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Opinion: Repealing Muslim ban is first step in reducing discrimination, more action needed

(Emily Dembinski/Illustrations director)

By Zoraiz Irshad

Feb. 26, 2021 8:49 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 28 at 5:02 p.m.

President Joe Biden’s repeal of the controversial Muslim ban is an important step toward combatting the Islamophobia stirred up by his predecessor.

But that doesn’t mean the work is done.

Former President Donald Trump made his dislike of the Muslim community clear through the rhetoric he promoted during his campaign and presidency. Just one week after his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order that initially banned entry from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

It comes as no surprise then that in 2017, there was a 17% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Trump himself targeted Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar in a tweet that linked her to the 9/11 terrorist attacks – and ultimately increased the number of death threats she already received.

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol pulled back the curtain on white supremacy and the shocking bigotry some Americans hold. In light of this, the Biden administration needs to help combat the ever-present threat of Islamophobia, an area where progress is slowly being made, but there are many obstacles left to climb.

But change doesn’t just come from lawmakers. We as students need to stay educated about the discrimination in our country and understand the implications of the Muslim ban following its repeal.

Islamophobia won’t disappear with the election of a new president, but it is a good chance at progress.

Before moving forward, it’s worth examining the implications of the Muslim ban.

“Politically, it legitimated the Republican party and (a) baffling part of its official program sort of a standing suspicion directed towards Muslims,” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.

According to a 2019 study done by PEW Research Center, a larger percentage of Democrats acknowledged Muslims face at least some discrimination in comparison to Republicans. It’s dangerous that one of the two major parties in the U.S. has a hard time recognizing – and speaking out against – what’s staring them so clearly in the face.

The ban was just the latest act that endangered the safety and religious freedom of the Muslim community.

“What (Trump) was doing was degrading and minimizing the role of much of American society,” said Hiroshi Motomura, a School of Law professor.

The repeal of the ban is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s just that – a step.

“Right now, it is not always the case that it is illegal to discriminate against Muslims, it depends on a lot of different legal factors,” Abou El Fadl said.

Setting new parameters that will make it illegal to discriminate against Muslims will combat the legislative loopholes that allow religious prejudice to continue. However, it won’t come without its fair share of challenges.

“We need a renewed civil rights movement that fights racism, that fights religious bigotry, that fights, you know, the form of socially accepted hate that has unfortunately grown in American society,” Abou El Fadl said.

The most important weapon against hatred is education. As students, we need to cultivate spaces where we can talk about and challenge the narrative presented by the media and pressure our politicians to enact the change we want to see.

It remains to be seen what Biden will do. Even though Democrats essentially control both houses of Congress, the wheels of government move slowly.

Legislation also won’t help if individuals and institutions alike don’t change.

“I think a lot of this is not going to be based on what Congress does as much as based on free speech and some media portrayals of things like (this),” Motomura said.

But there is hope.

In the aftermath of the ban, both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans initiated a wave of protests against it. More than 300 Muslim Americans ran for public office in the past four years. In the previous election alone, more than a million Muslims cast their ballots – a record high.

As appalling as Trump’s policies were, they helped forge an identity unique to young Muslim Americans.

“One of the things that I think … has been heightened by the Muslim ban is the degree to which immigrant Muslims, especially younger college students … are starting to think more about a very deeply American Muslim identity,” said Jeffrey Guhin, an assistant professor of sociology. “It allows them to … create solidarity with a much wider people.”

Granted, it’s hard to stay informed and it takes time to keep up with new legislation. Congress also isn’t known for efficiency, meaning federal change is slow to come. However, as we’ve seen already, individual people can effect change when they work together.

Islamophobia is not something that can be solved in four years.

But it’s students like us, our engagement within our communities and our eagerness for a better world that can help steer our country in the right direction.

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Zoraiz Irshad
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