Campus News

Panelists counteract Islamophobia, define ‘disease of fear’

Five expert panelists contradicted the term “Islamophobia” by defining it and explaining it’s history, while also discussing strategies to combat the effects of bias Muslims face from Islamophobes.

Image By: Carolyn Bonnema

Sitting next to each other, a U.S. attorney and a Islamic religious leader defined Islamophobia—a form of racism and oppression that has been prevalent in the media—and spoke Monday about their ideas to combat it.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin John Vaudreuil and Imam of the Masjid Us-Sunnah Alhagie Jallow joined three other experts to discuss Islamophobia, which they noted has been apparent in the media following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. However, Director of the cosponsor UW-Madison Middle East Studies Program Névine El-Nossery said in her introduction that the term is not new.

Vaudreuil spoke about his strategies for fighting Islamophobia from a law perspective. He brought up Trump’s recent executive order, which barred individuals from seven Middle Eastern countries from visiting the U.S.

He would not disclose information about the order, but said there is a difference between a bad policy and a policy that is unconstitutional. He listed remedies for citizens to use when being affected by an unlawful order, which included voting and making one’s voice heard by contacting government officials.

Vaudreuil said people have to trust the government, particularly the courts that the order must go through.

“As hard as it might be to put away your fears and concerns, we actually have to trust in our constitutional system,” Vaudreuil said. “When you think of the uncertainty over the last week or so, there is a process and lots of good people know how to use the process, and it will play out.”

Another panelist, Development Director for Madison-Area Urban Ministry Nasra Wehelie, listed communication and trust in her remedy called CURE—Connect, Understand, Report and Engage—that fights Islamophobia, what she labeled the “disease of fear.”

“I encourage all of us to make a commitment to yourself and reach out to [people],” Wehelie said. “Continue with the dialogue. Conversation is the key thing; that's the only we can fight.”

Imam Jallow and panelist Golnar Nikpour, an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the UW-Madison Department of History, contradicted ideas that have sprung from Islamophobia by elaborating on the meaning and history of Islam.

Nikpour discussed the idea of race thinking and said there is no quick fix for the “genocidal worldview” that has come after recent political actions, except to think historically and politically.

Imam said the key to ending Islamophobia is through educating non-Muslims about Islam. He explained that terrorism is condemned by Islam, a religion of peace, and labeling a terrorist as a Muslim divides members of the religion.

Researcher Safi Kaskas, the final panelist, said these labels of Muslims broadcasted in news, specifically fake news, instill fear in people. He said is the goal of Islamophobes, who need to be recognized in order to combat the concept.

“We cannot fight effectively if we don’t define who the enemy is, what is it they want and how did we get to where we are,” Kaskas said.

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