Islamophobia in an Election Year Discussion Held at Georgetown

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 Anti-Muslim bigotry is at a shrill peak with the Republican Party’s presidential candidate Ben Carson’s demands that American Muslims take loyalty oaths, to Donald Trump’s pressing for Special IDs for Muslims and threatening to shut down masajid, to the planned anti-Muslim rallies in over twenty cities.
 
The facts are sobering. Amongst the regular reports of vandalizing of masajid, there have been three arrests made of individuals threatening to shoot up Islamic Centers. At least three reports of racial profiling and removal of Muslims from airlines were aired on television; a pregnant woman was assaulted in California as was mother picking up her school children in Toronto, shots were fired on a Muslim home in Florida. A masjid was also burnt down in Canada, and armed protestors are back in Irving.
 
Islamophobia in the Election Year was a panel discussion held at the Georgetown University on November 19, 2015 in collaboration with the Bridge Initiative. With a sold out hall at the International Cultural Center and a thousand people tuning in online, the new 11-minute documentary, American Muslims: Fact vs. Fiction, produced by the Unity Production Foundation, informed and engaged. The film provides poll-based answers to the most frequent questions Americans ask about their Muslim neighbors. The film highlighted the letter written by scholars to the leader of ISIS.
 
Alex Kronemer, Executive Producer of UPF, which has made Prince of Slaves, and My Fellow American, made opening remarks. "If you really want to compete with each other compete with good deeds,” he said. 
 
The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University research project on Islamophobia, released Twenty Years of Americans’ Views on Islam and Muslims. This report traces 20 years of polling data on Americans’ views on Islam and Muslims. The key finding was ‘that the Iraq War — not 9/11 — was a turning point for Americans’ views of Islam.’ Polling data found that during the middle of the Iraq War, positive views of Muslims’ religion declined, with negative views outweighing positive ones, the report states.
There was no change in public opinion of Muslims after 9/11 or the Boston Bombings. The data changes after ISIS appears, according to the Institute of Policy and Understanding (ISPU). ISIS is as much as media organization as a military organization, said Dalia Mogahed, Head of Research at ISPU. “It is feeding pornographic violence on a nightly basis.” ISIS is the Islamophobe’s favorite tool because they are so horrific and public with their violence so there is an uptick in Islamophobia, she said to the diverse crowd. 
 
We are selling fear instead of votes, with ISIS and election year happening at the same time, says Mogahed.
 
Hate crimes released by the FBI show that anti-Muslim incidents are on the rise—135 in 2013 to 154 in 2014— yet incidents involving other minorities declined in 2014. Muslim leaders consider these figures conservative because many more incidents go unreported. “It is a very scary time and we need to have rational conversation injected with facts not fear.“
 
According to the Bridge Initiative Report: Americans’ views of Islam shifted during moments of politicization. “Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in 2010. Muslim voters are located in swing states such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio. 
 

Only 27 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Islam. And recent MSNBC polls say that 56 percent of Americans view that Islamic values are at odds with the American way of life.  
 

Saafir Rabb, the CEO of Interculture gave the audience the perspective of a third of the American Muslim population. “The African American Muslim experience is very different,” he said. In African American dominated areas, Muslims are looked at as the people who save the neighborhood kids from drugs and feed the hungry, protect the women, he said. 
 
“Islamophobia is a symptom of a wider problem of racism and oppression. The solution is coalition building,” said Mogahed.
 
Being angry about injustice is perfectly acceptable, said Linda Sarsour an emerging American Muslim leader from New York when the subject of radicalization was brought up. She urged the audience to channel that energy into standing up for social justice issues with other minorities and be concerned about issues such as immigration and racism.
 
There was discussion about the need for the Muslim community to condemn versus the rising reluctance in the community that is tired of condemning events that have nothing to do with it. “I don’t condemn violence because I am a Muslim; I condemn violence because I am a human being,” said Sarsour. “I will not stand and condemn violence by ISIS as a Muslim because reinforces that Muslims have something in common with ISIS.”  She iterated that we do not expect any other group of people to do that.
 
Tarik El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy brought up the role of youth engagement at masajid with investment of the community into youth directors in full positions and in the movie highlighted the Feed Their Legacy campaign by the Muslim community that fed 75,000 people after the three Muslims students were slayed in North Carolina. 75 percent American Muslims report donating to local charity and this statistic was featured in the film. 
 
Some facts shared in the film: American Muslims are job creators - 24 percent have started their own companies. The US government estimates that the American Muslim population is close to 7 million. More American Muslims believe that killing a civilian is never acceptable than any other faith community in the United States. 
 
“Post the attacks in Paris we had invited some non Muslim guests to the conference on November 1. They asked us if we were still having the conference and we said of course, these people have nothing to do with. They do not reflect us or who we are,” says  Bilquees Abdallah from the Islamberg community in New York. Representatives were here to attend the screening and the discussion 
 
“A lot of anti-Muslim sentiment is not organic, it is manufactured for political reasons,” stated Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the ISPU. 
 
Muslims run over 100 free medical clinics around the country and there are 20, 000 Muslim physicians in the United State. ”[Muslims] are not the problem, they are the solution.”
 
“Can't thank [the organizers and speakers] enough for such a powerful, informative and eye-opening session,” noted Najam Us Saqib. The event launched a nationwide set of screening events with the film at different universities and communities. 
 
Muslims around the country are bracing themselves for a tough 2016. 
 
To learn more or to book a screening visit:  http://www.upf.tv/films/american-muslim-facts/