"Extremism and Islamophobia in Perspective" was one of dozens of workshops presented today as part of the 2016 Diversity Summit at the University of Denver. DU faculty members Nader Hashemi, Seth Masket and Andrea Stanton made up the panel focusing on "U.S. and Extremism." They were joined by Joanne Cummings, a career Foreign Service Officer and current faculty member at the United States Air Force Academy.
Each panelist brought varying perspectives to the panel, but all agreed that Islamophobia in the U.S. is a growing problem.
Stanton, an assistant professor of religious studies who focuses on Islamic Studies and the Middle East, said that 58 percent of Americans "believe that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and the American way of life." She added that nearly 70 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.
However, she said, 86 percent of American Muslims say acts of violence against civilians is unjustified.
Many audience members then asked the panelists what could be done to help eradicate the anti-Muslim sentiment that is proliferating in the U.S. Masket, chair of DU's political science department, said that it doesn't work to shame people about their beliefs. It is about education and familiarizing yourself with the community, he said. Hashemi, director of the University's Center for Middle East Studies, added that when it comes to these beliefs, what concerns him more is the in-your-face displays of Islamophobia. "We have to ask ourselves, 'To what extent am I responsible for perpetuating the problem?'" Hashemi said.
Cummings' presentation focused on foreign policy and how deciding what the U.S. will do regarding various views about Muslims is a challenging task. She shared her knowledge and experience as a diplomat having served in the Middle East.
"Policies are formulated and discussed in Washington," Cummings explained, "but where we engage is on the ground in Muslim countries. As diplomats, we can tell political leaders what's actually happening because we're on the ground."
She said that our fear of what could happen to diplomats abroad is hindering them from talking to people. During her time in Yemen, she said, diplomats were only allowed to speak with people who would come to the embassy — but those who would come often avoided what was actually going on outside the embassy walls.
"As diplomats," she said, "we need to take the risk (to talk to the people on the ground) so that we don't fall into a trap and rely on what other people are saying and filtering when we can't judge for ourselves."
Following the panel, participants joined in a workshop where they could address Islamophobia in practical ways and discuss how to engage in outreach across lines of difference.