Are Muslims Second-Class Citizens in the West?

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Two decades after 9/11, Muslims once again feel like second-class citizens in the West.  When they look at the plight of civilians in Palestine, they cannot help but feel that a Palestinian life is not equal to an Israeli life.  President Biden’s words of sympathy ring hollow when his actions do not match his words.  He cannot genuinely empathize with those killed or wounded at the Al-Ahly hospital attack while using his veto at the UN Security Council to block the resolution calling for Israel to pause fighting and allow humanitarian corridors into Gaza.

He cannot profess that there is no place for hate against Muslims in America and yet whip up war hysteria by falsely claiming he saw photos of babies beheaded by Hamas in Israel.  The assertion was later walked back by a White House spokesperson.  But by then the damage was done.  The media had amply quoted him, the image of the savage barbaric Palestinian had been conveyed, emotions were aroused and a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was fatally stabbed by his landlord in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham stated on Fox News and then in a post on X (Twitter) that “We’re in a religious war and I unapologetically Stand with Israel.”

This is the type of inflammatory rhetoric that has been encouraged in the Republican Party not only during Donald Trump’s time in office but also when George W Bush was president and waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  However, this time, religious undertones aren’t limited to the Republicans.

To underscore his affinity with Israel, Antony Blinken prefaced his statement in Israel with the words, “I come before you not just as the United States Secretary of State but as a Jew.”

Such language profoundly alienates Muslims.  It is entirely understandable that Jews in America and other Western countries would share heritage with Jews in Israel and want to ensure Israel’s safety.  But Muslim immigrants to the West also want safety for their loved ones.  They do not want rampant killing and wars waged in their home countries.

The double standard becomes very apparent however when only one side is heard and the other is consistently shot down.  It makes Muslims wonder if they will ever be allowed to express themselves adequately or impact government policy.

In the last twenty years since 9/11, we have seen second and third-generation Muslims in the West move beyond the traditional fields of medicine and engineering espoused by their first-generation parents and enter the world of politics, journalism and academia.  Yet in the last week, many have felt either helpless or scared.

Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in the US Congress, wrote on X (Twitter):  “I cannot believe I have to beg my country and colleagues to value every human life, no matter their faith or ethnicity.”

First minister of Scotland, Hamza Yousaf, who is of Pakistani descent but married to a woman of Palestinian heritage, has posted several videos of his parents-in-law stuck in Gaza, with very little food and water, but seems equally powerless in convincing his colleagues in the UK government to stop the humanitarian crisis.  Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rushed to Israel to show his support but has not even called Hamza Yousaf to express any concern for his family.

The fact that a right-wing government in the UK, a centrist government in France and a left-of-center government in the US are all on the same page on this foreign policy issue leaves many Muslims in the West feeling like political orphans.

In the UK, disenchantment with the opposition is as palpable as anger with the government.  In the last few days, several Muslim councilors have resigned from the Labour Party because they felt that the statements made by Keir Starmer endorsing Israel did not represent them.

Muslim journalists are equally vulnerable.   Some are just too fearful of losing their jobs to question the dominant narrative.  But those like Adam Elmahrek of the LA Times who took issue, for example, with the “beheaded babies” claim and pointed out that it was “unverified” and “sensational” have been falsely maligned as Hamas supporters.

University students have faced reprisals for exercising their free speech rights, with billionaire financiers asking for lists of their names to jeopardize their careers.  Law firms in the United States have rescinded offers to students from Harvard and Columbia because their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict do not align with those of their prospective employers.

A British-Palestinian doctor, Ghassan Abu-Sitta, who is working in Gaza to assist with the humanitarian crisis, has complained that counter-terrorism police were sent to his home in Britain to harass his family members.  The UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, has tried to criminalize waving the Palestinian flag, while France and Germany are banning Palestine solidarity rallies.

For those Muslims who are old enough to remember 9/11, this is deja vu.  But the difference this time around is that Western media no longer has a monopoly on news.  There are alternative English channels like Al-Jazeera and TRT which focus on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and social media allows the world to see videos recorded by those directly affected.

As different people flock to different news sources and empathize with different sides, this can dangerously polarise and divide multicultural communities.  If urgent efforts are not made to make the current discourse more inclusive to all communities affected by this conflict, it may become very difficult to make amends later, particularly when demographic changes in the last couple of decades have resulted in significantly sized Muslim populations in most major metropolises in Europe.

The Muslim population in London and Paris is about 15%, Brussels is 25%, Birmingham 30% and in some towns in France it is as high as 50%.  It is simply unsustainable to deny such a large group the right to free political expression and speech.  They must be heard and heeded.

Ayesha Khan is a lawyer and author of “Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar“.  Twitter:  @ayeshaijazkhan  Website: