Mogahed presents research to show Islamophobia’s impact on the world. Photo by Ian Keel.Mogahed presents research to show Islamophobia’s impact on the world. Photo by Ian Keel.Sufia Alam - Contributor

Dalia Mogahed recently visited UAB to deliver a lecture about Islamophobia to students and the Birmingham community.

Mogahed, former advisor of President Obama, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and president and CEO of Mogahed Consulting, divided her talk into four main parts; what is Islamophobia, why there is so much Islamophobia present in the United States, what impact does it have on our society, and how can the public can address the issue.

“Islamophobia is anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination based on an irrational hatred and fear of Islam,” Mogahed said while presenting a Brookings poll that showed that 61 percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam and 46 percent hold an unfavorable view of Muslims. Additionally, Mogahed said, roughly half of Americans do not know a Muslim personally.

“This in itself should not be a problem,” Mogahed said. “As human beings we shouldn’t have to know someone to respect them.”

Mogahed offered three explanations as to why there is so much Islamophobia present in the United States. She said that it is in the political interest of some in pushing to some specific policies in order to win elections, that Islamophobia is essentially a million-dollar industry, and, that because of the strong media bias present towards Islam and American-Muslims, Islamophobia is spreading.

“Statistically we are covered seven percent more negatively than North Korea, a country who has openly threatened to use a nuclear weapon on us,” Mogahed said.

“Levels of anti-Muslim sentiment follow trends in domestic U.S. politics, not actual terrorism,” Mogahed said, “Leaders shape how the public reacts and this hints that anti-Muslim hate is a tool of public manipulation.”

According to her studies regarding these spikes in Islamophobia from Sept. 11 2001 through 2013, Mogahed said that there were three points in time where it spiked: the time period that shortly lead up to the Iraq War, and during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, but that it did not spike after Sept. 11 nor after Boston marathon bombing.

Islamophobia is a problem that affects everyone, Mogahed said. She cited that being anti-Semitic is a stronger indicator of being anti-Muslim than hating Islam itself, and that these sentiments also go toward strengthening terrorist rhetoric. These issues, according to her, are problems that affect everyone, not just Muslim-Americans.

“Muslims are only the canaries in the coal mine, first to be targeted,” Mogahed said, “but eventually Islamophobia will hurt us all.”
Mogahed said to fight Islamophobia, the public must challenge bigotry, call out biased media coverage, build coalitions for a stronger, whole America, and, most importantly, vote.

“I think it was a great opportunity to open dialogue on campus about issues such as this, and all issues related to human rights,” Charles Coleman, a senior and intern for the Institute of Human Rights.

The event was sponsored by the Birmingham Islamic Society, UAB Muslim Student Association, and UAB Institute of Human Rights.

“We are fortunate to be at a university that provides a framework for discussion for some of the hardest, controversial topic facing our society today,” said Tina Reuter, Ph.D.., the director of the Institute for Human Rights and associate professor of human rights, peace studies, and international politics, said.