© 2022 West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

In the Face of Rising Islamophobia, What's it Like to be Muslim in Appalachia?

CAIR/ Ikram Benaicha
Left- A gun store in Whitesburg, KY put up this sign last summer. Right- an 11-yr-old Syrian immigrant draws a card for the country he is homesick for

How do Muslims living in Appalachia feel about increasing Islamaphobia in America? What role does the media play in creating such fear?

This issue has been heating up in the last year. As refugees from Syria have been arriving in Europe, some Americans, like Donald Trump,  have called for barring them from entering the United States.

But there are Syrian people already here, including an 11-year old boy named Zain. He's the youngest member of a family that immigrated from Syria six years ago. Reporter Ikram Benaicha is friends with the family and she brings us a story of a boy growing up with one foot in Syria and another in America.

11-year-old Zain says he feels comfortable here - and many Muslims say the same thing.

But harassment of Muslims in America is on the rise, according to an analysis from California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Their research shows a rise in assaults on Muslims, death threats, and vandalism at mosques since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Today, Americans are more fearful of terrorist acts happening in this country than they were in the days after September 11, 2001.  So says a New York Times/CBS News poll published last December. 

In this episode we also hear from:

  • Ehteshamul Haque, who used to live in West Virginia as the Imam in South Charleston. Haque was featured on a recent episode of  “Us & Them”. Host Trey Kay explores how America’s anxiety about  Islam has evolved over the past two decades.
    Credit Elizabeth Sanders/ Appalshop
    People in Whitesburg distributed these signs, which were hung up in storefronts all over their town. The signs were meant to promote a welcoming message and were made in response to another sign a local gun store put up. That sign read "Muslim Free Gun Store".

  • Willa Johnson, Brandon Jent, and Tanya Turner in Whitesburg Kentucky. They’ll talk about what happened when a gun store in their community hung up a sign that said “Muslim Free Gun Store.” The Anti- Muslim Gun store got a lot of media attention across the country. But there was another side to this story that you may not have heard about. Listen to the episode to hear how the community responded.
  • Ali Ziyati, a professor of Media Studies and Chair of the Communication Arts Department at West Virginia State University. He talks with Inside Appalachia Host Jessica Lilly about how the media has affected the rising Islamaphobia in America.
  • Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson with the Council on American Islamic Relations, who talks about what his group thinks may help reduce the number of threats and harassment of Muslims in America.
Credit Ikram Benaicha
11-yr-old Zain is a young Syrian immigrant. He and his family moved to West Virginia six years ago.

Inside Appalachia Host, Jessica Lilly, shares these thoughts about why the issue of Islamaphobia is important for our region:

When the media reports on Appalachians, we often see our people stereotyped as ignorant,  poor,  and eager-to-fight. Maybe like me, you’re often disappointed to see these types of reports. We must be wise with our words and think critically about the agenda of folks sharing ideas and images.

I think it’s important that we keep talking about the truth about our people. Just like the rest of the country, most places in Appalachia are an eclectic mix of people. After all- African Americans along with immigrants from all over Europe and the middle east traveled here to work in logging or in the coal mines. 

Stay Connected
Former Reporter/Producer for Inside Appalachia, @RoxyMTodd
Southern W.Va. Bureau Chief, Reporter/Producer, jlilly@wvpublic.org, 304-384-5981, @JessicaYLilly