As part of the Islamophobia in Perspectives series, Dr. Maryam Kashani visited West Chester University on Monday, Feb. 20 to deliver a talk in Sykes 115 at 2 p.m.
About 50 students and staff gathered to listen to Kashani’s presentation, titled “Love Us Filthy: Muslim Poetics and Terror in These Times.” Kashani, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies and Asian American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, kicked off the event by showing the audience “This is Not a Humanising Poem,” which earned slam poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan second place in The Last Word Festival last year.
Manzoor-Khan, a Muslim woman, began her poem with, “Some poems force you to write them . . . Write a humanizing poem, my pen and paper goad me. Show them how wrong their preconceptions are…”
Focusing on the first line, Kashani said, “So [when Manzoor-Khan] says, ‘Some poems force you to write them,’ she acknowledges here the desire to present positive, relatable, everyday images of Muslims.”
According to Kashani, Muslims “themselves, like everyone else, are susceptible to media representations of Muslims.” Kashani, however, encouraged the audience to be critical of such representations in the media.
“They ultimately serve to reinforce white supremacist logics and ideologies of American benevolence—the United States’ history of racial terror through a liberal multiculturalism,” said Kashani. “What this means is that often times these characterizations of Muslims in television shows might seem to be really complex . . . but they’re also often tied to reinscribing the stories that America is a place where everyone can get ahead.”
Manzoor-Khan goes on to say in her poem, “But no, I put my pen down. I will not let that poem force me to write it because it is not the poem I want to write. It is the poem I am being reduced to . . . So this will not be a ‘Muslims are like us’ poem.”
Kashani similarly discouraged a “Muslims are just like us” narrative. She discussed how this narrative is disingenuous when considering how Muslims “are subjected to more surveillance and entrapment than any other citizens within the U.S.”
Kashani also brought up how the U.S. has been at war in the Middle East the entire time she had been conducting her research. “Over 370,000 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have died due to direct war violence, and at least 800,000 more indirectly through dislocation, loss of livelihood, destruction of healthcare and sanitation systems, each of which have led to higher rates of disease, malnutrition and resulting in higher mortality rates,” she said.
Kashani noted the more than $5 trillion “U.S. federal price tag” of the post 9/11 wars. The price will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s due to interest, according to Kashani. She broke it down to figure out that each taxpayer was culpable for at least $23,000.
“This doesn’t even have a number for the war in the way that wars are accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties in the U.S. and abroad,” said Kashani.
Kashani made the connection between these wars and anti-Muslim racism. She said that racism is “not just someone calling someone something” and introduced the audience to geographer Ruth Gilmore’s definition of racism: “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death in distinct yet densely connected political geographies.”
In her own words, she explained, “It is actually being subject to dying earlier than your body says you should, being exposed to a certain level of violence. And this is something we’re all implicated in as we make these calculations of what the price is of our security, our comfort.”
Speaking on President Donald Trump’s administration, Kashani described how her colleagues, who worked with children from Muslim communities, found that Trump appeared regularly in children’s nightmares. Kashani also acknowledged the increased harassment Muslim youth face in school. “In this context, many parents know that attempts to comfort their children have more to do with shielding them from the truth than convincing them their fear is unfounded,” she said. “So rather than saying the monsters aren’t out there, they’re just trying to figure out a way to comfort them.”
Kashani touched on previous administrations as well. “The terrain of Muslim political and representational possibility has maintained certain consistencies across the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The discursive differences are exceedingly important, so I do not want to assimilate Trump’s blanket anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-woman hate speech with Bush and Obama’s attempts to distinguish between good and bad Muslims and Islam,” said Kashani. “But it is precisely this discursive terrain of Muslim dichotomy between good and bad, and ideal citizenship, that make the current Trump administration’s statements and policies possible,” she continued.
Manzoor-Khan continued her poem with, “Instead, love us when we’re lazy, love us when we’re poor . . . Love us high as kites, unemployed, joy riding, time-wasting, failing at school. Love us filthy, without the right color passports, without the right-sounding English…”
Kashani declared this was “a radical calculus of worth and value of humanity.” “It reorders the logics of the market and of the state that considers the values and risks of human lives and requires one to recognize and respond to other humans in ways that we are conditioned not to,” she said. “Regardless of if one is relatable, we are related.”
In her poem, Manzoor-Khan said, “If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one who’s not human.”
Kashani posed numerous questions to the audience, using Manzoor-Khan’s poem to make connections to humanity on a larger scale. “What does it mean to love the Muslim who fails? Who is silent? Sometimes violent? Contributing nothing? What does it mean to love anything like that? Is there a limit to human capacity to love? Or a limit to who can survive? How do we determine who deserves refuge, and where? What kinds of calculations are we making? Is it a matter of scarcity, that there’s not enough to go around?” she asked. “$5.6 trillion tells me otherwise. So perhaps it is only a matter of will, a matter of the logics which govern our complicity in how we think, refuse to think about one another . . . What has happened to humanity that we can afford value to it? That one life means more than another, that we can sacrifice one, or many, for the security of some? That we can extricate one from the sum of humanity?”
Student Noah Lessner was one of many who attended Kashani’s presentation, which he found inspiring. “Not enough people are accepting of differences, very generally and of Islam and of Muslims,” said Lessner. “We’ve come somewhat far in our progress but we need to come a lot further.”
Dr. Jamillah Karim will be the speaker in the next segment of the Islamophobia in Perspectives series. Karim will discuss Islam, black feminism and Islamophobia on Tuesday, March 27 in Sykes Ballroom C from 2 to 3:15 p.m.
The Islamophobia in Perspectives series is sponsored by the Office of Social Equity, the Ethnic Studies Institute, the Center for Women and Gender Equity and the Lawrence A. Dowdy Multicultural Center.