The definition of Islamophobia

phobia [foh-bee-uh] (n): a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Yesterday, governors in 27 states, 26 of whom were Republicans, announced with varying degrees of assertiveness that their states would not be accepting refugees that are fleeing Syria’s civil war. They don’t have the authority to do this — once the federal government grants someone legal refugee status, states cannot restrict their movement — but even if they did have such authority, it wouldn’t actually protect their citizens from the terrorism they fear. Not only is regular air travel an easier way to enter the United States than the refugee process, which takes between 18 and 24 months, but none of the Paris attackers identified thus far were refugees. All of the attackers identified thus far have been European nationals.

Here’s the map of which states are “rejecting” refugees, via CNN. See a pattern?

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While all of that was going on yesterday, Ted Cruz also announced that he will introduce legislation in the Senate that would block the United States from accepting Muslim refugees. When asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if he felt at all hypocritical about the legislation, given that his father was at one point a refugee fleeing the Cuban dictatorship, Cruz said that it was sooooooo different, telling Bash that, “If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism, that promotes murdering anyone who doesn’t share your extreme faith, or forcibly converting them, then it would make perfect sense.”

Which is odd, because Cruz is the same guy who just recently went to a conference sponsored by a religious zealot who thinks we should execute gays in public, but only after they’ve been given a chance to repent and come to Jesus. In other words, Ted Cruz is part of a theocratic and political movement that promotes murdering or forcibly converting those who don’t share their extreme faith. And his father is even more extreme.

Bash also didn’t bother to ask him how he reconciled his legislation, which materially discriminates against Muslims, with his contrived warnings about the “atheist Taliban” and their/Obama’s “war on faith.”

While all of these politicians are being grossly irresponsible and hateful, let’s not pretend that they’re being irresponsible and hateful all on their own. They’re acting this way because “projecting strength” while stoking the basest of fears carries pure electoral advantage. Chris Christie and John Kasich announced that they will refuse Syrian (by which they mean Muslim) refugees because many of their constituents — and not just their Republican constituents — don’t feel so great about Muslims.

Sure, if you asked ten people on the street if they hated Muslims, you’d be hard-pressed to get anyone to say “hell yeah.” But if you asked them whether we should increase the number of predominantly-Muslim refugees fleeing a civil war, you’ll get a much more mixed response. In the words of one of our Facebook commenters, “There’s empathy, but there’s also stupidity.”

Well, there’s stupidity, but there’s also fear. A fear that’s persistent, having been around for over a decade. A fear that’s irrational, as the actions of our elected officials are taken against an entire group of people who are fleeing the same specific violence we seek to protect ourselves from. And a fear that has led to a compelling avoidance desire — a desire so strong that we’re willing to take actions that, while spinning the wheels of anti-Muslim fervor, don’t actually protect us from the threats we face.

While I’m sure that self-portrayed he-man Ted Cruz would bristle at the notion that he’s afraid of anything, he and his colleagues are channelling and amplifying our nation’s dictionary-definition Islamophobia.

“Rejecting” refugees at the state level is both illegal and immoral. Applying a religious test for incoming refugees at the federal level is both nearly impossible to implement and very likely unconstitutional. Neither action will make a terror attack on our soil more or less likely. The United States has resettled over 745,000 refugees since September 11, 2001, and only two have ever been arrested in connection to domestic terrorism. The threat is statistically negligible, no greater than the threat of domestic terrorism posed by our own citizens. However, none of that will stop our elected officials from making these nominal, symbolic and fearful measures. So long as our general public remains a twinge Islamophobic, that Islamophobia is going to trickle up to our elected representatives.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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