Terrorism is not to be confused with the Islamic Faith, members of FACES Council asserted. In collaboration with Boston College’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Arab Students Association (ASA), the anti-racism group presented students with an open discussion entitled “Beyond Burkas and Bombers: Islamophobia in America” on the ways in which media perpetuates prejudice against the Muslim community.
This was the final forum of the year for FACES, which aims to address problems of racism on campus via discussion.Thomas Napoli, FACES member and A&S ’16, opened the discussion by reminding students that everything said in Devlin 010 would be respected.
“It’s a special thing when different student groups realize the interconnected nature of their missions and are able to work together for a common goal,” Napoli said. “In this case, it didn’t take long to see how Islamophobia, which has largely been racialized to include anyone who is, or appears, Arab, brought us together.”
Ahad Arshad, the representative from MSA and CSOM ’16, started off by introducing students to Islam and some of its characteristics, including the Holy Book, the Qur’an, and the Five Pillars, which are the declaration of faith, prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage.
Megan Rodriguez, the representative from ASA and A&S ’16, then asked students what Islam actually meant to them.
Napoli defined Islamophobia as prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims. Napoli said that anyone who is perceived as Arab or Muslim can become the target of Islamophobia.
This was one of the first student-led discussions on the subject, and Rodriguez explained in an email that she was happy to participate.
“The best part of the event for me was having fellow students … telling me how much they appreciate events like these where they have the opportunity to learn about sensitive but important topics such as Islamophobia,” Rodriguez said.
Arshad discussed key events after Sept. 11 that increased Islamophobia in the United States. Some of these included the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Shooting, and the Charlie Hebdo murders, which have all been linked to Islam through media portrayals.
“After 9/11, there was an immediate rise in Islamophobia and anti-Islamic sentiment in general,” Rodriguez said. “Before 2001, there is a relatively low number of hate crimes targeting Muslims. However, after 9/11, the number of hate crimes skyrocketed to almost 500 per year.”
Napoli then played students a TED Talk discussing the media culture regarding Muslim lifestyles.
Touching upon the misrepresentations seen in major television series, news outlets, and films, Rodriguez asked students for their responses to the Ted Talk.
Tanya Zeina, A&S ’16, spoke up about her frustration with media portrayals of her home country, Lebanon.
“Watching these media clips about the Middle East is hurtful—Lebanon is not like these images at all,” Zeina said. “Lebanon is the most beautiful country in the world. It is a diverse city that actually has no official religion. In fact, most people in Lebanon are Christian.”
Students raised concerns about academic challenges they face when selecting classes that seem to favor Western culture and education. Students in search of expanding their knowledge of Islam find themselves turning to student-led organizations, such as MSA and ASA.
Napoli attached Islamophobia to a larger spectrum of bigotry, one he called the “History of Fear.” Citing Joseph McCarthy and Japanese Internment Camps as examples, Napoli highlighted the rampant forms of xenophobia that have affected the United States since the beginning of the Cold War. Many students expressed their frustration with media portrayals that usually only feature Muslims as terrorists or directly related to terrorism.
Echoing the same concern, other students explained that many misconstrue the actions of certain extreme individuals as the nature of the religion itself.
“Working with FACES and ASA on this discussion gave me a deep sense of gratitude, knowing that others on campus who were not Muslim cared about issues like Islamophobia,” Arshad said. “I was impressed with some of the student responses to the video clips we showed—they were visibly frustrated at the violent acts committed against Muslims or those perceived as Muslims, and laughed just as hard at the ridiculous comments made against Islam and Muslims.”
Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor