It’s no secret that the current political climate has turned up the heat on the topic of Muslims in America. One of the Republican presidential front-runners, Donald J. Trump has even stated that he intends, if elected, to stop letting Muslim immigrants into the country. As far-fetched as that sounds, it is a frightening reality facing American Muslims, a fear that Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, is all too aware of given recent conflicts such as the Paris attacks and San Bernardino.
“Friction and conflicts involving Islam have been going on for years,” said Hooper.
Having obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in journalism, Hooper’s experience in non-governmental organizations, television and communications has given him a solid foundation for his understanding of the media and its role in the public perception of Islam and Muslim communities.
“The emergence of (social) media has had a negative effect,” said Hooper.
“Ethics and standards have gone out the window. It gives a voice to anyone.”
But words are not the only problem, when it comes to the majority of misunderstandings and misconceptions many have about Islam. Hooper cited a school from Ohio that had been forced to close due to a bomb threat, as another event that few were aware of and many didn’t notice. Although the threat was baseless, Hooper said an event such as this is anything but dead.
“It will add to the list of instances that will be thrown back into the spotlight the next time a religious extremist invokes the religion of Islam as an example for the necessity of more scrutiny and tighter security on Muslim Americans,” said Hooper.
Positive steps such as more news articles highlighting the everyday pressures and prejudices Muslim students face as well as the misconceptions associated with Islam are being printed, but at this stage in the game many are wondering if it’s simply too little too late.
Hooper recalled a study conducted five years ago that revealed when confronted with the word “terrorism,” people assumed it was Islam over 80 percent of the time, when in fact, Islamist extremists were only involved in 6 percent of the instances, the word was used.
Although Hooper was pleased that Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore, he said it simply was not enough. Hooper articulated that legislation is only part of the puzzle, one positive aspect, but that action that showed strength was sorely needed for any real change that would effect the lives of Muslim Americans everyday. Such swift action and more assertive attitudes are necessary on this issue if any real headway is to be made in terms of a certain amount of security of Muslim Americans can count on for their futures when Obama steps down from office.
“Every election, not just the presidential is important,” said Hooper. “ Bigotry speaks to the lowest denominator.”
“Somehow Muslims and Islam are tied to terrorism,” Hooper said.
This election cycle of candidates only brings to mind one thought for the Muslim communities nationwide: Don’t get worse. Trump in particular has been blasting an Islamophobic message throughout his campaign, often citing Islam and terrorism synonymously at rallies and in speeches. Just recently, the issue of torture arose, and Trump was seen enthusiastically backing the use of water boarding, a torture technique that has been condemned in the past by the United States when practiced in other countries, as a fair means to extract information from “terrorists” or “suspected terrorists.”
“The media is reflective of the culture,” said Hooper.
What does it say about our culture, that this word association is warping our perceptions every time we turn on the news?
Hooper plans to continue his work with CAIR, and in doing so, spread awareness and education regarding the treatment of Muslim Americans and the challenges they face.