If they only knew us…

My recent attendance at a Medical University of South Carolina (MUSU) event on Islamophobia caused me to reflect deeply on the strategies and questions put forth in the effort to reduce cultural, social, and physical stigmatization and violence aimed at Muslim communities in the U.S.  Questions around ‘what can be done to reduce or eliminate such violence and violations’ are often followed by the question ‘what do we know about them’. Hence, as is regularly the case, the formula for this intervention mirrors that of others aimed to combat varying types of isms, stigmatization and violence.  Such formulas ritually require the targeted group to donate time, bodies, and values to the sensitization of those who prey on them. The language of such formulas ofttimes, implicitly and/or explicitly declare: ‘if THEY (the predatory they) only knew US (those they hope to victimize), they could learn/grow to love us! Or, at the very least, not kill us or condone acts of violence against us’.  The ethos behind this language assumes a complementary rhetorical exposition that states: ‘The reason I feel compelled to kill/maim/brutalize you is because I don’t yet know you.’ The former formula implies (implicitly or/and explicitly) the latter, the social imagination is galvanized with ‘we can get along’ hand holding (a challenge of much of the world’s Muslim population) and embraced in warm hugs (a challenge for several Christian communities).  If little else the ‘if they only knew us they would learn/grow to love us’ formula is a misguided and history is replete with the disastrous consequences.  There is little doubt that when fear and hate become heightened precious cultural currencies, and identity politics is drenched in the performance of ritual violence and violations against an ‘other’ that knowledge of the ‘Other’ become information for the crafting of more effective terrorizing.  Trans-Atlantic African enslavement and attendant regimes, the Jewish Holocaust, South African Apartheid, Rwandan Genocide,  ethnic cleansing in the Baltic States, as well as numerous current conflicts around the world are close proximity expressions of  fear and hate as precious cultural currencies.  Current situation that has resulted in the mass migration of persons from Islamic countries such as Syria, are evidence that ‘knowledge’ does not protect communities.

I realize that current Muslim presence in the U.S. is a trigger topic in the US at this point in time.  I commend the organizers of the MUSC event. The making of an effort to productively address this issue in a city that has yet to have honest conversations about the dynamic and horrific role of race and racism in its history, and in its present social, economic, and cultural life requires courage, and, courage is a necessary skill set for this type of work. Yet what am I saying is that intervention to combat Islamophobia and racism in South Carolina and elsewhere need to not only include, but center on rigorous strategies and training geared at igniting the social conscience of the dominant (often active and passive predatory) population.

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