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UC Berkeley professor talks Islamophobia for SAMEPI

According to Hatem Bazian (above) racism against Muslims has allowed extremist groups to start all over the world. (Hart Rosenberg)
According to Hatem Bazian (above) racism against Muslims has allowed extremist groups to start all over the world. (Hart Rosenberg)

For SAMEPI Awareness Now! month, Dr. Hatem Bazian came to Mills College in response to Muslim related hate crimes around the world. His talk entitled “North Carolina, Paris, and Norway: Reinforcing Extremes and Navigating Islamophobia” addressed the fear of Muslims and why it exists.

Bazian is a professor at University of California, Berkeley and activist for Muslim people. He co-founded Zaytuna College in Berkeley, the first Muslim Liberal Arts College in America, and dedicates his profession to the study of Islam and Islamophobia in today’s society.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, on Jan. 7., the bombing of the Oslo district in Norway and the murders of two Muslim siblings in North Carolina have prompted a discussion about how Muslim people are perceived.

Racialization and discrimination of Muslim people, Bazian said, has been found to be a prevalent phenomenon in America and Europe. Muslims are seen as extremists, some using the phrase “Islamic extremism;” however, he said this assumption was created by the ulterior motives of bigger nations.

For example, the use of immigrant labor in America to suppress wages and create racial tension among those who believe immigrants are stealing jobs, Bazian said, is an issue that is not incidental, but part of a structural problem.

“You cannot really engage in thinking about race without thinking about power and how power is an important aspect to how a particular group is racialized,” Bazian said.

According to Bazian, making racism against Muslims acceptable has allowed extremist groups to come into power around the world and create  a well-funded, supported, Islamophobic industry.

“The extremist right-wing is making inroads in mainstream politics in Europe on the back of Islamophobia and monetizing the fear and the threat of Muslims,” Bazian said.

Bazian also said that starting in the recession of 2008, America saw an increase in spending on Islamophobic propaganda, companies and organizations.

“There was an incentive for a number of groups who wanted to prevent real economic reforms and real challenges for those who robbed us blind,” Bazian said. “You begin to actually generate more Islamophobic content and divert attention to a whole debate that has nothing to do with the pocket books of people, essentially robbing you blind again.”

According to Bazian, Islamophobia is also used as a tool for diversion in other ways including racism. For example, political conservatives who were against Obama being elected as the first African-American president used anti-Muslim rhetoric in discourse against him.

Bazian also spoke about how Muslim people in the media are represented only in terms of violence. According to Bazian, Hollywood vilifies Arabs or displays Middle-Eastern men and women in the context of a harem, which is a sexual fantasy that was actually created by Americans.

Mills Junior Fadwa Bouhedda reflected on the way media presents Muslim people, influencing their image in society.

“The only way you can get personal interaction is if you’re around Muslims,” Bouhedda said. “If I wasn’t interacting with people like my professors, I feel like they would still be under the impression of the media.”

Senior andPresident of the Muslim Student Alliance (MSA) Samah Ikram commented on the purpose of this event held for SAMEPI and its connection to North Carolina, Paris and Norway.

“We wanted to create that space for people to come and ask questions. There is a fear of Islam, so that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do,” Ikram said. “[So that] even if they’re fearful of it, to just ask questions.”