Understanding and Countering Islamophobia

By Ishaq Pathan, ING Deputy Director.

This speech was delivered at the at the Unity and Diversity – Countering Islamophobia Rally in San Francisco on March 31st, 2019. 

Salaam alaikum and greetings of peace.

In the wake of the horrific attacks in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago and continuing Islamophobia here and around the world it is gratifying to witness the support of friends and allies as we gather here today to speak out against this scourge which for too long has gone unchecked.

Islamophobia, currently a hundreds of million-dollar industry, has deep roots in our culture that go back in more recent history to colonialism accompanied by Orientalism in the Muslim majority world including the Middle East, North Africa and much of South Asia. Views of Muslims as “Others” to be either feared or patronized built a legacy in the Western world, painting a picture of an exotic people who are primitive, sexist, irrational, and violent.

These stereotypes have reemerged in recent decades as anti-Muslim racism even prior to 9/11. Allow me to be extra clear – Islamophobia is not a recent phenomenon nor a product of the events on 9/11.

  • Hollywood has long represented the Muslim as the enduring bad guy – whether a cruel sheikh in the desert or an evil terrorist plotting to blow us up.
  • The media has long delivered one-sided news about Muslims that focuses on acts of terror or violence. In fact, a recent study shows that terror attacks by Muslims get 357 percent more media coverage than other terror attacks.
  • Fictional and non-fictional literature have focused on oppressive Muslim families limiting the freedom and choices of their children
  • Politicians have used Islamophobia to win votes or show their patriotism
  • Anti-Muslim policies like the recent Muslim Ban and surveillance efforts only exaggerate the fears and misconception that Muslims are a threat to national security

Amidst all of this, it is incredibly important to remember that Muslims are not the first, although hopefully among the last, and there are a number of groups who have and continue to be vilified in similar or worse ways. Despite being a nation of immigrants, except for the Native Americans, the original inhabitants of this land, and African Americans, who were enslaved and brought here by force, nearly every new group has experienced xenophobia, beginning with Irish Catholics, the Chinese on this Coast, Jews Italians, the Japanese interned during WWII and Mexicans both historically and up to the present. African Americans, brought here in chains, have endured unspeakable atrocities during and after slavery, and continue to suffer from both systemic and individual racism. In our conversations about Islamophobia we should never lose sight of the sacrifices of these groups and in particular those who worked for civil rights which paved a way for us to stand here today. We stand together, in solidarity with all who have and continue to suffer from bigotry and racism.

Islamophobia is a multi-faceted problem on both an individual and systemic scale. And we believe that countering Islamophobia will take multi-faceted solutions that require advocates and allies in various fields. At ING, the organization I represent, we have worked for a quarter of a century to provide grassroots education about Islamophobia as an industry and about Islam, Muslims, and their history in the United States and around the world, as a means of creating understanding, countering the Islamophobic frames I mentioned earlier and building bridges with others. We are expanding our work to include not only other faiths but other marginalized groups with the belief that we are stronger together and that the same bigotry that Muslims encounter is often directed at others.  We are grateful to all the allies who stand with us and all who stand together against bigotry and hate and for a nation that includes all of us.

Thank you and salaam alaikum.