US Islamophobia: Cultural illiteracy & ignorance to blame

© Eduardo Munoz
Many people in the US confuse the words "Arab” or “Islam” with terrorism or islamo-fascism, says media and legal analyst Lionel. This is a conflation of fear about terrorists, a profound ignorance and no sense of international perspective, he adds.

Conservative Florida mother Christian Kayla Normandin posted a video on Facebook complaining about her son’s high school world history book since it teaches children about Muslim culture and history.

“There is one whole chapter… and it tells nothing — basically everything about Muslim civilizations and ‘she-hara’ (sic) law. You name it — it talks about it,” she explains.

The post where she called for the book to be banned and vowed to stop her children from learning about Islam has stirred mixed reaction among users, with some commentators saying that Americans have fallen victim to false stereotypes.

READ MORE: Islamophobia fueled by right-wing politics and propaganda

Lionel, media and legal analyst, says that children should be taught every kind of history in school.

“There is a big difference between teaching history and proselytizing. There is nothing wrong with saying ‘Muslims’, ‘Christians’, ‘Buddhists’ and ‘Jews’… That is called cultural literacy. But there is a big difference between saying this is a history of Islam and Islam is bad. This woman seems to take offence over the fact that she thought that teaching of Arabic numbers was somehow bolstering or suggesting that Islam was, I guess, beneficial; because, I think, she misunderstood among everything what Arabic numbers were. So, this goes to show you that there are some people who frankly have children (which is perhaps the subject of another story) who have absolutely no idea of what cultural literacy is. And I hope that the world does not look upon this woman as being in any way emblematic or representative of the US, or how Americans feel, granted a large faction may agree with her, but I would fairly say that I believe she is a minority opinion, thankfully,” he said.   

He admitted that people are likely going to “enjoy this comical lunacy”.

“It is her right to do - this is what social media does,” Lionel said, adding that this whole story reveals a bigger problem.

“That is that a lot of people have no idea what Arabs are, or Sharia, ‘She-hara’. They don’t know anything. They confuse anything using the word Arab or Arabic or Islam or Muslim with terrorism or Islamo-fascism or whatever term ‘du jour’ you want to use,” he said.    

According to Lionel, Americans have to get out more to know the world better.

READ MORE: Massive ‘Islamophobia industry’ flourishes in US

“Unfortunately, and I am sorry to say this, I love my country, but my countrymen need to get out a little more. We have paucity, a pathetically small percentage of folks who even have a passport, who don’t understand a difference between Hindus and Muslims – they see a hat or some type of a religious head covering and they don’t know what to do,” he said. “What this is – a terrible vectoring, this conflation of fear about the dreaded terrorists which always are connected to Islam in some way or Arabic surnames and alike…and not to mention profound ignorance when it comes to who these various people are, and to throw it into the mix, no sense of universality or international perspective. So, you put those three together and it is a deadly combination.”

‘We do need to learn more about each other, not less’

Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says that ignorance leads to misunderstanding, then fear, hate and discrimination or even acts of violence.

In his opinion, Normandin’s stance is a perfect example why “kids must learn about the history of all the world’s great religions, so they can be informed to be productive citizens and work with the different faith communities that make America such a wonderful nation.

The reason why this woman is “so ignorant today is because she didn’t learn about Islam when she was in high school,” he told RT.

This poor woman can’t even pronounce most Islamic terms, much less know anything authentic about them and just reinforces the idea that we do need to learn more about each other, not less,” Shibly said.  

In his view, there are some people in the US who share the same opinion as the Florida mother.

It’s unfortunate that there is a very loud and vocal small minority in this country that hates everything that has to do with Islam and that regularly demonizes the American Muslim community and Islamic faith,” he said. But, he went on, “the wonderful thing is that the vast majority of Americans have rejected this hatred, bigotry and ignorance.

At the same time, Islamophobia “is a growing problem in the US and it is supported by many politicians and even people within the media.”

And the biggest victims of Islamophobia often are not even Muslims, they are people who are misperceived to be Muslims. And that is how ignorant the people who hate Islam in America are. They are so ignorant of Islam and Muslims that they don’t even know who is a Muslim and who isn’t a Muslim and they react violently just to people who appear differently,” Shibly said. “Our biggest enemy in America is ignorance. Ignorance leads to misunderstanding, misunderstanding leads to fear, fear leads to hate and hate ultimately leads to discrimination and even acts of violence.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.