UMD Panel Discusses Islamophobia and 2016 Election

Photo by Nate Harold
Photo by Nate Harold

The University of Maryland held a panel discussion Thursday to educate students about how the 2016 presidential election is affecting American attitudes towards Islam.
The discussion, titled “Islamaphobia and the American Elections: How Does It Look in America and The Middle East,” was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union with more than 100 students in attendance.
The panel consisted of three university faculty members and one research scholar, all of whom possess an expertise in Middle Eastern attitudes or Islamic studies.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development, started the event by examining how American attitudes towards Muslims have changed throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle.

“[This is] about the American conversation about Islam and Muslims. … How people perceive Muslims, how we are talking about them in general,” Telhami said.

Donald Trump has continually spoken about a “fear of immigrants, [a] fear of refugees” throughout his presidential campaign, Telhami said.

He also mentioned that Trump has repeatedly endorsed the idea to “kick out all Muslims” from the U.S.

“We are in an intense political season. … In order to counter Trump, [Democrats] must counter his narrative [about Muslims],” Telhami said.

Telhami revealed the results of polls he conducted with Nielsen Scarborough, a market research company, throughout the 2016 election cycle in which they asked Americans their attitudes towards Muslim people and the Muslim religion.

The polls showed that, between November 2015 and May 2016, Americans’ favorable view of Muslim people increased from 53  to 62 percent, while their unfavorable view dropped from 46 to 38 percent.

The polls about American views on the Muslim religion showed similar trends over the same time period.

Judith Williams, a sophomore Arabic studies major, was one student who wasn’t surprised by the results of the polls.

“I am one of those people that after something like [an attack by a Muslim terrorist] happens, I will tweet like ‘This is not all Muslims doing this, this is one Muslim person doing this in the name of Islam,’” Williams said.“I think that reaches people and I think a lot of people say things like that. … So I don’t think those figures shocked me that view of Islam improved.”

However, after breaking the polling results down by political affiliation, it showed that Republican views on the Muslim people/religion generally stayed static, while Democratic and independent attitudes became more favorable over time.

It was the same case when Telhami split the results between Trump supporters and supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Sahar Khamis, an associate communications professor, said Trump’s claim that “Islam hates [Americans]” has helped create false perceptions about Muslim people and could influence other Americans’ views as well.

She also wondered if there is a true difference between the two candidates and their views towards Muslims or if the difference is only in their rhetoric throughout their respective campaigns.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, director of the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, encouraged students to speak with Muslim people in order to understand them and their views.

“Make a point of meeting one real [Muslim] person. … That will connect you with another way of thinking, another identity,” Keshavarz said.
Khamis stressed the importance for students to help educate other young people about Muslim people and their culture, and to utilize social media to spread the word about Islamaphobia.

The event was organized by the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development with the College of Behavior and Social Sciences and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland with the School of Public Policy.

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