Islamophobia in America: A Case Study

of the Scapegoat Archetype  


"A majority may not impose its religious values on others, nor limit minority religious rights. The fact that a majority of Americans do not share the beliefs of a minority faith does not make those beliefs and practices any less protected. Unless all Americans are assured of religious freedom, the freedom of all Americans is in question...Good citizenship includes the civic duty to uphold religious freedom for all. Religious liberty rights are best guarded when each person and group takes responsibility to guard not only their own rights but the rights of others, including those with whom they deeply disagree. This respect for the rights of others is not indifference to theological or moral disagreement, but rather a civic virtue necessary to maintain peace in a religiously diverse society" Interfaith Alliance  (2012)

The American response to unknown people, religions, and cultures has been sadly predictable over the centuries. Rituals of fear, mistrust, and prejudice have been enacted repeatedly on the American continent since before there was a United States. Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italians, Africans, Native Americans and others have all been on the receiving end of shadow projections and scapegoating at one time or another in our history. The contemporary crisis in the American Muslim community is the most recent appearance of this phenomenon. From a Jungian perspective, scapegoating can be seen as a combination of both an aspect of shadow projection and an expression of the archetype of sacrifice. Scapegoating and shadow projection become particularly problematic when they are politicized and used as techniques for constellating and activating a desired constituency.

A key tenet of liberty in the United States has always been the right to religious freedom. And yet, in recent times this basic right has been brought into question by those who fear a religion which they do not understand. This climate of fear and prejudice directed towards Muslims has increased alarmingly since the beginning of the US presidential primary season (Haynes, 2016). According to a research report recently published by the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University,

"Since the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015, there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence, including: 12 murders; 34 physical assaults; 49 verbal assaults or threats against persons and institutions; 56 acts of vandalisms or destruction of property; 9 arsons; and 8 shootings or bombings, among other incidents" (Abdelkader, 2016, p. 5).

Such incidents of violence against American Muslims increased in September 2015 during the early stages of the Syrian refugee crisis, which was

"…accompanied by approximately 10 reported incidents or threats of violence, including 3 murders. In comparison, there was one (1) such incident in August 2015 representing a significant increase in anti-Muslim violence over the course of one month" (Abdelkader, 2016, p. 6).

Subsequent to the uptick in candidate rhetoric against Muslims in response to the Paris bombings and the San Bernardino shootings, violence against American Muslims once again increased. During December, 2015 there were

"…53 total attacks that month, 17 of which targeted mosques and Islamic schools and 5 of which targeted Muslim homes. By comparison, when the presidential election season began just 9 months earlier, there were only 2 anti-Muslim attacks. Attacks on Muslims during this month constitute approximately 1/3 of all attacks last year. In fact, in December 2015, anti-Muslim attacks occurred almost daily and often multiple times a Day" (Abdelkader, 2016, p. 7).

It seems that Islam has been so widely misunderstood in popular American culture that, for many, fear and hostility seem to be the only practical response. As a university educator who daily teaches courses in Islam and world religions, I encounter fears and misunderstandings of this type (though only rarely open hostility) on a regular basis. Even interested, well-intentioned individuals often demonstrate an implicit, sometimes unconscious bias against Islam and Muslims. This seems to occur for two main reasons: one, a general lack of accurate knowledge about the religion of Islam, and, two, a consistent tendency on the part of media, political leaders, and others, to inaccurately ascribe religious motivations to violent, terrorist acts. The one (inaccurate knowledge about the religion of Islam) seems to feed the other (a tendency to ascribe religious motivations to acts of terrorism). An accurate understanding of a religion like Islam, a religion that was born and has developed in a culture very different from our own, requires patience and a willingness to learn. Neither of these qualities is typically found in abundance in contemporary American culture.

Just to clarify, no mainstream Muslim understands terrorist or extremist violence as being religiously justifiable under Islam. Quite the opposite. Terrorists who are motivated by social and political pressures attempt to wrest from Islamic scriptures religious justifications for their hateful acts, but in every case the Quran speaks against such actions. Below are some statements issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (an Islamic juristic body) to clarify the Islamic stand against terrorism:

"Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism" (Interfaith Alliance, 2012, p. 6).

“[1] All acts of terrorism, including those targeting the life and property of civilians, whether perpetrated by suicidal or any other form of attacks, are haram (forbidden) in Islam.

[2] It is haram (forbidden) for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or prohibited violence.

[3] It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to undertake full measures to protect the lives of all civilians, and ensure the security and well-being of fellow citizens" (Interfaith Alliance, 2012, p. 6).

If you find the topics explored here of interest to you, I hope you will join me on Saturday, June 18, 2015 at 1:00pm PDT (4:00pm EDT). I will be hosting a free, live community conversation/webcast for the Depth Psychology Alliance during which listeners will participate as we discuss Depth Psychology, Islam, and Islamophobia in America. If you have questions about Islam or Islamophobia, or would like to join in constructive conversation on these issues, please join us – and please forward this post to your favorite social media outlets and to interested friends!

Click here to register for this free event

James Newell, Ph.D.
is an educator, coach/counselor, performing songwriter, and board member of the Depth Psychology Alliance. James earned his doctorate in History of Religions from Vanderbilt University and teaches courses in world religions for Central Michigan University’s Global Campus as well as courses in Islam for Excelsior State College, Thomas Edison State University, and American Public University. James also holds a master’s degree in counseling and theology from the Vanderbilt Divinity School. James’ counseling orientation is Jungian, and his goal is to educate and empower others to do their own depth work, individually and collectively. James continues to pursue his own artistic passion through music, having begun his musical career as a teenager working with such legendary musicians as John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Jr. Wells, Big Joe Turner, and others.

Works Cited

Abdelkader, E. (2016). When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. Washington, DC: The Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University. Retrieved from:

Haynes, C. (2016). Make America Safe Again: Reject Islamophobia. Retrieved from:

Interfaith Alliance. (2012). What is the Truth About American Muslims? Washington, DC: Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center. Retrieved from: