Authors Jack Shaheen and Kenneth Stern took on the subject of media bias against the Islamic and Jewish community Monday night in Trayes Hall of the Douglass campus center, encouraging awareness against intolerance and prejudice
Quoting an old proverb, Shaheen, a professor emeritus of mass communication at Southern Illinois University, said even the donkey learns by repetition.
"If we repeat a lie often enough … the mythology becomes reality," he said "So the [purpose] of the gathering tonight is to implant in the hearts and minds of each and every individual gathered here the idea that we should take this."
Citing television shows such as Fox's "24" and Showtime's "Sleeper Cell" as well as the propaganda of interest groups, Shaheen said he found visual images to be the most damaging medium to the image of Muslims and Arabs.
In our society today, he said a comment or action displaying anti-black or anti-Jewish sentiments is not tolerated. Anti-Muslim sentiment, however, is a different story.
"If I go around and say I'm anti-Muslim or anti-Arab, I don't think many people will pay much attention," Shaheen said. "I think it's almost acceptable … I can almost get away with it. Why? Because our press, our information … teaches us primarily to fear all things Islam."
But Stern, a defense attorney, said he does not believe it is the form of media that causes a likelihood of hate speech, but rather what is being said and where, as well as why it is allowed and how much of a fight there is against it.
"Anti-Semitism has the capacity to be a problem in places where there are no Jews," he said. "One of the common denominators in anti-Semitism … is it's basically conspiracy theories. It's a conspiracy theory that charges Jews with harming non-Jews."
The connection between the two types of religious bias is historical, Shaheen said.
Shaheen said he pointed out the similarities between historical stereotypes of Jews and current stereotypes of Muslims.
"After the Holocaust, the characterization of Jews as murderous anarchists or greedy financiers was no longer tolerable," he said. "This caricature was soon transferred to another group of Semites — the Arabs. Only now it wears a robe and headdress instead of a yarmulke and the Star of David."
Shaheen said he hopes the event would help foster tolerance by allowing students to speak about the issue and spread awareness.
"I would hope we are a country that eventually unlearns its prejudices at a great cost," he said. "Will American-Muslims and American-Arabs have to suffer as much as others? Will they have to be incarcerated or will somehow a level playing field develop beyond that?"
Yusra Syed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the panel allowed her to educate herself about the prevalent issue.
" [The panel] provided good perspectives … these are things that we need to talk about more as a community and we need to address as issues, especially because Islamophobia is so prevalent in our society," she said.
Caitlin Scuderi, an instructor for the Middle East Coexistence House on Douglass campus, brought her residents to attend the panel.
She said she felt the panel presented an important and relevant issue for them, and found the speakers to be a good match.
"Jack [Sheehan], I thought, was obviously very passionate about what he had to say … Ken [Stern] … has quite a good history and research … I think they were very complementary to each other," said Scuderi, a political science doctoral candidate in the School of Arts and Sciences.
Deepa Kumar, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies and Middle East studies, said the panel was informative but missed the parallels between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and their modern effects in the United States.
"Jews were in Muslim societies, [that's] an important thing to learn. That was not … talked about in this panel, but it's something that should be talked about more, especially given the mainstream discourse about a Judeo-Christian tradition with somehow Muslims being outsiders — that's not true," Kumar said.
The Alan and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Department of Jewish Studies, the Middle Eastern studies program with the Department of Journalism and Media Studies and the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, cosponsored the panel.