A few weeks ago when I first heard about “Punish a Muslim” day slated for Tuesday, April 3—today, that is—I dismissed it as a stupid prank by some right-wing idiots. And if you saw the simplistic flier sent to various mosques in the United Kingdom, you would’ve likely shared my feelings.
But as the day approached, it was clear that this was not a joke. While the flier is simple in design, its purpose is sinister. It promises “points” to those who attack Muslims, ranging from 10 points for verbal abuse of a Muslim to 100 points for beating up a Muslim to 1,000 for fire-bombing a mosque. It has fulfilled its intended goal of terrorizing Muslims, and not just in the United Kingdom but in the United States as well.
In the U.K., Muslim women have been warned to hide their hijabs or not pick up their kids alone from school, as fear has swept through the community. And in the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported receiving concerned calls from Muslim Americans about the day. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Abed Ayoub is encouraging people to remain vigilant and “if you feel you’re in danger, call law enforcement immediately.” And in Vermont, the Muslim community was are so on edge that local officials publicly went on record vowing to protect them.
But let me be blunt. If April 3 was the only day that Muslims in America had to worry about being “punished,” I would be overjoyed. The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj put it perfectly on the Comedy Central show last week while addressing “Punish a Muslim” day. Minhaj joked about telling fellow Muslims: “On April 3 we all stay home. Amazon Prime everything we need. Catch up on Peaky Blinders [a Netflix series]. Then walk out April 4 and boom! Islamophobia is over!” I wish that were the case.
The reality, however, is far different. To varying degrees, every day is “punish a Muslim” day in Donald Trump’s America. Trump is a man who openly trafficked in anti-Muslim hate to win the GOP nomination and the White House with his call for a total and complete shutdown on Muslims coming into the United States and his irresponsible but clearly calculated comment “Islam hates us.” Trump also ginned up fears that Muslim refugees were coming to America as a “great Trojan horse” to destroy our nation.
As president, Trump has continued with his demonization of Muslims. He has repeatedly tried to impose a limited Muslim ban. And in November, Trump retweeted to his millions of followers three videos that were designed by a far right anti-Muslim group based in the United Kingdom to inflame hate against Muslims.
Trump’s words and actions have truly helped make every day “punish a Muslim” day. We have witnessed a bone-chilling increase in hate crimes against Muslims since Trump began his campaign. In 2016 alone there was a documented spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes to levels that surpassed what we saw in the year after 9/11. Think about that for a moment: There were more hate crimes against Muslim Americans in terms of physical assaults during Trump’s run for president than after a terror attack involving Muslims that took nearly 3,000 lives.
And in the first few months of 2017, we saw again a startling increase in the number of anti-Muslim bias incidents as documented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. These events range from harassment to job discrimination claims to assaults.
You know what, if you truly want to see what “punish a Muslim” day looks like, just check out the Muslim Advocates interactive map that documents a range of attacks against Muslim Americans over the past two years. A few examples include in May 2017, when a Muslim American-owned convenience store was set on fire in Mathis, Texas, after receiving threats: “You are Muslim, we are going to burn your store.” In February 2017, two mosques in Alabama received emails warning that Muslims “will be hunted nationwide” until all are killed or have left the country. And last April in Jacksonville, Florida, a 52-year-old white man threatened his Muslim neighbors by pointing a gun at the head of the father in front of his wife and kids, yelling: “I’m going to kill all you Muslim [expletive], get out of my country.” And that is just a fraction of the incidents documented by Muslim Advocates.
Sure, there were anti-Muslim hate crimes before Trump. But Trump’s demonization of Muslims is like nothing we ever saw before by a major party-political candidate, and that is a big part of the reason for the spike.
And beyond these hate crimes, the sense of an almost daily “punish a Muslim” day in America comes from the growing trend we see from the media normalizing or ignoring anti-Muslim hate. For example, there’s a major federal terrorism trial going on right now in Kansas. Why haven’t you heard about it? Simple: The terrorists are not Muslims. Rather, they are Trump supporting white supremacists who plotted to kill American Muslims. But the mainstream media simply doesn’t cover these trials with the same intensity as when a Muslim is a defendant.
Even in entertainment media we are seeing a normalization of anti-Muslim hate. Roseanne Barr has a documented history of spewing anti-Muslim bigotry (as well attacks on other communities), from retweeting claims that Islam is the same as Nazism to her ginning up fear of Muslims by tweeting about “Islamic rape pedo culture.” Yet ABC rebooted her TV show and has refused to denounce or even comment on her history of anti-Muslim hate. (My inquiries to ABC’s publicist for the show have gone unanswered.)
So while April 3 might be designated by some right-wing bigots as “punish a Muslim” day, that’s been happening almost daily since Trump ran for president. The result, however, is that the Muslim American community is more resilient than ever, with our community thriving and growing through it all.
And while there are real safety concerns over “punish a Muslim” day, many Muslim Americans, together with their allies, responded today defiantly with #LoveAMuslim which has been trending on Twitter all day and shows support for Muslims. That response won’t change the minds of Trump and other anti-Muslim bigots, but it does send them a clear message that despite their efforts to “punish” us, we aren’t going anywhere.