A fear of Islam grips non-Muslims in America and around the world, fueled by inadequate information and the media's proclivity for unbalanced reporting, says a University of California, Berkeley, professor who is bringing together experts to analyze Islamophobia.
"Talk radio continues to heap insults on Islam and Muslims without any discussion of what the consequences could be," said Hatem Bazian, who teaches at UC Berkeley and at the East Bay's Zaytuna Institute.
"The media are collapsing us into a one-shoe-fits-all category — the hostile, angry, cartoon images. (Radio personality) Michael Savage has made a career of it. Osama bin Laden is Muslim, therefore every Muslim is Osama bin Laden."
Bazian spent five months putting together a conference in which 23 university experts will consider media images, civil rights and what he sees as the failure of academia to scrutinize adequately the schism between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
The "Deconstructing Islamophobia" conference at UC Berkeley is free and open to the public.
An analysis of conservative and liberal publications shows each lean toward a similar coverage of American Muslims, said a UC Davis professor.
"We spent several years looking at key papers — we looked at The New York Times as the leading liberal newspaper, the Wall Street Journal the leading conservative — looking for patterns of repetition," Suad Joseph said. "We are finding a lot of similarities."
The words that crop up have to do with criminality and policing, she said.
Ideally, researchers will compare the key words that appear in news stories about Muslims with coverage of other ethnic groups — Irish or Italian Americans, for instance.
"If there is a different pattern, that's the key," she said. "My hunch and my hypothesis is that there is a significant difference."
Muslims are suffering the fate that has bedeviled other groups in the nation's past, including violence and discrimination, she said.
"It used to be you couldn't sell your house to a Jewish person," he said. "You would have to sign a statement."
Globally, westerners perceive Islam as the barrier to participatory democracy in the world. Yet Muslims themselves are frequently the victims of persecution, said a Calcutta-born scholar who will take part in the conference.
Two thousand Muslims died in a massacre in India's Gujarat province in 2002 — one of many instances of government-sanctioned brutality, said Angana Chatterji
"States need a convenient enemy," she said. "We have demonized them. This is something we have to commit to rethinking."
Education provides the antidote for misinformation, but college campuses are poorly organized to scrutinize the role of Muslims in the larger culture, Bazian said.
Political science considers Islam as a player in international relations, and religious studies excludes issues such as race and ethnicity. Few university ethnic studies programs encompass an Islamic studies component, he said.
Rebecca Rosen Lum covers religion. Reach her at 925-977-8506 or