America’s “Dirty Arab” Islamophobia Problem

Can you imagine if an Arab American man constantly harassed his White neighbors in Oklahoma with indefensible racial slurs like “dirty honky” or “filthy cracker” on a regular basis?

Can you imagine if this same Arab American man was also found guilty of running over a White mother with his car and somehow not have to serve any significant jail time for this attempted murder?

We all know that would never happen.

Instead, let us imagine that the victims of this racial hatred were an Arab American family and the White man was the racist murderer.

On August 12, a 37-year-old Lebanese Christian man named Khalid Jabara was brutally murdered by his 61-year-old White neighbor named Vernon Majors, who had a long history of racial harassment against the Arab-American family in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“He’d call us names all the time. ‘You dirty Arabs, get out of here,’ ” the mother, Haifa Jabara, told CNN during an interview. “I had a guy who mowed our lawn, he’s black. [Majors would] scream, ‘You N-word, Get out of here.’ ”

Police received several complaints from neighbors about Majors’ behavior. In 2013, Majors was forbidden from having any contact with the Jabara family after they filed a protective order.

But the harassment continued.

“Every time I came outside at night, he’d scream and yell at me. Scared me to death,” Haifa Jabara said.

According to the Washington Post, Haifa Jabara was out for a jog through her quiet neighborhood last year when a hit-and-run nearly killed her. Majors was arrested and confessed, calling the Jabaras a bunch of “filthy Lebanese,” according to a police report.

Then Majors somehow was granted bail May 25. Just before he was killed, Khalid Jabara learned that Majors was now armed, the family said.

“Khalid called the police stating this man had a gun and that he was scared for what might happen,” his sister, Victoria Jabara Williams, wrote on Facebook. “The police came and told him there was nothing to be done.”

About 10 minutes later, Majors shot Khalid Jabara, who was talking to his mother on the phone. Police officers later found Majors hiding behind a tree at a library.

“The murder of Khalid Jabara is a reminder that even those who are not Muslim can still be hate crimes victims of Islamophobia,” Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said during an interview with me.

“There has been anti-Arab sentiment in this country dating back to the 1800s,” he continued. “It is common to conflate Arabs and Muslims. However, in fact, over 70% of Arabs in the U.S. are Christian. Despite some differences, the Arab and Muslim communities face the same challenges that arise out of common anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia.”

Ayoub also said he regularly works with Arab Christians across America who are attacked because of their national origin and also because the perpetrators perceive them to be Muslim.

“The reality is that these bigots perpetrating hate crimes don’t know the difference between a Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Jew,” he said.  “The bigots who commit these hate crimes are targeting anyone they perceive to be different and to overcome these challenges, it is imperative that Arabs, Muslims, Christians and other impacted communities work together to highlight our common bonds and face our common challenges in a united way.”

“All Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs”  is a played-out meme that has been regurgitated ad nauseam within our American sociopolitical zeitgeist. In fact, only 18% of the world’s Muslims are of Arab descent and the five largest Muslim-majority countries in the world (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nigeria) are all non-Arab.

Although the majority of Arabs across the world are Muslim, many Americans would be surprised to learn that most Arab Americans are actually Christians like Khalid Jabara. A 2002 Zogby International survey found that “24% of Arab Americans are Muslim, 63% are Christian and 13% belong to another religion or do not practice any particular faith.”

In the age of Donald Trump, it is becoming quite clear that when it comes to racist hate crime violence against the Muslim, Arab and South Asian populations in the United States (including devout Sikh American men who keep turbans and bears in observance of their religious faith), all brown people are seen as “The Other,” regardless of whether we are Arab, Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Sikh.

For those reasons, in light of Khalid Jabara’s brutal murder, we should again take this opportunity to unite our diverse communities and stand together for all hate crime victims who are targeted because of their nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or any other minority status.

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    Arsalan Iftikhar

    Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Editor of The Islamic Monthly magazine

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