by Ashley Quinton
The Lance – News & Politics Writer
Is Islamophobia a problem at the University of Windsor? That was one question raised at a panel discussion Monday at the Students’ Centre titled, ‘Debunking the Myth of Islamophobia: What is Islamophobia?’.
“Islamophobia is the irrational or unfounded fear of Muslims or Islam,” says Mohammed Al Moayad, a former university student and activist. “People have ridiculous ideas about what it means to be a Muslim or what Islam is. They don’t develop ideas about how to think about religion or other cultures. It can be the equivalence of racism – it can sometimes be about what a person looks like rather than what they believe.”
Moayad says he saw Islamophobia first hand when he sat on the UWSA board, “I was in the UWSA for two years. The climate in the UWSA for those two years, in our student government was just, racial tension was in every meeting. Every meeting, the political lines always fell on racial lines. The room was segregated by religion.”
Admira Konjic, vice president of student advocacy for the UWSA, organized the event. She hopes it ignites a dialogue around Islamophobia. “It is a huge problem on our campus. I wanted to elaborate on it and where it comes from and how we can combat it as students.”
Each panellist was asked their opinion on whether or not they believe Islamophobia is existent on campus. While most agreed, Dr. Simon Du Toit, University of Windsor professor says, “I want to admit as a professor who has taught here for about 10-years, I have experienced very little Islamophobia. I would go as far as to suggest that most of the faculty would say the same thing.”
But Du Toit did acknowledge “maybe somehow the class content protects us from what is going on in the lives of our students. If that is the case, I think that is too bad.”
As an advocate for students, Konjic says events like this are a way to move in the right direction. “Working together with faculty, holding these discussions, and having these spaces open for these discussions is imperative,” she says. “We start off with a discussion. We educated students that don’t know what Islamophobia is or the students who sat on the panel that didn’t really know what it was, now know what it is and now can identify as allies.”
And Islamophobia isn’t a problem only on campus, said participants.
Ahmed Khalifa, spoke from personal experience about being approached by CSIS officers and how it is all too common for Muslims in Windsor. “It doesn’t only happen to me. It happens to my friends, family, my social circles and my community. They do things that are even worse. They have agents that come to our mosques and they impose on us to gather information. That is not the proper way to go about getting information.”
Du Toit admitted he has not been in a situation like this and acknowledged his privilege, “if you look in the dictionary under privilege, you may see my face. I am a middle-aged white male. I want to confess that I am here as much because I want to learn and I want to be educated as I am here because I have an opinion.”
Moayad says education is key “when talking about any issue, the number one thing I would expect from an ally would just to be educated. It is the biggest thing, to be educated. To really know and understand the issue.”
Konjic plans on holding other events similar to this that create an open and safe space for students to come together and voice their concerns.
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