White House Scrambles to Address Rise of Anti-Muslim Sentiments in the United States

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By S. Hesam Houryaband.

On December 14th, 2015, I was invited to attend an “anti-discrimination” teleconference organized by the White House, targeting civic, political and religious leaders in an attempt to address the rise of mainly anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States, specifically after the December 2nd San Bernardino shooting in California.

The conference call, which was organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, was hosted by the director of that office, Valerie Jarrett, as well as Jesse Moore, Associate Director of Public Engagement, and Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It also included several public religious speakers from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.

The conference call was part of a series of initiatives by the White House following the San Bernardino terrorist shooting, including President Obama’s Oval Office address on the matter on December 6th. The initiative aimed to reassure the general public of the government’s continued anti-terrorism efforts, coupled with stricter gun controls. It also aimed to reassure the Muslim community of the government’s support, in the face of anti-Muslim sentiments, the highlight of which was resonated at the Republican presidential debate held on December 15th, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was witnessed at the debate how the Republicans’ main candidates were trying to trample and outdone each other to see which one would have the most extreme strategy and policy in “addressing” the issue, from banning Muslims entering the United States, to keeping a database on American Muslims, to literally going after terrorists’ families.

The White House realized the dangers of culmination in these anti-Muslim sentiments, touched upon by Ms. Jarrett on the conference call, but unfortunately, no concrete plans were set forth to counter them, specifically when such sentiments are so freely being discussed and presented by political forerunners of the presidential race.

It would be easy to legally counter anti-Muslim acts and incitements by the police and the judiciary, and that’s not what the White House should be concerned with. The White House and the government should be more concerned with effectively finding a way of addressing what is being presented as possible future policies and strategies, reverberated by an overeager gang of politicians who want to demonize Americans of Muslim faith for their own gains, and the fact that these proclamations will be abused and twisted in the most vulgar ways to legitimize attacks on innocent Muslims living in the US.

In fact, the most practical course of action which was offered at the White House conference call was by Imam Khalid Latif, New York Police Department’s Muslim Chaplain. He stated that Muslim-Americans should be invited to neighborhood churches and synagogues, to enhance the level of interaction and integration between Muslim-Americans and their fellow citizens.

This is what the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs as well as the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships should prioritize as their agenda in order to address the growing xenophobic feelings in the US. The arrival of the Syrian refugees in the United States will further exacerbate such sentiments, and if the administration is serious about addressing the problem, it has to address it at the grassroots level, as proposed by Imam Latif.