Panel looks at Islamophobia and its consequences

At a recent event, “‘Regarded As’ Muslim: Islamophobia and its Ripple Effects,” panelists considered the difficulties faced in the United States by Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. The panel was co-sponsored by NYU Law’s Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights; Black Allied Law Students Association; Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Center for Human Rights and Global Justice; Middle Eastern Law Students Association; Muslim Law Students Association; and South Asian Law Students Association.

Alina Das '05, Khalid Latif, and Arjun Sethi '08Associate Professor of Clinical Law Alina Das ’05 recalled experiencing 9/11 a few weeks into her first semester as an NYU Law student. That day’s horrors were compounded, she said, by her roommate expressing hatred for Arabs as they watched the news on television. It is important to consider, she added, the ways Islamophobia has “intersected with xenophobia, with anti-blackness, with a whole host of issues that cut at the heart of the way we treat people of different races and religions in this country.”

Das, who co-teaches the Immigrant Rights Clinic, also discussed the far-ranging implications of President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. “To have something come from the president of this country so readily embracing Islamophobia… is something that personally has resonated with me and with my students as, if anything, a call to action.”

Imam Khalid Latif, NYU’s first Muslim chaplain and executive director of its Islamic Center, shared Das’s view that Islamophobia is entangled with other forms of discrimination. “You see just a replication of the same type of attitudes and challenges that have plagued many minority populations in this country that now Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim through a racialization of Islam, are actually facing,” said Latif.

Arjun Sethi ’08, adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, examined the criminalization of minority communities through such mechanisms as the recently ended National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which served as a sort of unofficial “Muslim registry.” He pointed to the 2015 incident in which Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim student, brought a homemade digital clock to school and was arrested for allegedly building a fake bomb. “In this particular moment, it is impossible to be a black Muslim student—even in middle school—who is of an engineering background, because you run the very serious risk that you will be thought to be a terrorist.”

For Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the real concern is a “rising tide of hate violence,” with an accompanying increase in white supremacy and white nationalism underscoring the importance of mutually supportive groups. “For us at SAALT, that means that any time we have a public conversation about anti-Muslim sentiment or about anti-immigrant sentiment… we do justice to the intersectionality of our communities.” The organization makes a point, she said, of including not just Muslims but others in related struggles, such as Latino DREAMers and Black Lives Matter representatives.

Despite the combative rhetoric around Islamophobia, Das said, “There is a value in some sense to people being much more open about what has been going on for a very long time…. We have to, as a policy matter, really continue to keep the pressure up and to call this what it is, in terms of the law but also in terms of organizing, which has always been the more powerful aspect of the social justice movement over many, many decades.”

Posted April 7, 2017