The Islamophobia in Perspectives series continued with its third of four lectures. Each lecture has a guest speaker exploring the historical context of Islamophobia and how Islamophobia shapes contemporary discourse of religion, culture, race and gender.
The third series was entitled “Islamophobia: What is New and What is Old.” At this event the historical basis of Islamophobia was discussed as well as the argument that there is a new aspect to the prejudice, which is both modern and post-Cold War. The lecture also discussed the impact of Islamophobia on American Muslims and the United State’s relations with the Muslim world. The conversation then stated different ways one can use to prevent the prejudice, as well as educating audience members about the positive steps that have already been taken to reduce Islamophobia in the U.S.
The lecture was held in Sykes Ballroom C on Monday, Nov. 6 at 3:15 p.m. The feature guest speaker was University of Delaware Professor of Political Science and International Relations Muqtedar Khan. Khan’s areas of interest include politics of the Middle East and South Asia, Islamic political thought and American Foreign policy in the Muslim world.
Khan opened his lecture by asking the question, “Who was the best boxer of all time?” Someone in the crowd yelled out “Muhammad Ali.” Khan then asked, “Who is the best basketball player ever?” Someone from the audience said “Kareem Abdul Jabbar.” He then asked, “How many Muslim congressmen are there?” There was a slight silence while people in the room tried to think of the answer. Someone responded that there was one, but Khan responded saying there are two: Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana.
Khan asked another question: “What was the first state to recognize the U.S. when they became independent?” To which someone in the packed room said “Morocco.” Khan’s reason for asking this question was to explain to us that Islam and America are no strangers to each other. In fact, some of the key concepts of the constitution were sovereignty, indivisibility and unification, which are ideas that came from Islamic qualities.
Khan then went on to explain to the room that a question was brought up during the drafting of the constitution: Should a Muslim be allowed to be president? After much debate, they decided that if a person is popular enough to be president, then why not?
Khan further detailed the U.S. founding fathers and how they looked at the state of Medina, which was governed by the Prophet Muhammad for ten years, when they were shaping the constitution. Khan wanted to show that even though we have never had a Muslim president, we do know for a fact that Muslim and Islamic values were discussed and were a part of the founding fathers’ ideas for this country.
Khan proceeded to talk about President Thomas Jefferson and three notable accomplishments of his: writing the Declaration of Independence, establishing the University of Virginia and writing the declaration of religious freedom in the state of Virginia.
Although Morocco was the first country to recognize the U.S., it was also the first country the U.S. went to war with. During the war with Morocco, police arrested two men because they thought they were Muslim. Thomas Jefferson’s response was to write the declaration for religious freedom and equality. Khan told the room about this response to show that America was not born prejudicial to Islam or Muslims.
According to data from some of the latest polls, including one from the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Americans have positive views of Muslim Americans while 60 percent of Americans have negatives views of Islam. A majority of the country is half and half when it comes to this issue. Khan explained that Americans views of Muslims are shaped by their personal interaction with Muslims here, while their image of Islam is shaped by what has happened overseas, with examples such as ISIS and Iran.
According to Khan, American Muslims have become the least liked group in this country. Khan asked, “What is Islamophobia?” He answered that Islamophobia is the baseless fear and hatred of Islam. He used the example that one guy shoots 27 people in the church and we don’t talk about it but if another (Muslim) man shoots eight people our country is in danger.
Khan then started to speak about the importance of equality. In the constitution it says everyone will be treated equally under the law, so he asked: Are we going against the constitution? Khan then explained that although Muslims are not the biggest target of hate crimes there has been a recent climb in hate crimes towards the Muslim community.
According to Khan, hate crimes began to rise after 9/11, and while there was a decline in the years after, in 2010 there was increase which hit a peak in 2015, which was when the Trump campaign began.
According to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in 2016 there were 2,200 hate crimes which was up 40 percent. He said that polls show that one out of two Muslims feel they have experienced some sort of discriminatory behavior, one out of five have been called names, while 10 percent have been singled out by the law.
In the end, Khan talked about the silver lining, which is that Muslims have been becoming more engaged in social activism including running for political office.
A lot of Americans are realizing there has been so much bias. This seems to be a step in the right direction. During the Q&A, one question asked was, “What can we as a community do?” Khan responded that the best thing we can do is make friends with Muslims. He said that most people who are Islamophobic have not had interactions with Muslims. He then told us to look into joining in on different Islamic festivals that are happening. There are many that happen right around the well-known Muslim holiday, Ramadan, that are often overlooked.
Participating in these festivals can be a way to educate ourselves as well as being able to learn about another religious group’s culture.
The final Islamophobia in Perspectives Series event will be held Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 in Sykes Ballroom C.
Travis Martel is a student majoring in liberal arts with minors in journalism, web technology and women and gender studies. He can be reached at TD861333@wcupa.edu.