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Lecture details how Islamophobia took root in U.S.

Students, faculty praise insights of visiting Georgetown scholar

By Allie Bice –

A Georgetown University professor said Feb. 29 the media plays a large part in instilling the fear Americans have towards the Islamic faith, in a speech at Arizona State University.

John L. Esposito, a scholar and a contributor to major news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN, spoke about Islam, Arabs, Islamophobia and terrorism in his lecture at the university.

“In a sense I could say — why are we here?” Esposito said. “Well, Islamophobia has grown exponentially in the last year.”
Esposito said that negative media coverage of Muslims and Islam contributes to the growing fear, noting there is a “fear of Islam and Muslims, not just of relative extremists, but fear of the religion Islam.” As examples, he cited media coverage of the recent attacks on San Bernardino and Paris.

Using statistics from various studies to express the severity of discrimination, Esposito also described how Muslims are treated in the United States.

No religious, social, racial, or ethnic group has received greater discrimination in the U.S. than Muslims, Esposito said, citing research from the Public Religion Research Institute.

As Muslims and radical Islam are a hot-button topic in the current election season, Esposito also said that the prejudice against Muslims and Islam “has had a significant impact on domestic policies and civil liberties of Muslims.”
Esposito discussed how Americans only see radical Islam, despite the fact that it is a religion like Christianity. “Today we exchange that image with the image of terrorists,” he said.

“What put Islam on the map was the Iranian revolution,” he explained. “And what that meant was, that for most Americans, as for most Europeans, their engagement with Islam and Muslims came from the lens of a revolution, which took Americans hostages and which for many Americans, their engagement was looking at their TV and seeing people shout ‘Death to America.’”

He said that many Americans at that time had only seen the faith in a violent light, adding that people throughout the West were watching the revolution and seeing radical Islamists slandering the United States.

Souad T. Ali, associate professor at ASU and the chair of the university’s Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies, said the council received a multitude of thank-you notes from university students and faculty for the insightful lecture.

Esposito “masterfully traced the statistics about how the success of Muslim-Americans in embracing their culture in the United States enriched America and helped many Americans understand Islam fairly,” Ali said. “Sadly, however as one of the faculty noted, these statistics ‘do not put a dent in the general prejudices expressed about Muslims.’”

Ali also said she thought the lecture was insightful for those who don’t understand Islam and radical Islam.

“The lecture was an eye-opener that people need to put our prejudices aside and look at Arabs and Muslims in America and globally as our neighbors to defeat the prejudice and bigotry of Islamophobia and simultaneously defeat terrorism and its extremist practitioners who do not represent Islam in any shape or form,” she said.

Patrick Moyse, an ASU sophomore studying English, said Esposito’s speech opened his eyes to the issues of Islamophobia.

“I thought it was enlightening,” Moyse said. “As much as I thought mass media contributed to the fear of the Islam faith, he provided great examples of that.”

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