In 2016, I wrote an opinion article that described Islamophobia as a public health issue because discrimination is a known cause of worse mental and physical health.
As soon it was published, I received an onslaught of hate mail and packages. My family received countless threats, and my employer had to take extra steps to protect my identity. I am only one of the thousands of victims of widespread hate and discrimination towards Muslims or people assumed to be Muslim.
The rise of Donald Trump coincides with rates of Islamophobia that easily surpass the modern peak reached after 9/11. There has been an increase in hate crimes, harassment on college campuses, vandalism, racial profiling, and violent assaults and attacks. And by upholding the Muslim ban, the U.S. Supreme Court has further cemented that hatred into law.
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It’s not just abhorrent. It’s literally making people sick.
It’s not hard to understand how facing demonization and fearing that you might become the victim of a hate crime would be detrimental to your health. A recent study finds that religious discrimination targeting Muslims is significantly associated with psychological distress, symptoms of depression, higher levels of fear and anxiety, an unhealthier diet and worse blood pressure. Among women with Arabic names in California who gave birth within 6 months of 9/11, there was an increase in premature births and low birth-weight babies. There was no such increase for other women.
People struggling with these health problems are also less likely to seek care due to discrimination. Women who wear a veil report that they face greater discrimination in health care settings, and one study found that women who report religious discrimination were less likely to have had a mammogram in the last two years.
The health consequences of legalized Islamophobia are vast and widespread, making it a fundamental public health issue. Public health practitioners must remain dedicated to social justice and promotion of health for Muslims and all marginalized groups, and lawmakers must realize that policies that discriminate against Muslims make Americans sick.
Despite this president’s spiteful policies and an inbox full of hate mail, I remain committed to a goal of health equity for all. Alongside citizens and immigrants from around the world, I envision a future in which racial and religious minorities alike have the assurances of the fundamental right to health.
Goleen Samari is a health demographer at the University of California, San Francisco. She can be contacted at email@example.com.