By Christina Zolnierowicz
Due to events caused by a group of radical Islamists, anti-Muslim hatred has spread far, wide, and deep in the past few years. However, there are still those who wish to educate the public and dedicate their time to providing Muslims of all backgrounds with a safe and supportive group of advocates.
John Robbins is the executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Massachusetts. CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy organization that provides legal services as well as civil rights defense and promotes civil liberties in the courts and the media.
Robbins’s main priorities are to oversee staff and operations and coordinate across different mosques and religious groups in an attempt to promote the best atmosphere possible for Muslims in the Boston area in a way that is conducive to positive and harmonious interfaith relationships.
Bigotry has always been centered around minority groups and those who are perceived as different, Robbins and others have noted.
“It’s no different than xenophobia and anxieties about Jewish Americans, Catholic Americans, Irish Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, or Japanese Americans that have occurred in the past,” said Robbins. “It’s just that Muslims are the latest instance and targets of this. Unfortunately, this is an issue that we’ve seen that has become exacerbated because of mainstream political figures and candidates for the highest office in the land who have made some pretty challenging statements on Muslims.”
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been very vocal about banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Many who support Trump hold the same beliefs. This has only amplified anti-Muslim sentiment since America’s presidential campaign season began.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, 2016, former presidential candidate Ben Carson made his initial statement that one cannot both be a Muslim and run for president of the United States due to the fact that it is not in the U.S. Constitution. The following day, the Islamic Society of Burlington in Massachusetts, just west of Boston, was defaced with “USA” spray-painted across the outside of the building.
“This seemed to be a pretty clear indicator that these individuals were following the idea that it was an insult to Islam to be called American,” said Robbins, “or were insisting that the United States and this is not a place for Islam, or something like that. This is certainly one of the big examples of this that we’ve dealt with. Personally, I received death threats as a result.”
He added, “You’re branded as somehow a terrorist or a potential terrorist, or these kind of things,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is something that we’ve seen a great deal of and is extremely painful for members of our community.”
Lina Gomes, an immigration attorney, maintained that Islamophobia has been precipitated by political events and has been given legitimacy by mainstream figures who receive enormous amounts of funding.
Due to this, Robbins said CAIR, along with the Islamophobia Network website and the Center for American Progress, closely document where the funding comes from for anti-Muslim hate groups. He believes the funding goes to prominent media figures, think tanks, politicians, and local community leaders.
“In Boston in particular,” Robbins said, “there’s one very virulent anti-Muslim hate group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance that receives about three-quarters of a million dollars a year, that just basically demonizes Islam and Muslims in the media.”
Robbins believes that, by creating a global citizen network that understands what Islam truly entails, people can combat anti-Muslim hatred and focus constructive energy elsewhere.
“Our main belief is that the root cause of bigotry is fear and ignorance – that you can’t hate what you know,” he said. “So the more that we can get Muslims, and allow and enable Muslims, to put themselves in the public eye and have greater activity with religious groups and other groups doing good work with other marginalized communities, the more that ignorance and fear is going to fall away and be replaced with harmony.
“This is something I believe in personally,” said Robbins, “and I’m committed to.”