On Thursday, for Islam Awareness Week, the Stony Brook Muslim Student Association (MSA) invited Haroon Moghul to speak about Islamophobia in America. Even before he delved into the subject at hand, Moghul admitted that the only time he had ever been on television was when “Muslims have done something stupid or someone has said something crazy about Muslims.”
Evening prayers were held at the LDS Center in Benedict College and shortly after, a member of the MSA’s Executive Board took to the stage to read a statement from Sister Sanaa Nadim, the MSA Chaplain. Nadim’s statement was critical of the recent terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels this past week.
“They are attempting to destroy lives in the name of this beautiful faith,” Nadim said. “We, the American Muslims, are living under our great constitution, regardless of all the rhetoric.”
Moghul, an academic at Columbia University and a Fellow at the New America Foundation think tank, introduced the topic of Islamophobia by “painting a dark picture.” He described the terrorist attacks in Belgium, American military operations in the Middle East and the war in Yemen. He criticized American indifference towards these conflicted regions.
“It’s like the difference between actively setting out to kill someone and getting drunk, getting into a car and driving home because you just don’t care what’ll happen,” Moghul said.
He believes that ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, is offering an answer to Western involvement in their regions.
“When no one offers an answer to a problem, the problem doesn’t go away. Someone worse offers an answer.”
Moghul noted that ISIS’s prominence is based on the current smartphone and social networking boom that is taking place in many parts of the world.
“Because of this thing, no one is immune from any of this; someone in your mosque could be radicalizing,” Moghul said, picking up his smartphone. Aside from the anonymous aspect of social networking, Moghul also mentioned that it’s easy to be completely ignorant of alternative points of view.
“We live in the bubbles or timelines that are comfortable to us,” he added.
Shahajahan Chowdhury, a biomedical engineering freshman, described Stony Brook’s MSA as “a very tightly knit network of brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Chowdhury believes that the Stony Brook MSA is a very caring community and recalled upon how the entire MSA at Stony Brook came together to support a fellow member whose father had recently passed away. “We (Muslims) are the minority,” Chowdhury said. Chowdhury was also very impressed by Moghul and mentioned that he first saw him on CNN.
“He holds himself really well under pressure,” Chowdhury said.
Moghul was equally critical of the current leading Republican Party presidential candidate, Donald Trump. “[Muslims] are the unpopular kids in high school,” he said, which makes them easy targets as they are “demonized, misunderstood and feared.”
Moghul said that Muslims need to understand people’s concerns indicating that sweeping the problem under the rug is not advisable. He encouraged the Stony Brook MSA members in attendance to “acknowledge that people are freaking out,” about what these extremist groups are doing.
“Islamophobia provokes severe and crazy reactions to real problems that are way out of magnitude to the actual problem,” Moghul said, referencing the Bush administration’s reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which was to declare war on Iraq, a country that had little connection to the real culprit, Al Qaeda.
Moghul admitted that these constant extremist attacks will have a severe toll on Muslims. “You have to defend your identity and basically apologize for the fact that you exist,” he said.
Moghul noted that one of the keys to combat Islamophobia is “to build really strong and welcoming communities,” and “to have powerful messengers.”
The underlying tone of the whole event was, as Sister Nadim’s statement put it, “righteousness will prevail over evil.” Even after painting a “dark picture,” Moghul reassured Stony Brook MSA members that Muslims have existed for over 1,400 years and that “we are still here.”