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Student panel explains how to combat Islamaphobia

| Friday, November 18, 2016

After a divisive election that brought the fate of Muslims in America to the forefront of the national conversation, Go Forth ND hosted a panel Thursday with the intention of combatting the ignorance that feeds Islamophobia.

“The angle we’re taking on this is that Islamophobia is a major factor in radicalization,” Nick Roberts, a Ph.D. student in Islamic Studies, said. “Most counter violent extremism programs take the position that they only look at Muslims, maybe there’s something unique about Muslims and why they become radicalized. They don’t look necessarily at the actions that cause that reaction.”

The panel opened with a Skype call from Ameena Jandali, a founding member of Islamic Networks Group, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about Islam. Jandali said Islamophobia “thrives on ignorance,” and that Americans generally lack personal or educational knowledge about Islam. The fact that much of their “knowledge” comes from the media, Jandali said, is a major problem.

“When there’s an act of violence, the Muslim community will kind of sit and wait and watch how the media describes it,” she said. “If they use the word ‘terrorist,’ we automatically know that it’s a Muslim.”

Jandali’s remarks were followed by a panel of three members of Go Forth ND: senior Justine Uy, junior Francesco Tassi and sophomore CJ Pine.

Uy talked about her internship at the Carter Center, where she coded and archived ISIS propaganda videos for a project countering ISIS’s recruitment propaganda.

“One of the narratives [of these videos] is the western dislike of ‘the other’ … if you don’t understand something, you fear it and if you fear it, ‘the other’ can utilize that fear to recruit people,” she said.

Tassi spoke about the integration of Muslim and Arab refugees and asylum seekers into society.

“[The U.S. is] the integration machine,” he said. “We can take an individual from any population in the world and integrate them and create a society that is successful.”

To conclude the student portion of the panel, Pine discussed how students can respond to Islamophobia, starting with accounting for individuality and the complexity of the human experience.

“We encounter Islamophobia whenever we hear the claim that ‘All Muslims are one way,’” Pine said. “The problem with all of this is that it treats Islam as if it’s an idea, and it prevents us from seeing that Muslims are fundamentally people and therefore diverse.”

Finally, Mahan Mirza, professor of the practice for International Peace at the Kroc Institute, further analyzed the assumptions and misconceptions Muslims make about non-Muslims and vice versa.

“We’re swayed by loud voices, which are not always the most enlightened. … They can be supremely irresponsible, and even worse than that, they’re powerful,” Mirza said.

The responsibility to combat Islamophobia, Mirza said, is on the individual: It is the individual’s duty to ask questions and to seek the truth.

“So what can we do?” he asked. “Well, we’re doing it.”

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