Islamophobia Teach-In : Religion, Fear and the Consequences of Dehumanization

by Isha Mahajan

The Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented a teach-in on Islamophobia that aimed to address the religion, its fear and the consequences of dehumanization on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2019.

The panelists consisted of  professors from UMass alongside those from Boston and Hartford, Conn, who provided their opinions and experiences with instances related to Islamophobia from around the country as well as from an international perspective.

“In the wake of the New Zealand massacre, it is vital that we address Islamophobia and how we overcome fear and misconceptions about a faith practiced by 1.6 billion people on earth, which is one in four human beings,” said Reza Mansoor, president of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford.

As the first speaker, Mansoor’s talk aimed to show how Islam is perceived as threatening in today’s time and highlighted how his work has been helping in building bridges to understand Islam. In addition to educating people , Mansoor talked about his book, “Stigmatized from 9/11 to Trump and Beyond” which shows how the Muslim community in the country is depicted in a negative light after the 9/11.

The second speaker, Saher Selod, associate professor of sociology at Simmons University, focussed her thoughts on gender stereotypes of Muslims in the country. Selod believed Islamophobia goes back to the history of Imperialism and Colonialism in countries in the Middle East and showcases this historical background through her book, “Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror.”

The third speaker was Tahirah Amatul-Wadud. Wadud is the attorney and 2018 candidate for the Massachusetts 1st Congressional District and converted from Christianity to Islam when she was four years old. A mother of seven African American children, Wadud talked about the media reforms in the country, rethinking national security policies and the importance of education in her speech. Wadud also talked about the funding that Islamophobia networks in the country have and the fear of people standing up for themselves because they were afraid of their identity.

After the speakers from the panel presented their thoughts on Islamophobia in the US, the teach in transitioned into providing an international perspective to the issue.

Fareen Parvez, associate professor of sociology at UMass, the fourth speaker, presented a more global perspective of Islamophobia. Over four years, Parvez conducted researched in India and France, two secular countries in which Muslims as their largest minority population.Parvez said that she found  41% of people whom she interviewed, were uncomfortable with their child’s teacher being Muslim. In India, she believed that the conditions in rural areas were also very harsh to live in for the minority groups.

David Mednicoff, department chair and associate professor of Middle Eastern studies and public policy at UMass Amherst, highlighted the intersection of Islamophobia with other forms of prejudice of other minorities in the US  as well as International factors that have contributed to Islamophobia in the US. Even though , Mednicoff is not a practitioning Muslim, he acknowledged that Islamophobia is very much prevalent in the US. Some of the important aspects in his talk included long term western practices, The Middle East and US government political dynamics, the reaction to the 9/11 attacks and the power of media.  

The audience that gathered also felt supported through this talk and hoped to see more acceptance towards Islamophobia in their surroundings. “When the school puts something like this, It makes me feel supported as an individual in my background because we don’t really get a platform to speak on our issues,” said Raya Husami, a junior at UMass. “In terms of a broader change, you’re never gonna see an immediate change however this will help elevate some of the ignorance that exists.”

The teach in can be viewed on the UMass Equity and Inclusion Vimeo page.

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