Sunday, October 21, 2007

Yesterday's Islamophobia/Islamophilia conference at U of M

The European Studies Department at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor on Friday and Saturday hosted a conference entitled "Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend."

SEE: http://www.ii.umich.edu/umich/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=bca5ce9ec64a5110VgnVCM100000a3b1d38dRCRD&vgnextchannel=c937d8d398e42110VgnVCM10000096b1d38dRCRD

What was most interesting about this conference from my vantage point was that although there are some likenesses between the Islamophobia in Europe in comparison to here, there are some social dynamics in play here that are absent in Europe.

One of them is that unlike Europe, a Germany specifically, America has a large indigenous Muslim population, which also has a connection to the struggles of the civil rights movement. Europe has no civil rights movement in their history in regards to ethnic and religious minorities. Hence, Islam is not a recognized religion by many states in Europe including Germany. Also, white reverts (converts) to Islam in America were raised in a society that was extremely more religious than Europe. Their reversion to Islam, primarily via Sufi orders is less of a rejection of their American identity unlike White Germans, who have primarily join the ranks of Islam through the Salafi movement, which includes adopting the dress code of Gulf Arabs. Also, the immigrant Muslims who are in America are highly educated and economically well off as a whole unlike immigrant Muslims in Europe. All of these factors leads to a different social dynamic regarding interaction in society and how Islamophobia should be addressed.

It was also highly interesting to learn that like in America but to a greater degree, Malay/Indonesian Muslims and also German Muslims have rejected Arabs and have also gone into an anti-Arab mode or Arab-phobia mindset in their attempts to distance themselves from the problems of the Arab world that have concretized the discussions about Islam in the post-9/11 era.

Interestingly as most well traveled Muslims know, the Saudis have funded universities throughout the world such as in Indonesia that are not ran by Salafis. In fact, one university, which was discussed during the conference that was funded by Saudis is ran by Sufis whom Salafis deem as creeping into polytheism due to their reverance for saints.

There were conflicting views or rebuttals presented as well regarding the misnomer that "Wahhabis" are a driving force behind terror. Beside there being no sect that calls itself "Wahhabi," Prof. Juan Cole brought up the point that not only have the Saudi religious authorities funded schools ran by Sufis but that being a "Wahhabi" aka Salafi does not equal one who ascribes to a creed of violence.

In fact, Salafis are apolitical Muslims, who by their creed abhor the overthrowing of corrupt governments by violence. Hence, Bin Laden's call to overthrow the Salafi supported Saudi monarchy is totatlly against the Salafi understanding. The Al-Qaeda doctrine is more a misunderstanding of the deceased Ikhwani scholar Syed Qutb teachings than Salafi docrtine. Al-Qaeda follows the doctrine of the Khawarij.

The conference may have been more insightful if there was a better balance of American Muslim academics that were presenters of papers vice discussants.

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