Islamophobia talk kicks off in North Carolina

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SHAFAQNA – To graduate student Michael Muhammad Knight, prejudice against Islam is a relatively modern phenomenon— one that evolved from other types of prejudice.

At the first installment of the UNC – University of North Carolina – Muslim Students Association’s Islamophobia lecture series, Knight spoke about international misconceptions about the Muslim faith and what it means for students at UNC.

Knight said Islamophobia is a modern construct of prejudice against Muslims that is perpetuated by a well-connected network of mainstream, anti-Muslim organizations, especially in the past ten years.

“We see a certain kind of empowerment of anti-Muslim discourse in these years that actually starts to create a body count,” Knight said.

In the context of media coverage of last month’s tragic murders of Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat, Knight said he believed Islamophobia might have reached its peak.

“It will take five to 10 years to see if that’s a safe assumption or not. But I actually do have a degree of optimism, in particular, related to what’s happened here,” Knight said. “As much as U.S. media lagged behind international media, I think there has been a shift of seeing Muslims possibly as sympathetic victims.”

Knight said he sometimes doesn’t feel as though the term Islamophobia defines the sort of prejudice that is inflicted on Muslim communities.

“There is the question of whether the diagnostical language of ‘phobia’ is appropriate,” Knight said. “Similar to discourses about homophobia, there is debate with LGBTQ communities over whether ‘phobia’ is the term to use because is every act or word of hatred in regards to sexuality rooted in a diagnosable phobia?”

Shamira Lukomwa, president of the Muslim Students Association, said this lecture series is important to highlight the normalization of anti-Muslim prejudice. The second lecture will be held March 20.

“I think it’s really important because a lot of people, you know, hear or maybe people don’t hear the term Islamophobia, but I think that it’s something that Muslims are aware of, but at the same time we aren’t necessarily sure how to describe it and explain it to people who may not understand what it is,” she said.

Anisha Padma, who worked closely with the Muslim Students Association to organize this lecture series, said she hopes people come away from these events with a greater understanding of the pervasiveness of Islamophobia in our society.

“I think the University is a great community for people to, like, learn about these things and so we really wanted to have a space for people to get more of an understanding … of roles they may play of perpetuating Islamophobia as well,” Padma said.

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