On Tuesday, April 3rd, CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab and Staff Attorney, Rabya Khan, presented “Understanding Islamophobia: Free Speech and Bigotry ” at Purdue University in Calumet, Illinois. Rehab engaged students with a discussion about dispelling stereotypes Islam and Muslims, highlighting the problems of hate and racism.
Sponsored by Purdue’s Muslim Students Association and the Social Justice Club, the presentation also addressed the bigoted comments made by Purdue professor Maurice Eisenstein in November of last year. Einstein was accused of making racially prejudiced remarks about Muslims on his Facebook page and in the classroom, including radical Muslims killing Christians in Nigeria among other posts claiming questioning the civility of Muslims.
Rehab explained how there is a discrepancy between bigotry that is allowed on the basis of free speech and bigotry that is condemned by the public. Islamophobes usually take advantage of this are openly allowed make bigoted remarks without consequence. He went on to explain that those who claim Islamophobia has nothing to with race because Islam is a religion, not a race. Rehab challenged this and explained that Islamophobia is indeed a form of racism.
“While it is true that Muslims are not a race; yet, Islamophobia is still considered a form of racism. Racism is based on a perception rather than on the reality; in other words, it describes the condition of the racist’s mind, not the condition of the target group. Usually, racism is a one-bit process whereby racists demonize a given race. In the case of Islamophobia, Islamophobes tend to engage in a two-bit process: a) Muslims are reduced to a race (usually an Arab hybrid) and b) the resultant race is then demonized.”
This explains, for example, why Senad, a Bosnian high school sophomore in Chicago could be asked in racist fashion, “where is your camel?” Despite the fact that Bosnians are European, and the camel is not native to Europe, but to Arabia. Proxy-racism is not a phenomenon exclusive to Muslims. “Jews come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds including Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, Flasha, and yet anti-Semitism is widely recognized in the US and Europe as a form of racism,” said Rehab.
The audience of about 100 students and a few faculty members were invited to ask questions and engage in dialogue with one another. They discussed ideas about how to spread awareness of Islamophobia on their campus and how to counter racism in academic institutions.