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Klau Center hosts speaker on Islamophobia

| Monday, September 14, 2020

The Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted Dalia Mogahed, Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in Washington D.C., to speak about Islamophobia on Friday as a part of their Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary lecture series.

The weekly series, held on Zoom, features different guest speakers every week who speak on issues such as the Black Lives Matter syllabus, allyship and health inequity.

Islamophobia, Mogahed said, is “anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination based on an irrational hatred and fear of Islam, and it is both individual and institutional.”

Many people assume that terrorist attacks by Muslims are to blame for spikes in Islamophobia, she said. However, the data contradicts this assumption. Mogahed shared figures that show spikes in anti-Muslim sentiment are more heavily concentrated around elections, rather than terrorist attacks.

“Islamophobia is a manufactured phenomenon, not an organic response to terrorist attacks,” Mogahed said. “The idea that Islam encourages violence more than other religions is refuted with evidence.”

However, the media often spins terrorist attacks, focusing heavily on their association with Islam, she said. Mogahed cited one headline that said the majority of fatal attacks on US soil were carried out by white supremacists, not terrorists. This sort of language, she said, can further Islamophobia and intensify the public’s belief in a direct link between Islam and terrorism.

Islamophobia does not only affect Muslims, Mogahed said. Efforts to restrict the rights of Muslims, via anti-Sharia or anti-foreign law bills, overlap 80% with efforts to restrict rights of other minorities via voter ID laws, breaking unions or anti-immigration laws, she said.

“Even if you’re not a member of a minority group, even if you’re the victim of a hate crime, even if you think all of these things don’t affect you, they affect you because fear erodes freedom,” she said. “Fear makes us more accepting of authoritarianism.”

The effects of Islamophobia, Mogahed said, make everyone less free and less safe. Her research with the ISPU proves that there are ways to combat Islamophobia.

Any kind of bigotry, she said, tries to make the victim feel isolated. In order to address victim’s isolation, allies should build coalitions with people who want to fight Islamophobia, she said. People should also try to have meaningful conversations across the political divide. And another key factor, she said, is to demystify Islam as a faith.

“According to our research, knowing about Islam is one of the strongest protective factors against Islamophobia,” Mogahed said.

Mogahed’s lecture fell on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Three days after the attack, Mogahed said she was afraid to go to the mosque, assuming that there would be protests or backlash. Instead, she said, people of other religions and non-religious people showed up in solidarity to support the Muslim community.

“I really mark that moment as a turning point in my life where it inspired me to dedicate my life, to dedicate my career, to building bridges, rather than building bunkers and isolating ourselves,” Mogahed said. “It’s really in this spirit that I do my research, that I do the work that I do. And this topic specifically, Islamophobia, is one that I think is absolutely critical to young people, especially during the time we live in now, especially during an election season.”

For those who want to continue educating themselves on Islam and Islamophobia, Mogahed recommends taking a class on Islam, checking out the resources on the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding website or reading the book she co-authored with John Esposito, “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” And, she said, get to know a person who is Muslim and accept the real Muslim in the room as the norm and the fanatic on TV as the exception.

“The main message that I hope you will walk away with today is that Islamophobia is a threat to every American,” Mogahed said. “We can all think about it, of course, as something that impacts Muslims. But Islamophobia is a threat to every single American who cares about freedom and democracy.”

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