Fear and suspicion of Islam, or “Islamophobia,” occupied center stage on the 2016 presidential campaign. Republican presidential candidates, most notably Donald Trump, upped the ante on the rhetoric targeting Islam and Muslims, during an impasse when fears of terrorism and “homegrown radicalization” are at a climax. Calls for “Muslim immigration bans” and “making the desert glow” manifest the intense political Islamophobia which gripped the 2016 presidential campaign. Although the blatant fear and animus has spiraled to new lows, a close examination of American legal history reveals that this rhetoric is neither aberrant nor novel—but rather an outgrowth of formative law and current policy.
This Article argues that the emergence of political Islamophobia is first facilitated by legal and political baselines—deeply embedded in American legal, media, and political institutions—that frame Islam as un-American, and Muslims as presumptive national-security threats. Second, it is enabled by the expansion of modern law and policy that marks Islam as an extremist ideology that spawns “radicalization.”
Furthermore, this Article examines how the dialectic between state policy and political rhetoric targeting Muslims is a synergistic and symbiotic one, whereby the former endorses and emboldens the latter. Framing the Islamophobic rhetoric that emanated from the 2016 presidential campaign as an outgrowth of preexisting law and policy, instead of outlier speech, renders a better understanding of that rhetoric’s purpose, impact, and interplay with standing policies that target Muslims Americans.
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