Author gives presentation about Islamophobia at Langara

Deepa Kumar speaks about Islamophobia at Langara College on March 5. Photo: Ben Bulmer
Deepa Kumar speaks about Islamophobia at Langara College on March 5. Photo: Ben Bulmer

An anti-Islamophobic advocate gave a powerful speech to a captivated audience at Langara College on March 5.

As part of her book tour, Deepa Kumar, an associate professor at Rutgers University, is speaking to universities and colleges about Islamophobia, which is the fear of people who practice the religion of Islam. The presentation was attended by approximately 30 people, many of whom were from outside the college.

Kumar: Government has painted Muslims as “the enemy”

Kumar’s book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire discusses how the “Muslim enemy” has historically been used to suit the goals of empires.

“If you’re going to try to convince people to go off and die, you have got to have a scary menacing enemy that they fear, that they hate, and that they’re willing to then die for,” she said.

After 9/11, American foreign policy spread racism to dehumanize Muslims around the world, Kumar said. The American government encouraged negative stereotypes about Muslim women to justify its own wars against Islamic nations like Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

Although huge reserves of oil and natural gas are found in Islamic countries, that doesn’t make a good story, she said. “‘We’re going to send your woman to college’ makes a better story.”

Langara students have been discriminated against

Nabila Jaffer, a Langara philosophy student who is a Muslim that was born and raised in Vancouver, said she rarely received discrimination because of her religion while she was growing up. “The only time I‘ve ever received faith discrimination was in high school, where they just ask you why you wear your head scarf and [say] ‘Are you bald under that?’”

Jaffer said an understanding of Islam has been instilled into the provincial education system.

“In Richmond we have all these different workshops in high school and elementary school against prejudice, which really shapes the students as they grow up,” she said.

Amir Yousefi, a Langara business student, said that although he was discriminated against in high school because of his Middle-Eastern background, he hasn’t felt any prejudices against him since then.

But both Jaffer and Yousefi said that attitudes towards them change when they cross the border into the U.S.

“It’s a complete different world there,” said Jaffer, “You’re treated differently. When you’re asking for customer service at the shopping mall, that’s when you receive a little bit of discrimination.”

Yousefi’s parents both hold Canadian passports, but when crossing the border they’re taken into American immigration for finger printing.

“And when we come back we have to go back to the American border to get checked out,” Yousefi said.

Foreign policy helps shape attitudes towards Muslims

Kumar said the differences in attitudes between the U.S. and Canada can be seen in their government’s foreign policies.

Ultimately the American policy of discrimination, war and intervention hasn’t achieved anything, she said.

“People need to be involved in their own liberation, so that they can make a society in an egalitarian fashion,” she said. “Bombs have never done that, and never will.”

Reported by Ben Bulmer

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