Islamophobia looks like this: Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer living in Canada, tried to catch a connecting flight home to Ottawa in 2002, but was detained in New York City.
U.S. authorities, given false information, thought he was an extremist with al-Qaida links.
Arar was questioned, then deported to Syria, where he was interrogated and tortured for 10 months. Afterward, he was exonerated and returned home.
He sued Canadian authorities and the U.S. government.
David Cole, one of his attorneys, told a Cincinnati audience Sunday about “Islamophobia” – the fear, distrust and hatred of Muslims. Cole and several other panelists said it’s a growing byproduct of the war on terror and the erosion of American civil liberties.
He made his remarks at a forum held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and seven other groups to discuss stereotypes and “the politics of fear” directed at Muslims. The event, at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, attracted about 150 people.
Cole, whose recent book is “Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror,” said the United States locked up more than 5,000 foreign nationals for “preventive terrorism” in the two years following the 9/11 attacks. None of them was convicted of terrorism.
The FBI, he said, interviewed 8,000 Arab and Muslim males, and men from 25 countries with terrorist ties had to go to U.S. immigration offices and be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. None of them was convicted of a terrorist charge, he said.
He called it the largest campaign of ethnic profiling since the Japanese internment in World War II.
“That doesn’t make us safer,” he said. “We’re not targeting the bad guys. We’re sweeping broadly, presuming you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent.”
Peter Gottschalk, an associate professor of religion at Wesleyan University, said Islamophobia “is the same as sexism, racism and homophobia. It’s an unconscious, normalized discrimination against a group of people.”
Muslims and non-Muslims have to talk, address their fear, anger and distrust, and speak out against discrimination against Muslims, added Mohamed Nimer, a consultant for CAIR.