This past week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Black Panthers party, a civil rights movement that was born in the aftermath of the assassination of Malcolm X and was started in California’s Bay Area in the U.S. as a response to the racist treatments of African-American citizens. Today Black Lives Matter is considered a continuation of the same struggle for issues which have not much changed in the past fifty years. Today the Bay Area’s 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick is the most visible figure raising issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, recently taking a knee in protest and standing down while others rise for the American national anthem. The most surprising response amongst the waves of expected criticism that Kaepernick has been facing is the speculation that his protest is a direct result from either his supposed conversion to Islam, or that he is under the influence of his Muslim girlfriend Nessa Diab.
While it is not difficult to see an individual being inclined to take a stand due to the emphasis placed on social justice in Islamic teachings- that is clearly not what the groups that are criticizing Kaepernick for his lack of circumspect are implying. Their implication is that Islam stands for everything negative and everything that which is not compatible with American values. Today being a Muslim is an accusation, when people say someone is a Muslim today it is like saying the person is a criminal. Even president Obama had the honor of being accused of being a Muslim- eventually leading to American secretary of state Colin Powell’s famous statement:
“What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is ‘No. That’s not America.’… Yet I’ve heard senior members of my own party suggest, ‘Drop the suggestion he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists’. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
Today there is in fact something wrong with being a Muslim in America. Today Muslims have joined ranks in being identified in similar racist ways so familiar to African-Americans; that is to say they have become second-class citizens as African-Americans have always been second-class citizens in America.
Islamophobia today is further responsible for stripping Muslims of the ability to feel that they have the same rights- rights as fundamental as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. Today Muslims are incapable of taking a knee in the presence of the national anthem to protest the mistreatment of Muslims because there is no Islamic Panther party; today they would find it difficult to take a stand in a highly islamophobic atmosphere. Such a move is largely seen as too risky and would be lacking vigilance in today’s environment. Instead you can only have and will only see non-Muslims like Colin Powell able to voice concern over troubling lines of questioning and rhetoric and the demonizing of Muslim-Americans and their rights. Islamophobia has Muslims busy trying to integrate and convince other Americans of the compatibility of Islam and the traditional American values instead of protesting, while New York Buffalo Bills football fans want to “tackle the muslim” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3LHBGkjwss) in reference to Colin Kaepernick. Unfortunately what the tailgaters at the football games do not realize is that the Islamic faith has been a tenet part of American history- Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was after all, in his own words, for “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Muhammadin”.