Recently, The Independent reported on a study finding that discrimination in the job market adversely affects employment prospects for young Muslims. The Independent reports on the study as if the information is new, but three years ago Roger Dobson wrote an article on a study with similar findings for the same periodical. The gist of both pieces is that regardless of skin color and despite outstanding academic results, Muslims have a higher unemployment rate than white Christians of the same age and qualifications.
In the November 2014 article, Dr. Khattab of Bristol University is quoted as saying that while skin color is often a component of discrimination, religion and perceived cultural background have the ability to override racial biases. That is to say, U.K. employers tend to prefer white faces, but if those white faces belong to a Muslim, then the anti-Muslim bias is more likely to prevail. Similarly, brown-skinned employees are looked upon less favorably, but Hindu or Christian Indians may receive less of a penalty than their Muslim counterparts.
According to the newer study, “only 6 percent of Muslims [are] in higher managerial, administrative, and professional occupations, compared with 10 percent of the overall population.” The study does not specify which positions Muslims are more likely to hold, but does 18 percent of Muslims aged 16 to 74 are “more likely to look after home and family” as opposed to just 6 percent of women in their age range with other religious backgrounds doing the same. The article suggests that this is at least in part due to Muslim women’s inability to find suitable work.
The Independent’s study comes on the heels of the Pew Research Center’s August 2017 updates on its report, “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.” In addition to projecting the growth rate of Islam in the future, listing the countries with the most Muslims and calculating approximately how many Muslims live in the United States, Michael Lipka also discusses overall opinions of Muslim-Americans and non-Muslim-Americans about Islam and Muslim behavior.
In short, people with less education, white Evangelical Christians and Republicans are more likely to look unfavorably upon Muslims, believing the majority of Muslims are anti-American. By contrast, slightly more than half of the Democrats polled believe that very few Muslims are anti-American.
Of the Muslims polled about “western” (European and North American) characteristics, over half described westerners as selfish (68%), violent (66%), greedy (64%), immoral (61%) and arrogant (57%). Opinions of non-Muslim westerners and Russians about Muslims are more mixed. About half described Muslims as fanatical (58%), honest (51%) and violent (50%) while fewer than half described Muslims as generous (41%) and arrogant (39%).
Interestingly, people from the U.K. reported the least amount of anti-Muslim sentiment in their country (28%) whereas Hungarian citizens reported the highest (72%). Also noteworthy is the fact that 92% of the U.S. Muslims who responded to the survey said they were proud to be an American, and 80% said they were satisfied with the way things were going in their lives today.
As a North American Muslim with friends across the globe, I find none of this information is particularly surprising, though the numbers are somewhat encouraging. It may seem that Islamophobia has been on the rise since Trump’s campaign, when in actuality at least part of the issue is that Islamophobic people are simply becoming more outspoken.
Of course, even a small number of people who exhibit extremist tendencies can be dangerous. For example, KKK membership was between 4% and 6% of the U.S. population in the 1920s. The First Klan appeared in the 1860s, after the American Civil War. Its members were violent, lynching and brutally assaulting people of color at night. The Second Klan, however, focused on spreading its bigoted ideology and targeted anyone who was not a white, American-born Protestant. Their extremist teaching led to extensive rape, murder and torture of anyone who did not fit the Klan’s image of a “pure American.” Rising Islamophobia is similarly dangerous. In the U.K. the 28% of citizens who are against Islam are enough to stifle, and in some cases prevent, the economic and social advancement of Muslims.
Neither The Independent nor the Pew Research Center released information on the number of U.K. citizens who personally knew a Muslim, but the Pew Research Center did gather such data on U.S. citizens. The conclusion is simple yet important: those who knew Muslims responded with more favorable opinions of Muslims and Islam as a whole.
Islamophobia stems from a perceived difference of values and is often based on media portrayals of and tangential interactions with Muslims. These people have fallen prey to the “Danger of a Single Story;” they allow these fleeting exposures to color their opinions of an entire group.
Muslims are not immune to the danger of a single story, but those in the U.S. and the U.K. spend their days surrounded by people who might not look like them and who likely hold different belief systems. They are already exposed to multiple stories and can draw their conclusions from those. Because Muslims are the minority in both nations, though, most of the people In the U.S. and the U.K. are unlikely to run into a Muslim in their daily lives so they must take it upon themselves to find reliable information. Although meeting and making friends with Muslims might help change the opinions of non-Muslims, it is neither practical nor possible for every non-Muslim to meet a Muslim and have a conversation, and such conversations may or may not have an effect on systemic forms of Islamophobia. Initiatives like those in some New York public schools, legislating school holidays that recognize non-Christian religions, may be one way to spark some conversations about diverse religious groups. Let’s hope we can see this kind of initiative, as well as efforts at other social and political levels, in order to eliminate some of the barriers to cultural communication, understanding and acceptance.