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May 8, 2018

For Muslims, "punish a Muslim day" is basically every day

by Mahnaz Habib, Ombudsman
One anonymous, hateful letter rattled United Kingdom communities on Apr. 3. The letter came in a plain white envelope and was sent to six different U.K. communities. Inside was a message that brought chaos and hysteria to the entire country. Entitled "Punish a Muslim Day," the letter gave instructions for a game in which people would be awarded points for engaging in different hateful crimes toward Muslims. Acts of violence included pulling a women's head scarf for 25 points, torturing a Muslim (using electrocution, skinning, or use of a rack) for 250 points, and bombing a mosque for 1,000 points. The beginning of the letter listed off the reasons why Muslims are deserving of punishment, including that "they have hurt" and "caused pain and heartache." The majority of the reactions from the U.K. were horror and disgust, and U.K. Muslims were asked to stay vigilant.
Hasan Minhaj breaks down "Punish a Muslim Day"  to viewers on The Daily Show. Courtesy of Comedy Central
Hasan Minhaj breaks down "Punish a Muslim Day" to viewers on The Daily Show.

As the day approached, Metropolitan Police reported that there was "no credible information" that any hate crimes would actually occur, and no news reports of hate crimes were made. But the letter created fear and paranoia in Muslim communities. Although police continue to investigate where this letter originated from, the process has been slow and long. It is still unclear whether any criminal allegations relating to the letter have been made and the origin of the letter remains unknown. Investigators are beginning to give up on finding this anonymous perpetrator, especially now that the day has passed and there have been no hate crimes reported. Police have an obligation to continue investigating the origin of this immoral act, because the language of the letter was extremely offensive toward Muslims, and the creator deserves to be punished for causing this paranoia and spreading hate.

As terrible of an action this was, it brought to light the issue of Islamophobia that is so prevalent globally. This letter arose from the fear of Muslims, and the stereotypical characteristics too often associated with them: violent, harsh and aggressive. This was no harmless joke, it was a disturbing threat of torture and torment for Muslims. Maybe some of the extreme acts mentioned in the letter are not seen everyday, but this incident was not entirely surprising. Islamophobia is constantly on the rise, and the media has influenced a wide range of people by painting Muslims solely as "terrorists." Without properly understanding Islam, people will turn a blind eye to the peaceful religion it truly is.

In response to this incident, comedian Hasan Minhaj summed up what "Punish a Muslim Day" really signified on the Comedy Central Show. It did not seem like a bad idea, it is just one day from the entire year after all. "On April 3 we all stay home. Amazon Prime has everything we need. Catch up on Peaky Blinders [a Netflix series]. Then walk out April 4 and boom! Islamophobia is over!" He joked. Minhaj continued by making a mockery of the game, the poorly designed poster, and the flawed point system. "If you're going to be racist, just step your game up," Minhaj said.

Minhaj is certainly not wrong. Every day for Muslims can easily be "Punish a Muslim Day." Islamophobia is constantly on the rise, and certainly not just in the U.K. Trump's continued demonization of Muslims, continued efforts for Muslim bans and efforts to promote anti-Muslim speech is only continuing Islamophobia in the U.S. After the 9/11 terror attacks, hate crimes against Muslims have increased significantly and continue to increase. The number of hate crimes from 2002 to 2014 ranges from 105-160 annually, several times higher then it was pre-9/11.

There were more hate crimes against Muslims during Trump's run for president than after the 9/11 terror attack which took 3,000 lives. But this anonymous threat in the U.K. proves this issue is globally prevalent, and will continue as long as these stereotypes continue to spread. These stereotypes, such as that Islam is a violent religion and Muslims are terrorists, have shaped people's views of Muslims,. Although there are many other common misconceptions regarding Islam, these extremist views are what usually results in the increasing personal prejudices against Muslims.

Many Muslims across the U.K. responded resiliently to the threat with #LoveaMuslimDay, sending a letter that promoted positive actions toward Muslims, like smiling at a Muslim or doing a fundraiser for the needy in Iraq. Islam, a religion which really represents peace and harmony, can easily be perceived as violent and hateful when people only listen to the perpetuating stereotypes. The only solution is unifying Muslims and allies together to resist the hate and shine a light on what the religion of Islam really represents, not what many people have assumed it to be. This can only be done through educating, and creating forums of discussion open to Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims need to teach those who are unaware of the religion of the holy book and principles Islam is built upon, because understanding the faith is the key to eliminating the misappropriated prejudices.



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