Does the fact that Barack Hussein Obama's last name rhymes with that of the al Qaeda leader mean that he loves terrorists? Or how about that dangerous middle name? Should all women who wear head scarves be searched for weapons by airport security? Do we "know," as some allege, what terrorists look like?
The fear surrounding what makes a Muslim, from appearances to beliefs, has been defined in recent years as Islamophobia, an issue permeating politics, pop culture and even the price of gas. A group of professors and academics from around the nation are gathered this weekend at UC Berkeley to discuss what it means.
At what is believed to be the first academic conference focused on Islamophobia as a concept, the professors aim to study and understand how a religious identity of 1.2 billion people around the world has become fused with a monolithic set of beliefs and racial category. Under this dynamic, the beliefs of a Muslim engineer in Silicon Valley are rendered the same as those of a shopkeeper in Baghdad or a Hamas politician.
The "Muslim" racial category can be defined by a woman with a head scarf or a brown-skinned man with a beard. In reality, adherent Muslims include Chinese people, African Americans, whites and Latinos, as well as women who do not wear head scarves.
Just as black people, Jews and colonized groups have historically been defined as exceptionally dangerous "others," Muslims are today, conference participants said.
The professors hope to foster a new field of academic research. While Islam has been examined as a religion, and Muslim nations have been scrutinized in political science departments, it has not been placed within the context of ethnic studies. Those departments often focus on gender issues as well as specific ethnic groups, like African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. (MORE)