A better understanding of Islam will stem the tide of Islamophobia, a McMaster panel said on Tuesday.
“When talking about Islamophobia, the enemy isn’t hatred, it’s fear,” said Dr. Ellen Amster, an associate professor at Mac, explaining that the tensions many North Americans feel with their Muslim neighbours often have to do with a lack of understanding of the mainstream Muslim community.
“If you’re afraid of this, you’re not crazy,” said Amster, pointing to a photo of a group of armed Daesh members, faces hidden, hoisting black flags with Arabic writing. But this group, she argues, is only posing as an Islamic authority.
“Islam is not irrelevant because it is the cultural frame through which this group came into existence,” she said, but Daesh — also known as ISIS, ISIL and Islamic State — has had to rewrite Islamic law, thought and the history of the caliphate, in order to assert authority in weak states with embittered peoples.
The people most victimized by Daesh, she points out, are Muslims themselves.
A big part of the problem is presenting Muslims as a monolithic group, said Liyakat Takim, Sharjah chair in Global Islam at McMaster. Not only are there vast differences between both Sunni and Shia, but within those denominations are enormous cultural and ideological differences, said Takim.
A tight-knit religious community prior to the 1970s, North America’s Muslims have become increasingly sectarian — something that is noticeable even on McMaster’s campus, said Takim. Muslim student associations at universities are typically dominated by one denomination, he said.
“I think it’s a dual process, it doesn’t just come down to educating the public, but it also comes down to educating Muslims,” said Ateeka Khan, a PhD candidate in history. “We do need to understand more about what our identities are as Muslim Canadians, because it is a hybrid identity.”
Jasmine Zine, sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the biggest problem Muslim students face is the internalization of the post 9/11 climate which makes them unaware of how much they filter their behaviour.
Zine said she has observed hyper-surveillance of Muslim students by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and law enforcement representatives who are assigned to monitor the activities of Muslim student associations.
“People tend to see a one-dimensional view of Muslims that is uncritically absorbed as common-sense ideas,” said Zine. People tend to see Islamophobia when it is obvious and on the surface, but are quick to accept the systematic trampling of civil liberties of Muslim people when done so by government institutions, she said.
In an era where no-fly lists keep a 6-year-old Montreal Canadiens fan with a Muslim name from boarding an airplane in Toronto, Zine says there is a critical need for education.
Specifically, Zine advocates comedy as the best medicine.
“Comedy is a great modality for teaching,” said Zine, hailing entertainment hits like “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and “The Muslims are Coming” as critical components to changing public perceptions of Islam.
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