Best-Selling Author Reza Aslan Lectures on Islamophobia


 On Monday evening in Love Auditorium, Colgate welcomed Reza Aslan, author of Ten Years Later: Fighting Islamophobia and Understanding Muslims, to cam­pus. He addressed a full house and concluded the talk with a book signing. Aslan, who is the Chief Executive Officer of BoomGen Studios, centered his lecture on the ideas of rising Islamophobia and overall anti-Muslim senti­ments in the United States. His previous work, No god but God, was an international bestseller.

Aslan began his talk by speak­ing about his own identity within a societal context, saying that he and his family left Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Because of the standing Iran had in the United States after the Iranian Hostage Crisis, he spent most of the early 1980s trying to assimilate into American culture. He found being Iranian in America at the time was not easy.

Aslan, through his own experi­ences of cultural identity, said that he believed there to be a “malleable American identity that allows for different cultures to easily absorb into the national American heri­tage.” He said that even after 9/11, he still felt at home in America.

“Everyone thought there would be an enormous backlash against Muslims,” Aslan said, “but there was actually an enormous amount of unity between different faiths that rallied to the side and cause of Muslims after 9/11.”

Aslan addressed the growing unease among many Americans.

“Anti-Muslim sentiment is at all-time highs,” he said. “Far higher today than they were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.”

Aslan shared that these senti­ments are almost 14 percent higher today than they were 10 years earlier.

“Attitudes towards Muslims in the United States are getting progressively more and more bigoted,” he said. “Two-thirds of Americans don’t think Muslims should have the same rights or civil liberties as non-Muslims.”

Aslan spoke extensively on how he believed that this surge in anti-Muslim sentiment is not a naturally evolving phenomenon.

“It is not the result of a slow-moving grassroots sentiment,” he said. “On the contrary, this is the result of a very well-organized, well-funded campaign by a handful of far-right extremist groups (Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America) to convince Americans that Islam is the enemy.”

Recently, seven funders have spent almost $40 million within the Islamophobia industry to cre­ate fear-mongering reports about the dangers of Islam and Muslims in America, Aslan explained.

The reports are then fed into the echo chamber and served to a handful of media outlets that consequentially invite people who wrote the reports onto their news shows to confirm and cite the information. The echo cham­ber, he said, becomes news, and is then spread to the general pub­lic and then is picked up by po­litical leaders. It is then fully part of the mainstream of American society and the rhetoric of Mus­lims. Aslan said that this is what happened with the “Mosque at Ground Zero” last year as well as the reports surrounding the “Sharia-ization of America.”

“Studies have shown that the single greatest determinant to your views on Islam is whether you watch Fox News or not,” Aslan said. “Fox News watchers have a worse view of Islam than tea-partiers who don’t watch it.”

Aslan shared that there are now 23 states that have either passed legislation or are in the process of passing legislation banning Sharia, which is the set of laws by which Islam societies are gov­erned. Sharia has itself become a symbol of Islam, and has been as­sociated with extremist leadership promoting an Islamic lifestyle.

“Every single one of those laws will be repealed,” Aslan said. “The first to pass in Okla­homa has already been repealed because it’s anti-constitutional. We can’t allow one religious com­munity not have the same rights as another. The court of appeals have overturned it in Oklahoma and will for all the other ones.”

Going off this, Aslan spoke about the motives that drive the Islamophobia network. He ad­dressed how in actuality, Muslims are the most loyal American reli­gious group. A recent Gallup poll shows that 93 percent of Muslims say they are loyal to America, and that Muslim-Americans are most likely out of any major faith in the U.S. to reject violent attacks against citizens.

“There are more planned at­tacks against the US by home­grown Christian militias than Muslims of any nationality,” Aslan said. “There is no reason to think there has been a sudden spike in homegrown national terrorism, but facts and data are irrelevant in issues of bigotry.”

Aslan said that Islam has be­come the dumping ground for all things uncomfortable.

“Islam has become otherwise a receptacle where Americans are throwing their fears about the economy, changing racial landscape, etc. – whatever is fearful, foreign, exotic, unfamil­iar is increasingly being tagged as Islam.”

Aslan returned to his earlier point about the power of the Ameri­can identity in order to address the stigmas that are so often associated with it.

“The miraculous thing about the American identity is that it can absorb different ideas and cultures,” he said. “The problem is that in times of societal stress, that identity gets tested. We are certainly in one of those times. A lot of Americans are waking up to an America that they don’t recognize.”

He explained that while edu­cation is a powerful tool in cre­ating the change necessary to al­ter peoples’ perceptions of their Islamophobia, he doesn’t feel it is enough.

“Data does not change peoples’ minds,” Aslan said. “Information does not change peoples’ minds.”

Aslan sees education as a step­ping stone to forging meaningful relationships, which he believes are the only way to combat bigotry.

“I’d like to sit here and say if we could just educate people about Is­lam, then the problems would be gone. Education is important, but it will not do the trick. What will do the trick is relationships…every sin­gle one of us is personally responsible for changing the trajectory of this country. Muslim or not, that’s not the issue. This is not a Muslim problem. Anti-Muslim bigotry is not a Muslim problem. It’s an American problem,” Aslan said.

Aslan concluded his presenta­tion saying that this idea becomes a responsibility for all.

“This is a problem for the en­tire country, regardless of religion or ethnicity,” he said. “Bigotry compromises national security, it weakens our democracy.”