American Islamophobia opens with its author, Khaled A. Beydoun, coming to a tragic realization: Converting to Islam is a dangerous proposition for anyone living in the United States.
While visiting Los Angeles, Beydoun learns that his Uber driver, an undocumented immigrant, is considering converting to Islam. He agonizes over what to say to the man, who admires his activism and work as an associate professor of law at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Beydoun eventually says, “I ask you to think about whether now is the right time to become a Muslim. Your status already puts you in a difficult position, and falling victim to Islamophobia would put you in a more dangerous place.” The driver—already vulnerable to the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies—risks becoming doubly maligned if he dares express interest in Islam. So, despite Beydoun’s devotion to his religion, he turns the other man away.
It’s a commonly held belief that widespread Islamophobia in the United States began in reaction to the September 11 attacks, and escalated from there, with the Patriot Act, which allowed the government to spy on US citizens, the Obama administration’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program, which asked Muslims to act as spies against one another, and recently with Donald Trump’s hateful Muslim ban. However, in American Islamophobia, Beydoun explains that the stereotype and accompanying fear of Muslims actually began with the founding of our nation.
Drawing clear lines through US history—from the Orientalism of the founding fathers to 1995 mainstream media assumptions that the Oklahoma City bomber was a “Middle Eastern terrorist”—Beydoun shows that discrimination against Muslims in the United States is as old as the nation itself.
Beydoun writes in a clean academic style, but American Islamophobia isn’t dry. There are personal moments, such as when he describes his youth as a poor kid being raised by a single mother on welfare. He brings sharp focus to the plight of poor Muslim communities ravaged by domestic spying and policing.
Those most harmed by these punitive programs are the poorest Muslim communities of color—like the large Somali enclave in Minneapolis where middle schoolers are asked to spy on their classmates, interrupting learning in what should be a safe space.
American Islamophobia is a well-crafted history of this country’s relationship with Islam and the institutional and cultural discrimination that defines that relationship. Beydoun’s book should be read by anyone curious about common Islamophobic misinformation who wants to become an ally to those facing a unique form of American discrimination.