City College: Countering Islamophobia

Because of the danger it poses to civil society, Islamophobia needs to be recognized, resisted and defeated at all levels of society. Since the narrative of Islamophobia requires a stark separatism between Muslims and non-Muslims to function, a strong counter-narrative that stresses upon the assimilation of Muslims and debunks the theory of their “otherness” should be at the root of all efforts.

Knowledge Sharing and Inter-faith Programs

Since Islamophobia feeds on ignorance and drives communities towards polarization, disseminating knowledge of Islam and Muslims supported by inter-faith programs represents the best means of reversing the tide. More face-to-face engagement between Muslims and other communities will help in sharing commonalities and understanding differences, while countering misrepresentation and false stereotypes.

Positive Coverage by Alternative Media

More balanced views of Muslims and efforts to challenge biased reporting are now being made in Western mainstream society as people wake up to the reality and see through the hype of Islamophobic content. Positive articles about Muslims can now be found on alternative media such as the Guardian, Huffington Post and others. An increasing number of American Muslims, particularly women, are using social media and blogs as a platform for self-expression.

Non-profit Activism

Organizations such as the Carter Center founded by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have taken up the cause of tackling Islamophobia by mobilizing scholars to challenge the Islamophobic narrative and developing effective responses, strategies, best practices and tool-kits to other organizations and individuals working for the same cause in the not-for-profit sector.

Educational Initiatives

Educational tools and promotion of public knowledge of Islam are crucial to refute misconceptions of Islam. An increased awareness of Islamophobia as a form of racial discrimination must be taught at educational institutions at all levels. The Islamic Networks Group (ING) an American not-for-profit organization and its affiliates provide education on American Muslims and their faith to middle and high schools across the country as well as to adults in public institutions. As a direct result of its live presentations, the percentage of students who see Islam as promoting peace rose from 59% to 88%.

Legal Framework

Without a legal framework that recognizes Islamophobia as a form of discrimination and guarantees protection against it, the fight against Islamophobia will remain toothless. Hate crime and hate speech must be seen as criminal acts liable to prosecution by the state law machinery, with the scope widened to include social media and cyber space. One of the best documented efforts in this regard can be seen in the Barcelona’s “Municipal Plan to Combat Islamophobia”, that enumerates 30 preventive steps, including legal and educational ones, to tackle Islamophobia in the city.

In the end, it is worth remembering that Islamophobia is less about Islam or Muslims and more about the uncertainty of a society on the whole. It is a civil society problem that undermines social cohesion, creates inequalities and violates the fundamental principles of a diverse, free and civilized society, making it necessary for everyone to work towards developing a strong and effective response to this modern malaise.

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