The rise of armed anti-Muslim fervor comes as no surprise to those familiar with the industry that’s shaped its path. In the US, politicians have worked tirelessly to establish what’s been described as a ‘Green Scare’, and this has translated into legislation targeting Muslims, their houses of worship, and even the plots they purchase to bury their dead.
According to a report (PDF) from the national advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), found that anti-Islam state laws, often marketed as being “anti-Sharia”, “do not increase safety but rather lead to religious intolerance.” This intolerance manifests in the form of attacks on mosques, the specific exclusion of Islam as a subject in public school, and policies targeting Muslim immigrants and refugees. SAALT also discovered that in the last year alone, 31 states passed unconstitutional bans on Syrian refugees.
On June 10, leading anti-Muslim organization ACT for America, whose founder, Brigitte Gabriel once described Muslims as being a “natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western society”, initiated a nationwide ‘rally against Sharia law’. This event was marketed as a “march for human rights” drew an assortment of protesters, many of whom expressed their disdain for Islam, and some of whom were armed. Members of the Oath Keepers, an organization described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being an extremist group, were invited by ACT for America to provide protesters with security. Most of them were armed, despite there already being heavy police presence, and barricades.
Robert, an office clerk and musician from Austin, Texas who asked to have his name withheld for privacy concerns, tells Mondoweiss that the counter protest he attended at the Texas capitol outnumbered ACT for America’s anti-Sharia rally-outnumbering them by at least 2.5 to 1. While the counter protest, which was mainly organized by Texans Against Islamophobia, was non-violent, Robert admits that it was confrontational. “The police presence was very heavy,” Robert explains. He describes this presence as being almost militant, with many officers armed with full riot gear. “The police were a greater presence than the protesters were.” Most of those Robert recognized at the counter protest were from the Austin Socialist Collective and the Austin Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which is where he first heard about the event. “There were also many I recognized from various antifa gatherings.”
Robert explains that what drove him to get involved in the counter protest event was his belief that direct displays of solidarity are necessary in order to help those who are targeted by hate. “I don’t want reactionaries to feel unopposed here. And I don’t want Muslims and perceived Muslims to feel vulnerable or alone in the community.” While acknowledging that the groups who participated in the counter-protest have done a good job in combating Islamophobia, Robert argues that Austin, in general, has issues with complacency when it comes to confronting reactionaries. “I think you get people who feel that by simply not being despicable to those in the community that are perceived as being Muslim, that they are being good allies. But when it comes to demonstrating solidarity through direct action, they are nowhere to be found. And as always, we can make improvements in our organizing.”
Elizabeth Huston, a 25 year old immigration paralegal from Chicago, Illinois, attended a local event spearheaded by People United Against Oppression, and ANSWER Coalition Chicago, a leftist, anti-racist, anti-war coalition of organizations. The anti-Sharia protest was meant to take place at the northeast corner of Wacker and Wabash, on the south side of the Chicago river, just across the river from one of Trump’s buildings, but the counter protest arrived there first, so “they went over to the northwest corner of the same intersection”. Huston says that the anti-Sharia protesters “gave up” around noon, which was two hours earlier than their permit was for, “probably because nobody could even hear them, because there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen of them, and at least a couple hundred of us.”
Huston was surprised to see how often anti-Sharia protesters attempted to use liberal rhetoric to cloak their racism, citing examples of signs reading “RIP LGBT under Sharia” and similar expressions about women’s rights, and human rights. Huston argues that protesters “seemed to have learned that if they just say “we hate brown people” we’ll call them racists, and if they say “we hate foreigners” we’ll call them xenophobes, and if they say “we hate Muslims” we’ll call them Islamophobes.” What Huston describes is an attempt to “flip the script” in order to rationalise their anti-Muslim sentiment. “It’s very disingenuous, and I loathe the idea of white nationalists trying to derail and distract people with this stuff.”
Huston contends that Chicago can do more to counteract Islamophobia by tending to parts of the city where mostly people of color live, “from directing resources to underfunded schools, to putting grocery stores in food deserts, to making reparations for the racist housing policies that helped segregate the city in the first place – in short, putting the whole city on the same footing regardless of race – materially counteracts Islamophobia.”
While most anti-Sharia protesters were met with fierce opposition, there’s been no final nail struck into the Islamophobia industry’s coffin, and, as many have admitted, further organized action will be required to squash the violent surge of anti-Muslim sentiment that’s grown ever more ominous since the election of Donald Trump. And allies are not willing to see this surge continue without a fight.