Casual Islamophobia and direct Islamophobia

So I keep trying to write actual content and my brain keeps short circuiting.  So I’m going to try to write something about the relationship between casual Islamophobia and direct Islamophobia as it relates to the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt.  Possibly this will be terrible and I’ll take it down tomorrow.  We shall see.

Firstly, in terms of cataloguing all of the direct Islamophobia surrounding the Boston bombings, others have already performed this depressing task more effectively and eloquently than I could – check out loonwatch and Islamophobia watch, as well as Wajahat Ali’s moving discussion of the open wound of “the Muslim terrorist” trope over at

Depressingly but not surprisingly, the fear and panic of the Boston bombings led to some truly reprehensible acts of Islamophobia, including a Saudi student having his home search for no reason but that he was running away from an explosion, a marathon runner who was similarly hounded by the FBI, and a Palestinian woman and her child attacked on the street in Malden.

But there was also a heavy cloud of casual Islamophobia that covered the entire media presentation of the bombings.  Descriptions of the kinds of bombs used referenced similar bomb-making techniques used by al-Qaeda or the Taliban.  Internet sites and reddit threads popped up full of pictures of the crowd in Copley Square with ‘potential people of interest’ circled, almost all of them people who looked of African, Arab or Central or South Asian descent.  Even after the suspects were named, the internet and mainstream media were full of accounts of Chechen Islam, before there was any evidence that there was a religious motivation (and despite the fact that the Chechen Republic as a nation has a long and tragic history of domestic terrorism, much of it secular and nationalist).

It’s hard to imagine that these things are not related.  The direct acts of Islamophobic behavior would seem to stem from the same immediate, almost unconscious association of “terrorism” with Islam.  The problem with this sort of casual association is that it’s almost entirely tautological – yes, there are some examples of genuinely Islamic terrorism – that is, acts of terror undertaken in order to satisfy the terrorist’s concept of Islam – but there are also examples of terrorism from nearly every other religion.  The reason we so readily associate Islam with terrorism is that we so often see them linked together.  Again, this is a tautology, not a fact – we think “Islamic terrorism” is a thing so we associate all supposed acts of terror to Islam, which makes us think that “Islamic terrorism” is a thing.

I don’t really have a point to this, except that it’s a crappy thing and we need to stop.  We need to stop not only because it’s sloppy rhetoric.  We need to stop because the casual association of Islam and terrorism is a distraction for law enforcement – it wastes law enforcement time running down random Middle Eastern students and interrogating people based on their background instead of the facts.  We also need to stop because, again, this casual Islamophobia helps feed the acts of overt Islamophobia.  I have no doubt that the people who harassed a Palestinian woman and her family thought they were doing something good.  So do the people who throw pork at mosques or pull off womens’ hijabs in public or scream insults at anyone with a turban or a beard or brown skin.  These acts of over Islamophobia are disgusting and terrible, but they’re not surprising, and on some level, that’s the most heartbreaking thing about them.


About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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