Panel probes bigotry against Muslims

By Nina Earnest, The Daily Iowan
See the original article and a video feature.

Islamophobia is not just a fear. It’s a prejudice.

Miriam Amer shared this definition with a crowd in the Main Library’s Shambaugh Auditorium on Monday night.

Amer, the executive director of the Iowa Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, grew up in New Hampshire when the word “Islamophobia” — used to describe the fear of Islam — did not exist.

“It’s become a common term,” Amer said. “A very bad term, but a common term.”

The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, the UI Muslim Student Association, and UI International Programs sponsored a panel including a UI law professor, an Iowa imam, and others to discuss cooperation among faiths and how to surmount stereotypes of Muslims.

Kelsey Kramer, a staffer at the UI Center for Human Rights, said the center first wanted to hold some sort of discussion on the issue during the weeks leading up to Sept. 11, 2010 — during which Florida Rev. Terry Jones threatened to burn the Koran and controversy raged over proposed plans to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York.

“We try to keep a pulse on what human-rights issues are in America and abroad, and this appears to be one that has become a little bit more relevant over the past few months,” Kramer said.

Imam Taha Atta Tawil from the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids said speaking with college students gave him and his fellow panelists the chance to teach future leaders of nation about brotherhood.

“Our job tonight was to plant the seed of love and compassion,” the imam said.

Amer, also one of the panelists, said fear of Islam is becoming more prevalent since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The nationwide Council on American-Islamic Relations, aiming to fight for Muslims’ civil rights, opened a chapter in Iowa in November 2009.

A young man in Cedar Rapids with a broken jaw and women who were verbally and physically assaulted for wearing the headscarf are evidence of Islamophobia in Iowa, Amer said.

“These are our constitutional rights, and we’re going to protect them,” she said.

UI law Professor Adrien Wing, one of the panelists, said she witnessed a global trend in anti-Muslim activity after studying Muslim-related human rights issues for 30 years.

“The U.S. is not alone in any means by seeing this issue,” she said.

Wing said the UI campus allows students to take classes to better understand Islam through studying abroad, learning Arabic, or taking classes on the culture.

UI senior Bushra Tayh said she had not personally experienced any prejudice directed against Muslim-Americans. In recent months, she said, she felt issues such as the Florida pastor’s threat to burn the Koran, were given too much attention in the media and drove nationwide fear.

“The hatred, the fear, I feel like it’s 90 percent media,” Tayh said.

Amer said she did not deny there are Islamic extremists, but she noted that extremists exist in several faiths.

“We are one-fifth of the world’s population,” Amer said. “You can’t make one-fifth of the world’s population responsible for the actions of a handful.”

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