How to end Islamophobia?

Lloyd Huff, Staff Writer


Since the terrorist attacks in Paris, Syrian refugee xenophobia is increasing. All over the country and around the world, there is no shortage of people quick to equate Muslims to terrorists, or to simply assume that anyone brown, from the Middle East, and specifically Syrian, is a possible terrorist. In the media, in my home, and even in the classroom, I’ve witnessed the same xenophobic behavior that consumed many after 9/11.

Following the attacks, one of my classes took the time to discuss how we felt about the state of things, from the attacks themselves to the Syrian refugee crisis. Inevitably, the comparison of Islam to terrorism took over the discussion. While many expressed understanding that the two are not related, some still insisted that Islam is a religion of terrorism.

It’s a view that, from my experience having spent two years in a country of 20,779,623 Muslims, I really can’t understand, and one that will only lead to more violence. And because of that, I think it’s important to discuss and to try to explain why this isn’t so; but I’m struggling to find a way to do it effectively in the face of so much vehement opposition.

One of the more emphatic claims came from a student veteran. He claimed that he saw acts of violence carried out against individuals in the Middle East, such as someone having their arm cut off for stealing and used that as his basis for knowing that “those people are fundamentally different,” as he put it. To be clear, when the student said, “those people,” he meant Muslims and made no distinction between Muslims or terrorists.

Seeing such an event would certainly be traumatic, but thinking that the violent acts of individuals represent an entire group is completely irrational. If that’s a logical perspective, then anyone who has ever maimed or murdered someone dehumanizes their entire ethnicity, religion, etc. By that standard, everyone is a terrorist or, as this student said, “fundamentally different.”

If he were the only one with this view, it might be simple enough to ignore, but he isn’t. My parents regularly tune into Fox News, a network with 1.6 million viewers and growing. I’m not their demographic, to say the least, but occasionally I’ll watch with my parents, generally trying to resist the urge to subject them to all of my refuting arguments.

On the night of this writing, former Arkansas governor, and current GOP nomination candidate, Mike Huckabee is spreading the same ideology through his own choice terms. He is insisting that terrorists be labeled “radical Muslims,” because he doesn’t see how that can lead to xenophobia, or because he doesn’t understand that he is xenophobic. He doesn’t see the connection between his terminology and the spreading irrational fear espoused by my classmate.reforms that would benefit families regardless of their differing stance on what constitutes family values. And judging by the audience reactions, it worked.

But how do you break through to a group that doesn’t necessarily share that same core set of values? If they were all Christian, as my father, the student and Mike Huckabee all claim to be, it would be easy to argue that they ascribe to a religion of tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness. But what about the protestors in front of the mosque? Those interviewed didn’t claim a religion.

Given the context, it would be easy to assume that the group shares core conservative Republican values: an exclusive application of Christianity; opposition to gun control; an end to social programs etc., but those are assumptions based on appearance—based on the fact that they showed up outside of a religious center in Texas, some wearing military fatigues; brandishing various weaponry, including assault rifles; and equating a peaceful and charitable way of life for millions of people to terrorism.

The only thing I know for certain is that this group claims to be opposed to acts of terrorism and that they want to live in a safe and peaceful world. I know from their actions that they are supportive and engaged in using violent rhetoric and displays of force. I know that they support leaders in favor of using bombs and foot soldiers to intimidate people they perceive as living a different lifestyle, one that is opposed to their own.

I know that what these people have in common is that they are okay with killing in the name of how they think others should live. But I don’t know how to get them to see how their actions might be opposed to their claimed values.

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