I teach at Lehigh University in eastern Pennsylvania. I work on British colonialism, modernism, postcolonial/global literature, and the digital humanities. Recent courses I have taught include Transatlantic Modernism, Asian Americans in Literature and Popular Culture, and "What Am I Doing Here? The Value of a Liberal Arts Education."
This winter, visible religious minorities, especially Sikhs and Muslims, feel a bit like we’re back where we were 14 years ago, in the dark days after 9/11. In recent months, we have seen a surge of hostility around the country that makes many of us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own country.
Opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump have, unfortunately, made public comments that have only emboldened those who harbor hostility against religious minority communities. Moreover, it’s not just Donald Trump; the entire crop of Republican front-runners seems obsessed with making Democrats utter the words “radical Islam,” as if that phrase would somehow strike a death blow to ISIS. And yet they are not at all concerned about uttering another word that hits much closer to home: Islamophobia.
And yes, even that word, with its “-phobia” suffix, feels insufficient. For we are not just talking about fear of Muslims and those who look like they might be Muslims, but a much more active kind of hatred and hostility that has been brimming up in recent months.
We need to talk about what has been happening, about the surge of racism and xenophobia that so many of us have been experiencing in our various communities. And we need to ask our political leaders – and especially our potential political leaders – to exert moral leadership to stem the tide. Since the attacks in Paris and the San Bernardino shooting earlier this fall, hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims have exploded.NBC News reports 38 anti-Muslim attacks in just over a month since the Paris attacks. The Huffington Post, for its part, has been maintaining a running list and puts the number of attacks at a minimum of 73. These incidents include beatings, shootings, vandalism and arson, with mosques all around the country being targeted, from California to New York. Near where I live in the Philadelphia suburbs, a mosque was recently desecrated with the head of a butchered pig – an attack that seemed stunningly medieval in its method and symbolism. Alongside mosques, Sikh temples (Gurdwaras) have also been desecrated, including an incident in Orange County where a vandal scrawled “FUCK ISIS” on a truck parked in the temple’s parking lot. (The vandal was later caught and, facing a possible felony charge,decided to visit the Gurdwara during services to apologize to the congregation.)