The Hopkins Muslim Association, College Republicans, Sikh Student Association and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) collaborated to host a panel entitled Confronting Islamophobia: A Discussion of Islamophobia in America.
Around eighty students gathered in Hodson 210 on Tuesday for the discussion. Speakers included alumna Basmah Nada, seniors Nitin Nainani and Sirtaj Singh, junior Muhammad Hudhud, Ryan Calder, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the departments of Sociology and Islamic studies, and Naveeda Khan, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Anthropology department, also spoke.
Calder questioned the rationality of Islamophobia.
"The interesting thing is that phobia means an irrational fear," Calder said. "People who are Islamophobic probably don't consider themselves Islamophobic. They say, 'Well, my fear is rational.' And a very interesting question is why they think it's rational and on what basis."
Calder noted that people typically justify their Islamophobia with events such as terrorist bombings or violence in the Middle East.
Hopkins graduate Basmah Nada noted that Islamophobia is prevalent not only among those who don't share the same religious belief but also within some Muslim communities.
"Islamophobia is something in our unconscious," Nada said. "Muslims themselves can have Islamophobic tendencies. Like when there's a bombing, sometimes I find myself thinking, 'I hope he's not Muslim.'"
"People who are Islamophobic probably don't consider themselves Islamophobic." — Ryan Calder, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Islamic Studies
Nitin Nainani, the president of the College Republicans, also feels that Islamophobia isn't simply a fear or prejudice toward those of Muslim religion.
"I also think Islamophobia is the false idea that Islam is inherently violent, the idea that Islam is incompatible with the West and western values, and just the idea that Islam cannot peacefully coexist with other faiths," Nainani said.
When questioned about what makes Islamophobia prevalent in the United States, Calder implored the audience to focus on historical practices such as African American slavery and Japanese American internment camps.
"The history of state formally institutionalizes and legalizes the constriction of a certain group of American people," Calder said. "To some extent, what we're seeing with Islamophobia is possibly a racialization of Muslims, a construction as a unitary, racialized and centralized other."
Nainani and Muhammad Hudhud then discussed the treatment the Muslim community is receiving in the Democratic and Republican parties.
Hudhud explained that while Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders refuse to use the term "radical Islam," they are not entirely free of Islamophobia.
"If you dig deeper and you listen to actually what they say, there's a little bit of Islamophobic undertones when they talk about sending Muslim troops to fight ISIS, using Muslim Americans to be on the forefront to prevent homegrown and domestic terror," Hudhud said.
Nainani spoke about Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's statements about banning Muslims.
"I think that's a very clear indication of how Islamophobia is prevalent in American politics. I think it is truly regrettable from my prospective as a Republican, too," he said.
Nainani noted that the Republican party was not always labeled anti-Muslim. In fact, in the past, a majority of Muslim votes went to Republican candidates such as former President George W. Bush, who was termed the "first Muslim president."
Discussing the effect of media on Islamophobia, Basmah Nada spoke briefly about the negative impact of constant media coverage on Daesh (also known as ISIS) activity and the spotlight given to Donald Trump's anti-Muslim stances. However, she focused more on positive media influences such as the Mipsterz, the first H&M Muslim model wearing a hijab in a photo-shoot.
"It's created a lot of conscious[ness] about Islam [that], in general, might even encourage people to go do some research, which obviously will get you the right answers. And then you won't make the wrong assumptions," Nada said.
Naveeda Khan of the anthropology department, on the other hand, pointed to the Internet as the primary form of media in which Islamophobia is the most prevalent, extreme and unregulated.
"What I find even more shocking beyond the public sphere of newspapers, videos and television, is really the fact that criteria for what is appropriate and inappropriate has not come into the Internet at all. This is where people really let out all their ugliness, completely unchecked by anything like law or good conduct or civilized behavior," Khan said.
Speakers felt that the higher education community usually doesn't show blatant signs of Islamophobia. Hudhud, however, noted that he has experienced jokes due to his religion.
"For me, a lot of it was just jokes. Jokes directed towards Muslims that I wouldn't see directed towards blacks, Latin Americans or any other minority group that I would always laugh off. That's something even today that I struggle with," Hudhud said.
The panel then discussed the effect of Islamophobia on non-Muslims.
While Nainani brought up the fact that those who are mistaken to be Muslims based on their appearance, like himself, often experience the same mistreatment as Muslims. Sirtaj Singh, the president of the JHU Sikh Student Association, added that the true issue is not external stereotypes but inherent prejudice.
"Mistaking someone for a Muslim isn't as big of a problem as treating someone differently because you think they're Muslim," Singh said.
The College Republicans had approached the Muslim Student Association about the idea of the discussion after the November 2015 Paris attacks.
"This has been in works for a few months now. We just felt like this was a necessary discussion to have," Nainani said. "I know that people in our club don't have the same beliefs and views that we hear in the media. I think we wanted to make our own statements by hosting this event."
Nainani also was happy about the student response and turnout to the event.
"I think so far the reactions have been nothing but positive, and I think the turnout was great. We wanted a full room and we basically got that," he said.
Junior Mira Haqqani, a programming intern for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, explained OMA's role in organizing the event along with the student groups: creating general student awareness of the event.
"This is the first time OMA has collaborated with other groups to do something specifically about Islamophobia or Islam related," she said. "I'm really glad that so many people showed up, because that gives us precedent for doing more events like this in the future."
Khan praised the organization of the event and came to the discussion with an open mind. She emphasized that she wanted to hear more about what the students had to say instead of introducing a specific agenda of her thoughts.
"I was curious to hear what the students and the members on the panel had to say about Islamophobia. I wanted to come to learn and I learned a lot," Khan said. "I think one of the most important things is to figure out how to have events like this, with inter-group and inter-faith conversations, and how to do it in such a way that it is polite but still very real."
Elysia Chou, a freshman from Suriname, attended the event with the desire to learn more about Islamophobia.
"Based on where I'm from, my friends are Muslim. I didn't get why people are actually Islamophobic, and I just ignored them. But coming to the States, it's much more of a thing, and it's forcing me to learn more about it and learn to understand it and actually do something about it," Chou said.
Hopkins alumnus Joel Pally also came to the event due to his interest in Islamic issues from the standpoint of people who are more closely related or involved with the topics.
"One thing that really stood out was the personal experiences, particularly Nitin's story about even someone who wasn't directly a Muslim still got the stereotyping that happens," Pally said. "It's not isolated as an Islamic issue. That happens to all groups and all religions. And it's just how this battle is really a battle against ignorance ultimately."