Washington D.C. — On Wednesday, a Washington, D.C. cop approached and proceeded to intimidate a woman in a public library, saying if she refused to remove her hijab, she would have to leave.
Witnesses to the incident at Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood library were understandably stunned.
Jessica Raven, interim executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, happened to be “within a foot” of the woman when the officer began harassing her about her religious head covering.
“All I heard was he started asking her to take off her hijab. My jaw dropped,” Raven told DCist. “The man next to her spoke up, but the officer continued to harass her. Ultimately, he came towards her in an intimidating way, pulled out his handcuffs and said if she didn’t want to take off [the hijab], she had to leave.”
So she left.
Though it remains unclear whether the officer received any reprimand or disciplinary action, he has been moved to a different location, said spokesperson for the D.C. Public Library, George Williams. DCPL has apologized for the incident, despite being unable to verify the details.
“We welcome and serve everybody, and we take very seriously that this woman did not feel welcome,” he stated.
But this is much more than someone feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome in a public space. This constitutes dangerous and inaccurate profiling as the arguable result of expansive Islamophobia overtaking the U.S. in the wake of terror attacks in Brussels and Paris. Worse, such intimidating harassment legitimizes stereotypes with no foundation in reality — and sets the boundary of acceptable behavior by ‘state’ actors to a chilling new level.
Not only does such fear-based intimidation perpetuate the vengeful cycle of hatred and xenophobia, but those who behave this way are playing exactly into the actual terrorist’s goals.
Islamophobia is the ultimate win for Daesh (ISIL) and other violent groups. If you don’t buy that, consider the following cycle.
Any group subjected to continuous discrimination and constant denigration will first experience fear, but eventually that fear begins to translate to resentment. When resentment builds to an ultimate level, it tends to translate to action — not in carrying out a terrorist attack, but in a more insidious way. As Alex Mierjeski explained in attn:,
“Groups like the Islamic State, some say, take advantage of disenfranchised immigrants who face discrimination and difficult social conditions.”
Though he applied that description to what is happening in Europe, the model fits the United States handily.
“The young Muslims from ‘inner-city’ areas of Belgium, France, and other European countries joining up with the Islamic State were radical before they were religious,” explained Alain Grignard, a Belgian counterterrorism expert. In other words, societal constrictions resulting from discrimination based on false stereotypes builds resentment, even or particularly among non-religious Muslims — and Daesh (IS) offers an outlet for that pent-up rage.
We have seen the same in the United States, where the assumption that Islam as a religion fuels jihadism which then fuels politicians’ increasing crackdown on the American Muslim population. Trump wants to ban Muslims under the premise of Homeland Security while such a ban feeds into Daesh’ goals by making a blanket judgment call.
Politicians have become lazy. By denouncing an entire group of people over actual individuals responsible for perpetrating terror, they risk creating more of it. It’s quite aptly been posited the best way to thwart terrorism — as a whole — would be if everyone reached out to their neighbors and offered solidarity, understanding, openness, and, above all, love.
Those who feel welcome don’t tend to want to harm those around them. Those who aren’t experiencing the vitriol and bitterness of a paranoid populace generally tend to go about their lives like the rest of us.
What the D.C. cop also failed miserably to grasp in his hateful rush to discriminate are the number of other religions which employ headcoverings — including some sects of orthodox Christianity. Would he have been as quick to crack down on an orthodox Christian woman? Doubtful.
“It’s a moment of a lot of fear for Muslims, especially Muslim women,” explained Darakshan Raja, co-founder of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum. “After Brussels happened, I know women in D.C. who were afraid to leave their house.”
What Raja is discussing has happened across many European cities dealing with the refugee crisis largely driven by Western bombing campaigns across the Middle East. Taken with Mierjeski’s theories concerning terrorism, it isn’t difficult to see the damaging cycle playing out repeatedly, as in the case of Paris and Brussels.
When buying into xenophobia as policy, as in the case of Trump’s Wall, people are ultimately fanning the flames of terrorist rhetoric. Beyond that, the same fear allows the West to fund perpetual, imperialist war for the corporations which rely on natural resources overseas.
This is not that complicated, but it seems to escape those who find it easier to succumb to xenophobic scaremongering than bother to understand why terrorism exists in the first place — and it has nothing to do with a hijab.