Chico State speaker to address Islamophobia
Amin Asfari refers to Islamophobia—the dislike or fear of Islam or Muslims—as “the new anti-Semitism.” While that term has historically been linked to a hatred of Jews, Asfari was quick to point out that Arabs are also a Semitic people. And they’re experiencing today that same treatment.
“The emphasis of Islamophobia seems to be on Arabs more than on Muslims in general,” he said by phone earlier this week. “And, with Arabs being Semites, this is a new manifestation of anti-Semitism.”
Asfari speaks from intense personal experience. A cousin was one of three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2015. The incident, which was at first dismissed as a dispute over parking, has since been labeled a hate crime. The suspect, Craig Hicks, still faces trial. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.
“It’s strengthened my resolve to talk about this,” Asfari said of the incident. “I’m curious as to what led to this individual’s decision.”
Asfari will discuss his studies of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism during a talk at Chico State on Friday (April 21). His presentation is part of the Hodgkins Peace Studies Lecture Series, facilitated by retired university professor Ron Hirschbein. Hirschbein met Asfari when he was teaching at online Walden University and Asfari was in his class. They became friends and colleagues.
“In an article we wrote together, we came to the conclusion that when people think of Muslims, the stereotype is that Muslim equals Arab,” Hirschbein said. “It turns out that Arabs are Semites, both genetically and culturally.”
Hirschbein, a Jew, has experienced what he considers “anti-Semitism lite—nothing like what my ancestors endured.” And now, with the political climate as it is, he agrees with Asfari that Muslims and other Arabs are experiencing similar prejudices.
Asfari takes the theory to another level.
“Islamophobia is manifesting itself through a concerted effort and a well-funded campaign,” he said. “The profiteers do business by playing to people’s fears.”
By way of example, he pointed to Hollywood’s depiction of Muslims. “You see the image of the terrorist, or the sexually starved villain. There’s a confluence of interest that has led up to where we are today. There’s a lack of complexity when portraying Muslims.”
Hirschbein and Asfari both hope that Friday’s presentation will open people’s eyes to some of the racism—particularly aimed at Muslims—inherent in today’s society. Examples are prominent and go all the way to the Oval Office. Take, for instance, President Trump’s recent “Muslim ban” or his insistence on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the United States, reported a spike in anti- Muslim groups between 2015 and 2016, from 34 to 101.
“Anti-Muslim hate groups … broadly defame Islam, which they tend to treat as a monolithic and evil religion,” according to the SLPC website. “These groups generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.”
For Asfari, the issue is not simply “us versus them.” He sees value in working together and hopes that by spreading his message he will open people up to embracing different cultures.
“I’m a firm believer in public engagement,” he said.