Building Bridges: A Muslim and Non-Muslim Dialogue about Islamophobia in America, Part 2

…And we’re back with the second part of our dialogue about President-elect Trump’s proposed Muslim policies. You can read Part 1 here.

Q4: How do you feel about Trump’s call for Mosque surveillance?

A: Sehrish: The Mosque surveillance would be highly uncalled for and horrifying mostly for the children, who despite being born here, would grow up feeling discriminated and scared.

A: Munir: This is a very strange thing to say. I, like almost everyone else, want to see an end to terrorism. But these men are not recruited in mosques. The worst places are actually prisons and certain online communities. All that will happen if this were to go through is that there will be more resentment amongst the Muslim communities. I don’t understand the strategy: surely having a strong, vibrant, moderate Muslim community is the key to fighting extremism. If people do not feel welcomed, or are watched over and are treated with suspicion, then they are more likely to move towards dangerous activities. The last thing any country in the West needs, let alone the US, is for Muslims having nowhere else to turn but insular communities of other Muslims who also feel marginalized.

A: Noor: It is part of ‘extreme vetting’ but I’m afraid it might be necessary in some cases. Even as a Muslim I must admit that some mosques do need surveillance for their extremist ideology. We need to take measures against extreme terrorist who use religion to gain power. I can only hope that we don’t generalize all mosques as danger, but for safety of all people, religious or otherwise, we need to defend ourselves. Even Morocco uses their secret intelligence to fight terrorist who preach extreme ideologies and any jihad.

A: Trisha: I can see all of your points, and I have to wonder about the necessity to watch and even infiltrate organisations that use religious power. Considering the recent public dialogue about the abuses of the Church of Scientology on its adherents, I might consider supporting this proposition if it included all faith traditions who are abusing power and not just Islam.

Q5: What do you think can be done to change perceptions about Islam in America?

A: Sehrish: Since the current elections showed that “white privilege” is still pretty much a thing, we could have white (Muslin/non-Muslim) spokesperson, celebrities, political figures speak more about diversity to change perceptions about Islam in America. Also, Muslims need to come forward more in this regard.

A: Munir: I’m not sure. It would be nice if there were more high profile Muslims, but I don’t think I have a clear answer for this. Fundamentally this is an issue we Muslims must take initiative on. Muslim identity is in a bit of a strange place now and it is up to us to first define who we are going to be before we can deal with whether others perceive us correctly. At the same time as all of the upheavals going on in the world, Islam remains the fastest growing religion in the world, and appeals to people for extremely diverse reasons. I think one reason it’s hard to change perceptions about the religion is that there are no central authority figures as in Christianity or other religions. It is very decentralized. In many ways this can make belief rigid, and the changes that do happen may not occur to the whole Muslim population. As I said, hopefully some charismatic figures will emerge to dispel many of the myths that are currently floating around.

A: Noor: Stop global propaganda from either side and we need to be more open-minded instead of biased and in some cases even prejudiced about something that seems ‘strange’ to our own customs. We need to understand before we can judge which is only possible through communication and not with weapons nor with fear. We need unity, not separation.

A: Trisha: This is a question I struggle with, and I appreciate the candour of your replies. I’m a strong proponent of religious education, and I think Scotland is leading the way in this regard. However, no text in the world impress upon me like personal experience can, and being able to make friends with a wide array of Muslims and learning through them about Islam is an irreplaceable education. The image I selected for this blog post comes from a YouTube video from Muslim Voices entitled ‘What needs to take place to foster understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims?’ The answer is getting people together and ‘building bridges’.

Q6: What can Muslim allies do to help with Islamophobia in America? Globally?

A: Sehrish: Pressurize the government to scrutinize its foreign policy. Muslim allies could help decreasing Islamophobia in America through active student exchange programs, educational visas, and etc.

A: Munir: This might sound trivial but I think most importantly is to try to befriend somebody who is Muslim. Right now, it’s very easy to avoid each other, and Muslims will stick with themselves and so will other groups. But the public is always the most sceptical of divisive rhetoric when they already know somebody in that group. Something clicks when people start to think “Hang on, you mean Ahmed from accounts shouldn’t be allowed to bring his wife over? That’s just stupid” and, as cliché as it sounds, people start thinking of other groups as people and on the same terms that they would think of their family or friends. The more and more these interactions happen the more difficult it is for Islamophobes to keep thinking what they do without seeing a dissonance.

A: Noor: UNITE!!!! We should unite and should not let any terrorist cell take any unity apart. Their power rises when we fall apart. Work together, cooperate to reform and spread some Islamic Enlightenment. We must educate Muslim and non-Muslim what the true Islam is and to warn them to be cautious with Islamic propaganda which isn’t tolerated by the mainstream Islamic community.

Q7: Are there any countries, in your opinion, who are getting the dialogue right with their Muslim communities? Any country the US could learn from?

A: Sehrish: This is very unfortunate that there aren’t a lot of other countries that, in my opinion, are getting the dialogue right with their Muslim Communities. One and only notable country right now is Canada, because its Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, condemns all sorts of extremism.

A: Munir: This is the big question; which model of multiculturalism works best? One thing is certain, and that is that the old assimilation model, which is still practiced in France, does not work. People need the freedom and space to practice their cultures. Whether or not somebody wears a cloth on their head should not be seen as an issue of national loyalty.

Traditional multicultural models are also showing cracks. In the UK, there are concerns that some Muslims communities are not integrating and whether the representative bodies (eg Muslim Council of Britain) really represent all Muslims.

Germany, which leads the way in terms of accepting refugees, has also had problems in the past with its multicultural policy. After WW2, a labour shortage in Germany meant that many immigrants from Turkey began working there. They were not given citizenship, and the multicultural policy allowing them to maintain their culture, language and lifestyle was done out of convenience rather than an attempt to build a common culture. This resulted in a very separate Turkish community. There are now easier routes to citizenship for immigrants, but the issue will surely come up: how will a common, inclusive culture be built to stop parallel communities being formed?

Even Canada, which arguably takes multiculturalism most seriously, is seeing problems. So, what can be done? I don’t think there are is any particular country the US should follow. The US has its own unique history and identity. But we need a shift from multicultural approaches to intercultural ones which emphasise interaction between cultures and hoping to make a new cultural identity.

I also think there might be economic issues. If a community is stuck in low paid precarious work for generations, they may become insular and unwilling to interact with the wider culture. The workplace is where people generally meet others from all walks of life. For this reason, it would make sense to have culturally sensitive programs which would help minorities to find work.

This is the best article I have read on the topic is entitled ‘The Failure of Multiculturalism’ by Kenan Malik.

A: Noor: Utopia, it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, every country has its negatives or lacks a certain true freedom of religion and speech. No matter how democratic some societies are, individuals are all biased and protective of their ways, values and religion. The same goes for our government, they’re all convinced of their own ‘rightful’ values and religion. Meanwhile it’s all just a narrative! I wish I could answer that The Netherlands or Morocco is an example, but even they have their own objectives and political strategy. If we truly want dialogue and to solve this on-going ‘religious’ war we, the people of this world, need to unite and stop judging ‘others’ and start looking forward to create a world where every human is valued, respected and can have its own space. The world is big enough and can handle a new Enlightenment. I truly feel that many Muslims are ready for a reformation. But again, we need unity to achieve anything.

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