Combatting Islamophobia through education

In order to spark a conversation about Islamophobic attitudes present in the country,

MSU recently held an information seminar featuring Dalia Mogahed, the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and presenter of multiple TED Talks focused around Middle Eastern issues. Held on Sept. 13, over 500 students, faculty members and local Bozeman residents attended.

 

Mogahed began with an explanation of her personal reasons for wearing her hijab. She denied the claim that it was oppressive, but instead was her personal “Feminist Declaration of Independence.” Mogahed said, “I decide who I want to share my body with,” and stated she didn’t want to be judged strictly on her outer appearance. After she described living in a time she called a “fog of fear,” the week of the 9/11 attacks, she shared an act of solidarity she saw at her mosque the Friday after the towers fell, which inspired her to start work confronting the “controversial but critical topic.”

 

Mogahed likened the situation Islamophobia creates to a canary in a coal mine. She claimed Muslims are unfortunately bearing the front of the “misinformation campaign,” similar to a canary first affected by gas in a mine. Mogahed’s presentation covered a wide variety of topics including when and how Islamophobic rhetoric began in the United States, which she shows was heightened by the entrance into the Iraq War and the 2008 and 2012 elections, instead of 9/11. Mogahed explained the roles of domestic political groups, describing how anti-Islamic groups spent over $205 million on political ads efforts from 2008-13, and unfair coverage in the media, explaining attacks by Muslims are disproportionately covered. Mogahed also showed statistics about the problems Muslim communities face, explaining how they are the most highly targeted group for religious discrimination and studies showing that Islamophobia strengthens terrorists’ claims. Mogahed also presented studies showing that there is a correlation between being both a practicing Muslim and a devoted American.

 

The entire theme of the event was that education combats fear. “We need to replace fear with facts,” Mogahed told those in attendance. “Call out bias in the media, recognize contributions made by Muslim communities and most importantly, be active in decisions made by going out to vote.” Her last slide was a Thomas Jefferson quote which read, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”