The vandals damaged nearly every room in his house, and, in cherry-red spray paint, wrote “GUT OUT OF USA” (the vandals spelled “get” with a u) in letters large enough to fill two walls. They also wrote “TERRORIST” across his kitchen cabinets.
The refugee, Hasel Afshar, is a member of the Baha’i Faith, a religion with no documented terror attacks committed in its name. Why, then, did the vandals write such a word across his kitchen cabinet? The attack came exactly a week after the London terror attack in which Islamist Khalid Masood murdered four people by ploughing a car into them, and one, a police officer, through means of stabbing. The vandals may likely have attacked Afshar’s home assuming that he was Muslim.
In the year leading up to the election of Donald Trump, the US began to see a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. The most noted was a crime in which three Muslims in North Caroline were shot and killed in their kitchen.
What’s often less discussed, however, is that many people, such as Jews, Christians, and Baha’is, are also targeted for attacks because people assume that they are Muslim, and are therefore “terrorists” or somehow cannot assimilate into Western culture.
One example of these attacks was when a Lebanese Christian man named Khalid Jabara was shot and killed on his front porch by his neighbour, Stanley Majors. The Jabara family reported that among the several slurs Majors often called them, such as “dirty Arabs,” Majors also referred to the Jabaras as “Mooslems.”
According to a report on hate crimes in the US by California State University San Bernadino, the anti-Muslim crime rate rose by 78.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, while crimes listed as “anti-Arab” rose by 219 percent. There is no statistical data available on what motivates the perpetrators of anti-Arab, or anti-Middle Eastern hate crimes. One motivation may be jealousy over immigrants obtaining jobs that American born citizens are unable to obtain. Given the writing on Hasel Afshar’s wall, and the comments to the Jabara family, however, it appears that one motivation for killing non-Muslim people of Middle Eastern descent is the assumption that they are Muslim.
This assumption is nothing new. In his autobiography Hopeful, Iranian-British comedian Omid Djalili discusses growing up in England during the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979. Like Afshar, Djalili grew up in a Baha’i family. Baha’is are a religious minority in Iran, and were massively persecuted and executed during and after the revolution. Djalili experienced anti-Baha’i discrimination among Iranians in England when a group of them expelled him from their soccer team after learning that he was a Baha’i. At the same time, Djalili felt misunderstood by his English friends who didn’t understand the complexity of events in Iran. Much of what they saw was images on television of “fanatics beating themselves in so-called ‘Islamic’ fervour.” He described his situation as that of a “minority within a minority.”
Fast forward 38 years. In 2017, the age of ISIS, this conflation of “foreign” with “Muslim” appears to still exist. The people who engage in attacks on people who “look” Muslim are likely unaware that many Middle Eastern minorities, such as Baha’is, are victims of the same Islamic fanaticism that they fear. As political polarisation becomes more and more prevalent throughout the world, it appears as though the conflation between “Middle Eastern,” “Arab,” and “Muslim” is not going away any time soon.
Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US