Ever since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, pundits, politicians and preachers throughout the United States have argued that the world is entrenched in a clash of civilizations – but very few have addressed the reasons why this conflict continues to grow at home.
On Oct. 27, UC Davis’ Middle East/South Asia Studies Program (MESA) played host to Dr. Reza Aslan, who diagnosed the causes and consequences of anti-Muslim sentiments through a lecture entitled ‘Is America Islamophobic?’
“I think it’s important to identify the reasons why anti-Muslim sentiments in this country are at all time highs,” Aslan said. “There are more people in 2010 that have a negative view toward Islam than they did in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. This anti-Muslim rhetoric is becoming increasingly mainstream.”
Early in the lecture, Aslan announced an alarming statistic: 49 percent of polled Americans have a negative view of Islam. He continued to cite examples and draw on recent political controversies to convey the nation’s Islamophobic symptoms.
This prejudice, Aslan explained, is a cyclical tendency that this country repeatedly emits with each new wave of immigration. It began with the Catholics, then the Jews and the Japanese, and it has continued until today.
In a matter of minutes, Aslan had completely changed the atmosphere of the room. The audience, which from the beginning had been shrouded in a mist of tension, was suddenly charged with a sense of unity.
“Although very disturbing, it felt good to hear that we aren’t the only community that has gone through this,” said Babak Zamani, a sophomore political science major at Sacramento State.
This notion of equality was quickly followed by the promise of hope. Aslan pointed out that all of these minorities eventually outgrew their status as a marginalized community, but they did so through organization and action.
“It does take education and awareness,” Aslan said. “But more importantly, it takes developing and maintaining intimate relationships with those around us. Every single one of us is a representative of Islam, and we must show the country that we are not the faceless, fanatic Other that we have been labeled as.”
After a brief question and answer session, an enthusiastic and optimistic audience lined up for the book signing and a chance to meet Aslan.
“I truly enjoyed and appreciated the enthusiasm and encouragement Aslan carried throughout his lecture,” said Fatima Salman, a junior political science and history double major. “Today’s society calls for more leaders like Dr. Aslan to speak on behalf of justice and truth.”
The MESA department was also pleased with the event’s turn out.
“I think the student body was very receptive to what Aslan had to say,” said Shobhik Ghosh, MESA student assistant. “Whether or not students agree or disagree with him, I think he definitely gave them something to think about.”
Ultimately, Aslan’s message is one that prompts action.
“This bigotry and prejudice that has been shown against us must be fought,” Aslan said. “We can do this through education and by being representatives of our community and religion.”
EHSUN FORGHANY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.