Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding

Opinion Editorials, April 2009


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 Islamophobia on American Campuses

By Karin Friedemann
Khaleej Times, April 26, 2009


Muslim parents from around the world once sent their children off to school in America with simple warnings against wine and song, but now Muslim students must be prepared to face Islamophobic incitement.

While political activism makes college exciting, Muslims need to be aware that autonomously managed local Muslim Student Association university chapters are outclassed by well-funded, hierarchically coordinated Jewish and Neoconservative organisations, which actively work to undermine Muslim student groups.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which blacklists professors for failure to teach the Zionist version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, labels MSA an "Anti-Israel" organisation and keeps detailed files on its activities.

Steve Emerson's Terrorism Awareness Project published a "Student's Guide to Stop the Jihad on Campus" manual for organising "Islam-Fascism Awareness Week," whose stated goal is "to show the connections between the MSA and the international jihad."

IFAW sponsored a panel discussion on "Islamic Totalitarianism's Threat to Civilisation" with the Ayn Rand Institute and screened propaganda films.

MSA chapters deal separately with such assaults on Muslim religious dignity. Usually they hold a protest or a counter-event. No coordinated national plan exists to oppose malicious professional anti-Islamic incitement. Muslim students clearly need protection and guidance from their elders.

An MSA student from University of Texas complains: "David Horowitz and his Islamophobic gang, which include the likes of Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Wafa Sultan, Ann Coulter and many others, have called on student organisations sponsoring IFAW to distribute petitions to MSA members denouncing terrorism and the Hadiths of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) these petitions have been written in such a way that no Muslim could possibly sign it without denouncing their religion." The Jewish Organisation of America in consultation with Hillel sued Michigan State University for permitting Muslim students to wear graduation stoles inscribed with the Shahada. They equated the Muslim declaration of faith with support for Hamas and claimed this threatened Jewish students' civil rights.

The Harvard Crimson recently reported Harvard Islamic chaplain Taha Abdul-Basseer came under attack because he addressed a student's questions about apostates "in the context of the evolution of an Islamic legal doctrine." This aggressive, prejudiced dissection of Islam stigmatises the religion as fundamentally different from Judeo-Christianity, intrinsically incompatible with American values, and results in the marginalisation of Muslim scholars.

As a college student, Aafia Siddique was active in MSA and managed a religious information (da'awah) table in the MIT student center. Today Aafia is a US political prisoner because Islamophobes like Nonie Darwish denigrate Aafia's faith as something unacceptable: "They are not trying to be part of the American way of life, they are not trying to be a part of our culture, they are here with an agenda to make Islam the law of the land." Peer pressure has the dangerous effect of rendering Muslim youths vulnerable to Zionisation on American campuses. Muslim students trying to be "progressive" in the eyes of fellow students begin defending Jewish sensitivities against anti-Zionists and acting as spokespersons for the Holocaust or gay rights.

Parents and leaders within communities sending their children to America for school should protect and organise the Muslim students. Wealthy Jews provide Jewish students with campus organisational headquarters, where members create databases of Jewish students' personal information gleaned through friendly phone calls and Sabbath dinner party invitations. The Jewish community arranges free trips to Israel and special access to internships throughout industry and government.

The Muslim Students Association needs both to create similar databases of supporters or of potential supporters and also to make connections with friendly student, religious and professional organisations in order to compete with Jewish social networking. Muslim think tanks need to observe the competition. Harvard University's Catholic Student Center is integrated with the monumental St. Paul's Church, and the Hillel building is modern and glassy, designed by Moshe Safdie, architect of the new Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher Jews have their own Chabad House operating under auspices of Alan Dershowitz and Ruth Wisse.

Harvard, which is the foremost intellectual institution of the US establishment, has no pan-Islamic cultural student building for meetings, prayers, social events, or creating political infrastructure. The Harvard Islamic Society meets in a room near the Buddhist Dharma Society in the basement of an undergraduate dormitory, just past the laundry room, recycling bins, and 
student lounge.

The wars over global domination and the debates about which races or nations have the right of self-defense and which do not are first fought in academia. As intellectuals poke the surface of pro-Israel bluster, they find there is nothing behind it. Islamophobic ideologies exist in a vacuum of reason. Despite vulgar and hostile pro-Israel campus organisations, many friendly Jews attend pro-Palestine events. For all its drawbacks the USA still offers more freedom of speech and freedom of religion than Europe for those students who want to sharpen their pencils for a battle of ideas.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on the Middle East affairs and US politics.




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