According to Georgetown University, the technical definition of Islamophobia is “prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims due to their religion, or perceived religious, national, or ethnic identity associated with Islam.” Similar to anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia, Islamophobia is denoted by the outlook and the actions that degrade an entire community of people. People [including but not limited to] of the Jewish religion, of the African-American community, of the female population, and of the gay community have encountered their fair share of prejudice and discrimination throughout history. Prejudice against and discrimination of the Islamic population is merely a repetition of history. I’d also like to stress what Islamo phobia is not; Islamophobia is not an impartial judgment of Muslims justified by cold, hard facts. This unjust mentality is due to 1) limited social influence on an individual and 2) confusion of extremism with true Islam.
According to Eboo Patel, the president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and author of Sacred Ground (a book on pluralism),
“People without much knowledge about other religions and with little contact with people from those communities are far more likely to harbor negative attitudes toward those traditions and communities. If movements emerged to fill those gaps in knowledge and relationships with negative information and ugly representations, people’s attitudes go from negative to vociferously opposed.”
In psychology, this is referred to as limited social influence that results in bigotry. As humans, we tend to stick to what we are familiar with rather than stepping outside of our comfort zones and into the unknown. Furthermore, if there was an increase in ethnic and social heterogeneity, we as humans would be compelled to converse amicably with people of diverse communities. This is why voting for a bigot, a racist, and a demagogue who is running a strict anti-immigration campaign for the November 2016 presidential election would destroy this nation’s opportunity for diversification and pluralism. Ultimately as a nation, if we simply overlooked our different identities and backgrounds, we’d realized that we all look for love; we all look for our own place in this world; we all strive for success; we all seek out for security; we all are humans.
Based on Edward Curtis and Maha Hilal’s presentations at “Allegheny College Listens: A Dialogue on Islamophobia,” Islamophobia is not only a result from limited social influence, but is also a result from the confusion of extremism with true Islam. According to Edward Curtis, author of Muslims in America, Muslims
“encourage goodness, a world of peace and beauty, and friendship with people of all beliefs, while extremists depict Muslims as acrimonious, loveless, and unwilling to compromise.”
Since most Western cultures lack the knowledge of this distinction between Islam and extremism, they tend to target the Muslim community as a whole. Across the world, extremists are getting killed all the while causing innocent Muslims to suffer harm, persecution and death alongside them.
Instead of titling this article Islamophobia in America, I decided to title it Islamophobia in ‘Merica. As America is categorized as a nation, ‘Merica (a colloquial term used by the younger generations) epitomizes the entire American experience in a stereotypical way. As much as I hate to admit this, being Islamophobic seems to be stereotypical for Americans. Despite being a country founded by immigrants, Americans nowadays tend to be ignorant of other identities and backgrounds that are different from their own.
Patel, Eboo. Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Boston, Beacon, 2012.