Scholars from across several disciplines in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication and Information have joined together to present an unusual public program focusing on what one professor called the "ugly twins" of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The October 17th event—"Going Viral: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the Role of the Media" —reflects what the scholars say is an urgent need to inject reason, tolerance, and thoughtfulness into an increasingly rancorous conversation taking place on college campuses, in the media, and in the political arena.
"The goal is to have discourse and discussion on these topics raised to a much higher level than they have been heretofore," said Nancy Sinkoff, chair of the Jewish Studies Department. "As academicians and scholars who are deeply invested in tolerance, we want to make sure we project that onto the community."
The event—which features two nationally-renowned speakers, Jack G. Shaheen, and Kenneth Stern—developed from a collaborative effort between School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) faculty specializing in Jewish Studies and their colleagues in Middle Eastern Studies who focus more on the Arab and Islamic world.
Peter Golden, a professor emeritus of history, and an expert on Middle Eastern and Central Asian history, said that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are "two ugly twins."
"They are not two discrete things," Golden, former director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program, said. "They are related, and they can be discussed in a rational way with a notion of gaining some understanding of the historical roots."
Yael Zerubavel, director of the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, said faculty need to set an example.
"We should act as role models, demonstrating that these issues can be discussed and can be discussed in a dispassionate way," said Zerubavel, a professor of history and Jewish Studies.
The program is sponsored by the Bildner Center, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies; the Department of Jewish Studies; the Middle Eastern Studies Program; the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, and the Department of Journalism and Media Studies.
Rutgers has a history of promoting dialogue on such issues.
The Middle East Coexistence House, for example, is a living learning community that promotes women's involvement in international conflict negotiation and encourages understanding between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women at Rutgers.
But like other schools, Rutgers has also had to deal with some tension between students with differing views of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The event will add depth to students' understanding of the current controversies, said Charles Haberl, director of the Center for Middle East Studies.
"It's important to remove this issue from the immediate situation and talk about it in terms of its broader context," Haberl said. "Rather than simply address this from the perspective of polemics, our intention is to broaden the discussion and talk about the history of these two phenomena, and how they relate to one another."
Offensive images of Arabs in contemporary popular culture are eerily similar to anti-Semitic propaganda in Nazi Germany, Haberl said.
"It's the same caricatures from the 1930s, but applied to a different group," he said.
Haberl said the two speakers will provide in-depth treatment of such topics.
Shaheen, a professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University, is an expert on images of Arabs and Muslims in American popular culture. He is the author of several books, including "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People," and most recently, "Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11."
Stern, the American Jewish Committee's specialist on anti-Semitism, is a nationally-recognized expert on hate groups. An attorney and author, Stern's most recent book is "Anti-Semitism Today: How it is the Same, How it is Different and How to Combat it."
Serving as moderator will be Clement Price, a Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, and the founding director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, at Rutgers-Newark.
The event is funded by the School of Arts and Sciences and the Rutgers Center for Global Advancement and International Affairs.