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MSA holds teach-in at Chapel to protest Islamophobia, DCR event 'The American Muslim Identity'

The Muslim Students Association held a teach-in protest in response to a campus event called "The American Muslim Identity" and, more broadly, against instances of Islamophobia and racism across the nation Monday. 

The teach-in was in response to an event co-sponsored by Duke College Republicans, Duke Political Union and Young Americans for Liberty that was being held on campus at the same time as the teach-in. The event, initially marketed under the title “The American Muslim Identity: Patriot or Insurgent?” was a Q&A with Zuhdi Jasser, a medical doctor and the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The Alexander Hamilton Society had originally co-sponsored the event, but revoked its sponsorship.

MSA was displeased with both the title of the event and the event's speaker—voicing concerns about Jasser’s support of discriminatory surveillance against American Muslim communities and President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

“When I first heard about this event, I was angry but not surprised," said junior Sanjidah Ahmed, head of MSA’s Social Justice Committee. "This racist binary [patriot or insurgent] is representative of conversations taking place across the political spectrum."

Ahmed said that MSA was intervening to help community members unlearn the racist language this country has taught them. 

"Islamophobia is not a private issue, but is first and foremost a state project," Ahmed said. 

Haleema Welji, lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, explained that in the wake of 9/11, media, television and film all began an interesting trend of balancing a bad Muslim character with a good Muslim character. Welji said that though the purpose of this pairing was to allow programs to appear nonviolent and claim they are multicultural, Muslims felt the brunt of their violence. 

“The distinguishing feature around the discourse of this pairing is that all Muslims appear to be bad until they prove their allegiance to the U.S. nation,” Welji said. 

Welji said this pairing is harmful in three ways. First, she believes it is problematic that Muslims must prove their allegiance to the United States in order to be accepted. Second, she noted that in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, Muslims feel as if they must censor their speech, believing they must sound as pure and patriotic as possible. 

Lastly, and most importantly, this pairing creates a dichotomy between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim that sheds doubts and suspicions on all Muslims, she argued. 

Welji asked the audience a question in the context of the event the teach-in was protesting—“Are all Muslims patriots or insurgents?” 

Senior Jazmynne Williams said that blatant Islamophobia is driven by the belief that Muslims only fit into two groups—a view she believes lacks both analysis and basic understanding. The meanings of Islam are as diverse as its followers, she said. 

Williams said she had her first experience with Islamophobia in the fourth grade, when a friend was not allowed to invite her to a sleepover because she was Muslim. Ever since then, Williams said she believed her life has been marked by these experiences. 

Senior Razan Idris expanded upon Williams' remarks regarding discrimination towards Muslims by discussing a common slur Muslims face—being called an Islamist. Idris said that today, the government harbors a notion that Islamists are terrorists waiting to attack. This notion has led the government to justify views that all Muslims should be surveilled.

“Other religious groups on campus would be horrified if they had cops in their churches or synagogues,” Idris said. “But for Muslims, this is a reality.” 

Idris says that accusations made against Muslims today are similar to those made against Catholics at the turn of the century. Although people used to worry that Catholics were more loyal to the pope than the United States, people today worry that Muslims are more loyal to their faith than the United States.

“If we can be painted as a threat, then it is supposedly justified to ban us, to threaten us and to bomb us,” Ahmed said, “The government can package their actions as self-defense.”

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