Proposed legislation targets Islam as anti-Muslim discrimination soars in the United States, rights groups say.
More than $200m was spent towards promoting “fear and hatred” of Muslims in the United States by various organisations between 2008 and 2013, according to a fresh joint report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the University of California, Berkeley.
Released on Monday, the report identifies 74 groups, including feminist, Christian, Zionist and prominent news organisations, which either funded or fostered Islamophobia.
“It is an entire industry of itself. There are people making millions of dollars per year from promoting Islamophobia. They often present themselves as experts on Islamic affairs when they are not,” Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, a spokesman for CAIR, told Al Jazeera.
“They have fuelled an environment of distrust among the American public by claiming that Muslims do not belong to the American community and that they could never be loyal citizens.”
Ruiz said that Islamophobia has posed two main dangers: a rise in hate crimes and anti-Islamic legislation.
“For example, in the last year alone in Florida, there has been a 500 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims. Mosques have been vandalised and there have been a number of bomb threats towards Islamic groups.
“And Florida’s government is even trying to ban school books from making any references to Islam in history.”
Since 2013, the country has seen a rise in the number of bills or amendments – about 81 – designed to “vilify Islamic religious practices”, 80 of which were introduced to state legislatures by Republicans, the report notes.
It cited Florida Senator Alan Hayes as once distributing literature that said: “Our religious, political, and peaceful way of life is under attack by Islam and Sharia Law. Save my generation from this ideology that is invading our country and masquerading as a ‘religion’. It’s sedition: They are determined to overthrow our State and our Country.”
Meira Neggaz, the executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) – a US-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera a poll published in March showed that one out of every five American Muslims had experienced discrimination on a regular basis, while more than half of them had faced some discrimination.
“The other faith group you would think would suffer from some discrimination are Jews. They do, but far lower – only about 5 percent,” she said.
She also noted that the rise in anti-Islamic sentiment was more tied to political rhetoric than terrorist events.
“2008 and 2012 – the years of election campaigns – saw spikes in Islamophobia that had nothing to do with terror. And we are now seeing similar trends in this election cycle.
“It is part of a broader backlash against minorities. Lawmakers who are legislating against Muslims are also against other minority groups.
“At least 32 states have introduced and debated anti-sharia or anti-foreign law bills. And, according to our research, 80 percent of legislators who sponsor this type of legislation also sponsor bills restricting the rights of other minorities and vulnerable groups.”
Neggaz emphasised that Islamophobia is a threat to US democracy and affects all of the country’s residents.
“Religious discrimination is illegal. There has to be legal procedures that can address that.”