- Created on 12 May 2014
- Published on 12 May 2014
- Written by Asmaa Soliman
Latent and Manifest Islamophobia: Multimodal Engagements with the Production of Knowledge
5th Annual International Conference on the Study of IslamophobiaCenter for Race and Gender, UC BerkeleyApril 17-19, 2014, Boalt School of Law, UC Berkeley
Written by Asmaa Soliman
Latent and Manifest Islamophobia: Multimodal Engagements with the Production of Knowledge was the title of the 5th Annual International Conference on the Study of Islamophobia held April 17-19 at the Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley (www.islamophobiacon.com). The annual conference is part of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project (www.irdproject.com) at the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley, organised by Dr. Hatem Bazian, Director of the IRD Project and who established the Islamophobia Studies Journal. The conference brought together academics from across the globe speaking about Islamophobia from various perspectives. Diverse themes were discussed throughout the conference days, with international case studies shedding light on the many approaches and contexts to the study of Islamophobia, including at the socio-political and economic levels.
Particular case studies across disciplines were presented, and topics included media in a variety of forms, headscarf bans, prohibition of mosque constructions, the feminist association Femen, and the Quebec’s charter of values. Also, more sociological and ethnographic studies of Muslims’ experiences of Islamophobia were illustrated in various contexts including schools, universities and airports. Beyond these academic studies, efforts at tackling Islamophobia and engaging in various activities to counter Islamophobic behaviour were also presented, including exposing the funding of the Islamophobia industry (www. americanprogress.org/issues/religion/report/2011/08/26/10165/fear-inc/). Philosophical discussions were raised about the term Islamophobia and the question of whether it can be seen as a form of racism or not. Furthermore, the relation between Islamophobia and concepts such as liberalism was critically scrutinized. Moreover, de-colonial perspectives were presented on anti-Muslim racism in the context of other racisms and discriminations. International perspectives provided further insights and nuance on Islamophobia globally.
Dr. Bazian ended the conference with some critical, important and thought-provoking reflections on latent and manifest Islamophobia in which he compared the phenomenon to Christopher Nolan’s film, Inception. He argued that the Islamophobia industry works in a similar vein to the main character’s ability to penetrate the dream world and originate specific ideas that influences the mind. According to Dr. Bazian, the Islamophobia industry successfully uses fear and hate speech to put our intellect to sleep and to enroot Islamophobic views about Muslims in the collective consciousness.
Dr. Bazian stressed that similarly to the film, the effects of this process are rather negative and harmful. In the context of Muslims they involve fear, violence, racism and securitisation processes. In his article on Aljazeera.com Dr. Bazian expresses this process as follows:
“The Islamophobes target our minds not to steal ideas, but to plant otherisation and differentiated treatment towards Muslims so as to push their distorted, exclusionary and militarised worldview”.
Unfortunately, he says there are many well-funded Islamophobic networks in the West who are primarily concerned to spread prejudices towards Muslims and who spend millions of dollars to realise that. This inception process is according to Dr. Bazian’s not solely confined to political and military spheres where Islamophobia is more explicit but it also encompasses more implicit fields of literature, entertainment, arts and culture. He underlines that once these wrong ideas have reached people’s minds, firm views about Muslims are produced that do not pay attention to facts, circumstances and research.
Dr. Munir Jiwa, Director and Associate Professor, Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, who was the conference’s main co-sponsor says that even though he tends to be an optimist, statistics about Islamophobic instances are alarming. According to him we should not focus on victims’ having to account for their victimhood but “ask perpetrators of violence, hate speech, and Islamophobia, and those who are in positions of power to account for their power and discrimination”. He argues that there are hegemonic and totalizing media frames through which Islam and Muslims are constantly represented. He presents these dominant frameworks as the five “media pillars” of Islam. They include 1) 9/11 as the temporal frame 2) violence and fundamentalism, 3) Muslim women and veiling 4) compatibility of Islamic and Western values 5) the Middle East and its politics. He sees his role as unpacking these frames, and insists on seeing them through global geo-political and economic frames rather than simply a religious lens.
The conference is intended to create a platform for academic exchange and discussion about Islamophobia that brings a variety of perspectives, disciplines and approaches together. Dr. Jiwa stresses the conference’s relevance as follows:
“I think our role in the academy is to think across academic disciplines on the topic of Islamophobia, and to be in conversation with those at the forefront of addressing and combating Islamophobia in various sectors – law, government, media, NGOs, religious and interfaith communities, etc. This multimodal approach helps us study, understand and address Islamophobia in scholarly and engaged ways – something we would otherwise be unable to do without such an international networked effort.”
As the conference participation in-person and online increases exponentially each year, it is increasingly successful in shedding light on various manifest as well as latent Islamophobic discourses and practices in multiple contexts and countries. While most people that attended the conference in-person were already more or less aware of the problem and in touch with scholars in this field, many individuals, including thousands online, are not all aware of the reality of Islamophobia, its seriousness, and its effects on the wider public. It remains an essential task to expand the network of scholars and practitioners studying, addressing and combating Islamophobia. As Dr. Jiwa stressed Islamophobia is not a Muslim-specific problem but rather an issue that the entire society has to fight against.
“I think of Islamophobia as a larger and structural problem that societies need to address, as it affects all of us. We tend to Islamicize the problems that Muslims face, and I think we need to Americanize or Westernize these issues. By doing so, we begin accounting for discrimination and global power. Only then can we move towards trust and understanding.”
- Last Updated on 13 July 2014