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Campus discussions aim to combat Islamophobia

The panelists (from left to right), Shukri Ahmed, Wissam Osman, Sean Anthony, Fatimah Masood, David Jones and Suad Osman, address the audience questions regarding Islamophobia on campus in a discussion that took place in the Frank Hale Cultural Center on Feb. 21. Credit: Hailey Stangebye.1 | Lantern reporter

Students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to discuss Islam and Islamophobia on campus this week, with events put on with the help of the Middle East Studies Center and the Frank Hale Cultural Center. The discussions ranged from the campus knifing and car attack on Nov. 28 to recent executive orders from President Donald Trump.

On Monday, Nathan Lean, a scholar on the Middle East and author of four books including “The Islamophobia Industry,” spoke at the Frank Hale Cultural Center, hosted by the Middle East Studies Center. His talk took place roughly three months after the Nov. 28 attack carried out by Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Muslim student at Ohio State.

“This evening’s lecture is not in response to that event,” Lean said, in regard to the Nov. 28 attack. “I think that it’s to all of our advantage to really, seriously, understand this form of prejudice. To talk about it openly and honestly in the form of lectures, dialogues, (and) interfaith events.”

The first topic Lean addressed was what he said was a misunderstanding of term “Islamophobia.”

“Islamophobia has nothing to do with criticizing the religion of Islam or disliking the religion of Islam,” Lean said. “You’re free to hold whatever opinion you like and I’m not in any position to tell you what to believe or what not to believe.”

Lean said the historical development of the word, Islamophobia, has a lineage that is connected to other forms of prejudice in our society such as xenophobia and anti-semitism. So rather than defining Islamophobia as the irrational fear of Islam, Lean said he defines it as “prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims on the basis of their religion or their religious identity.”

Lean said this prejudice manifests on the basis of generalization, where the acts of a select few extremists are attributed to the group as a whole; reductionism, where the entire religion of Islam is distilled into a limited number of facts or ideas; and misattribution, where violent behavior is attributed to a Muslim identity rather than a number of other potential causes.

On Tuesday, a separate panel, composed of students and faculty, was hosted in the Hale Center. The panel focused on the Nov. 28 attack as well as recent executive orders from Trump — not held up in court — which were aimed, among other things, at curtailing immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

During the discussion, panelists talked about their displeasure with the university following the Nov. 28 attack. Shukri Ahmed, a third-year in microbiology and a panelist, said she felt the university didn’t do enough after the attack to make Muslim students on campus feel safe.

“I remember I sat in biochem class the day right after (the attack) and I had a kid literally sit behind me and my friend, who also is Muslim and also wore a scarf that day, and he was going on and on about how we should go back. And he sees us. We’re visible. My scarf is on my head,” Ahmed said.

Despite frustrations, the panelists also had positive insights for how to move forward.

“Discussions like this are very good because sometimes it’s hard to get information out to people,” said Wissam Osman, a third-year in pharmaceutical science and primary leader of the North and South Sudan Student Association. “It’s kind of nice to have people come in and listen. You can ask questions. You can interact with people.”

The panel was not limited, however, to issues Muslims face on campus. It was a forum to discuss the oppression of any minority group.

“You don’t have to be black to realize black lives matter, you don’t have to identify with the LGBT community to understand that, especially in America, they should have a right to be married constitutionally,” said Suad Osman, a third-year in neuroscience and president of the Somali Student Association. “It’s human rights issues and we’re all humans.”

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