WesSpeak – Decoding and Debunking Islamophobia

This was from a while ago (before the panel). Here’s the link on the Argus with comments.

Islamophobia has recently become a prominent presence in the United States. Articles and forums with titles like CNN’s “Holy War: Should Americans Fear Islam?” (ABC, October 3) demonstrate the problems inherent in such fears. To deplore the beliefs and actions of some 1.6 billion practicing Muslims of the world is a dauntingly large undertaking and, frankly, quite an unreasonable one. Fear of Islam at large assumes a monolithic Muslim people and culture, but religions, and especially those that are so complex and pervasive as Islam, are anything but homogeneous. Along with Islam, Judaism and Christianity—Islam’s companions as religions of the book—both encompass a vast range of denominations, each with its own distinct set of practices and interpretations of the sacred texts. Thus, it is no more accurate to assert that all Muslims are the same than it is to assume homogeneity among Christians and Jews.

The anti-Muslim discourse that has pervaded the United States as of late has appeared in news features, protests, Wespeaks, and many other media outlets. In light of these public expressions of discord, we, the Interfaith Justice League, feel compelled to address contemporary American anti-Muslim sentiment, and the confusion from which it is borne. Indeed, a host of misunderstandings have coalesced to form the American brand of Islamophobia that is so prevalent and normalized by the media today.

One of the most prominent American misconceptions about Islam is that Muslims at large pose a terrorist threat. Again, this fear stems from the conception of all Muslims as an ideologically and culturally unified people. While Muslims do feel unified on the one belief that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the last messenger, this belief works primarily to form a foundation for the practice of Islam, from which practitioners diverge due to geographical, cultural, and ideological disparities. That said, the fundamental tenets of Islam foster a largely tolerant and pacifist disposition within the Muslim faith.

The United States has a history of constructing the ‘other’ in American society. Irish, Italian, and German immigrants, blacks, and Latin and Native Americans, among others, have all played this special role in the American sociopolitical landscape. Now, within the mainstream media, Muslims seem to be taking the helm. Each group that has played the role of the ‘other’ role has, within a certain conservative American consciousness, posed a threat to the notions of white privilege and manifest destiny. The idea of Muslims defiling American sacred space, as a few extremists did on September 11, 2001, is intolerable to many. This trepidation is enhanced by a fear of a Muslim takeover of the American way of life. After September 11th, images circulated of New York City’s skyscrapers topped with minarets, insinuating an Islamic takeover of the United States. This notion of a physical takeover stands as a symbol for the more deep-seeded, albeit unwarranted, fear of a displacement of American values with Muslim ones.

The historic fears about immigrants degrading American culture, which mirror the current fear of an Islamic takeover in America, have not come to fruition. Rather, the multiplicity of cultures and peoples in this nation have come together to comprise the complex matrix that is “American culture.” Indeed, while racism remains a widespread problem in our country, cultural differences that were previously seen as insurmountable have been breached in a number of areas. That being said, Muslim and American identities are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the part of the American ethos that makes it so unique is an openness towards outside cultures and ideas.

As activists, we place great importance on the elimination of hate speech against Muslims, and the most direct way to work towards this ideal is to increase Americans’ understanding of Muslim people and cultures. As a part of a larger effort to facilitate Wesleyan’s understanding of the multifaceted problem of Islamophobia in the United States, the Interfaith Justice League will host a panel discussion on the Park51 controversy and Islamophobia in general, this Thursday, November 4th in Shanklin 107 at 4:30pm. Come one, come all, to learn more and help dissipate the injustice of misinformed hatred towards Muslims. We hope that reflection on American perceptions of Islam will foster a broader dialogue on discrimination at large.

Peacefully yours,

The Interfaith Justice League

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