SHAFAQNA – “Islamophobia” is a real thing, and it’s bad for all Americans, not just Muslims, a researcher told an audience of university students and the general public on Sunday.
“Why is Islamophobia a threat to all? It’s a door to other types of racism,” said Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim and the director of research at the Washington-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The institute was formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to promote studies of Muslims.
She spoke on Sunday at the University of Pittsburgh at the conclusion of a three-day intensive course on Muslims in America. Offered by Pitt’s Global Studies Center (GSC), the course is the latest of a series of mini-courses begun in 2011 focusing on Muslims in different parts of the world.
Participating were scores of students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University as well as primary- and secondary-school educators and others from the community. “People need to understand not only other parts of the world but our neighbors, too,” said Veronica Dristas, assistant director of outreach for the GSC.
This past weekend’s segment had been scheduled long before recent events ratcheted up the intense focus on Muslims in America since late last year.
Mogahed said that anti-Muslim sentiment here has spiked not after terrorist attacks such as 9/11 or the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing but in highly contested political seasons in the run-ups to the 2003 Iraq War and the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
People should recognize anti-Muslim rhetoric for being a “tool of public manipulation” in preparing for a war many now recognize as mistaken, she said.
She acknowledged debates over the term “Islamophobia” with its focus on fear, rather than a broader term such as anti-Muslim bigotry. But, she said, the term is justified.
She said other research has shown that anti-Muslim sentiment tracks closely with anti-Jewish sentiment, and that legislation aimed at Muslims often takes place in the same climate as laws restricting voting access, labor organization, immigrants and other groups.
“Fear kills freedom,” she said.
Participants in the mini-course said they appreciated the lessons, which ranged from the historic background of Muslims in America to their current ethnic diversity.
Briana Walker, a student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, is not Muslim but wanted to learn ways to combat prejudice using facts and research.
Fellow student Suad Yusuf echoed the thought. “Because I am a Muslim and at times I wear a headscarf, there is more of a responsibility for me to be an advocate and present information from a logical point of view, because some of these issues are so close to home that it does trigger emotion,” she said.