Languages and dialects as colorful as headscarves swirled around the Lory Student Center North Ballroom before the town-hall style presentation Hope Not Hate: Islam in America.
Sahar Babak, secretary for the Muslim Student Association, believes the timing was right to open such a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, students and community members.
“With the five-year anniversary of 9/11, I think we just wanted to make people more aware,” said Babak. “Since what people see in the media (about Islam) is mostly negative, we wanted to bring another light to this issue.”
The presentation was co-presented by the Muslim Student Association and Americans for Informed Democracy.
The evening’s first presenter was Dr. Lori Peek, an assistant sociology professor at CSU.
“Before 9/11, Muslim-Americans were flying low under the radar,” Peek said. “Most Americans didn’t even know Muslims lived in this country.”
Peek included several statistics in her presentation to demonstrate the rapid change of opinion post-9/11, including one from the FBI Anti-Muslim Hate Crime Report, which stated that there were 28 reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in the year 2000. In the year 2001, there were 481, a 1600 percent increase.
Peek said that in the wake of 9/11, there was a need to scapegoat and focus blame, which thrust Muslim-Americans into the national spotlight, a place where many of them prefer not to be.
But panelist Kathy Gockel, a representative from the Stanley Foundation, believes that where Americans truly need to be today is in another person’s shoes.
“Think about the situation from another pair of shoes, or multiple shoes – but shoes not your own,” said Gockel. The Stanley Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan foundation that seeks to promote and build support for multilateralism in addressing global issues.
Imam Mahdi Bray, a civil and human rights activist and the executive director of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, emphasized the need for education and understanding about Islamic culture.
“I tremble for my nation when I hear the president use the words ‘Islamic fascists,'” Bray said. “Maybe somebody should give him a lesson in political science 101, because there is nothing in the tenets of Islam that promotes fascism.”
While each panelists presented statistics and facts that revealed post-9/11 racism in a harsh light, all agreed that there was also reason for optimism.
“If we really want change, we have to raise a prophetic voice collectively to say that we demand justice, irrespective of gender, color or faith tradition,” Bray said.
For Peek, a packed North Ballroom and open dialogue between students and community members, Muslims and non-Muslims represented “one more prospect for hope.”
Staff writer Hilary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org