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Professors open doors against Islamophobia



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American Studies students listen in as guest lecturer Abdul K. Baram dives into the topic of Islamophobia and cultural racism during the "Islamophobia: Myth or Reality" presentation Monday afternoon in the Fine Arts building. Baram's lecture is a piece of Bloomington Against Islamophobia; a week-long event combating myth of the Islamic threat due to differences in cultural views. Andrew Williams Buy Photos

Professor Micol Seigel threw candy into the aisles of the Fine Arts Building auditorium as she wished her class a happy 
Halloween.

“Now this is not the trick part,” she said. “This is the second part of the treat.”

That second part was guest lecturer Abdul Karim Baram of the Islamic Center of Bloomington, Seigel said.

Eighteen professors will open their classroom doors to the public this week for Open University Against Islamophobia, the Bloomington Against Islamophobia event of which Baram was the first speaker.

“We are here really to search for knowledge,” Baram said.

Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate, and hate breeds violence, he projected onto the screen. Education breeds confidence, confidence breeds hope, and hope breeds peace.

He described the modern emergence of Islamophobia, for which he provided a broad definition: prejudice, hatred or bigotry directed against Islam and Muslims.

Baram said the roots of Islamophobia include fear, racism, assumed religious 
differences and the perception of an uncivilized people.

He said the real principles of Islam include honoring mankind, embracing diversity, freedom of choice and advocating justice for all.

After the lecture, sophomore Max Heeren asked Baram about the difference between the acceptance of Islam and the terror of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“From every religion, every culture emerges nonsense people,” Baram said. “From my perspective, I call ISIS nonsense, because it connects to Islam in no way, in no manner.”

He said terror groups like ISIS result from oppression and are like the explosion of a container placed in a fire, but they do not represent all Muslim people.

Bloomington Against Islamophobia organizer Amanda Lanzillo said the rest of the week’s classes will focus on education about what Islam really is but also on the way it mixes with other identities.

“Islamophobia, in fact, intersects with a lot of other issues of discrimination, whether that’s against people of color in the United States or misperceptions about gender stereotypes in Islam,” she said.

The week’s topics range from LGBT populations across cultures to representation of Muslims in American pop music to an examination of Sharia.

“A few incidents in Bloomington and the presidential election season nationally have made it obvious that Islamophobia is not something that happens to others, but rather that it is something that impacts all of us,” professor Kaya Sahin, Open University participant, said. “Like in other forms of racism, we have to be vigilant about it, and we have to educate ourselves about the threats to our civic culture in Bloomington, nationally and indeed globally.”

Echoing the local-global dynamic, professor Colin Johnson plans to discuss the academic study “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times.”

“What I’d really like attendees to take away from the discussion is a heightened awareness of how interconnected domestic and foreign policy questions are — sometimes in positive ways, but also in ways that end up making LGBT Americans far more complicit in racism, xenophobia and American militarism than I’m sure most of them imagine themselves to be,” he said.

Professor Freya Thimsen, another participant, plans to talk about the act of veiling.

She said she hopes to work through the complexities involved in understanding why Muslim women dress in certain ways and the diversity of women’s experiences within Islam.

“I’m excited and curious about who might show up and what they might contribute to the discussion,” she said. “Although I am not an expert in Islamic religion, it is important to me that my community be a place where many kinds of religious expression are welcome.”

Professor and participant Beth Buggenhagen also plans to discuss dress specific to Islam.

“I am concerned about Islamophobic political and social discourse and have noted its polarizing qualities and want to contribute to public debate by pushing our understanding of Islam in new directions,” she said. “The topic of fashion and faith aligns with the themes of the class which is to look cross-culturally at the politics of dress and of making and wearing textiles.”

Professor David McDonald, who said he plans to focus on music, said it is important to point out all areas of American popular culture where Muslims and Arabs are represented as others.

“To do so equips IU students and community members at large with the skill set necessary to identify, resist and ultimately transcend Islamophobia,” he said.

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