Even before the Paris Attacks, Muslims on American college campuses were often the targets of hatred or violence. In November, Virginia Tech responded to a threat that claimed “I will kill all Muslims,” and Islamophobic posters were hung at American University. And it’s only gotten worse since.
“People are a little more careful traveling alone, going out at night, walking to their cars,” Adeel Zeb, the Muslim Chaplain and director of Muslim life at Duke University, told me. And that reality plays an important role in the everyday lives of students.
Across the country right now, students are walking out of classes, demanding administrators’ resignations, and staging protests to draw attention to prejudice on campus—and to press for greater inclusion. Most of their focus, though, has been on race. Where does pushback against Islamophobia fit in?
Many Americans, including some presidential candidates, draw little distinction between the violent ideologies of extremist groups and mainstream Islam. As a result, there is often an anti-Muslim backlash in the wake of attacks, despite overwhelming condemnation of terrorism and the use of the Quran to justify mass murder among practicing Muslims. As my colleague Conor Friedersdorf points out:
Hate crimes against American Muslims spiked tremendously after 9/11. Hate crimes against Sikhs increased too. In Britain, hate crimes soared after the London bombing. And after the attack on Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, The Independent reported that “twenty-six mosques around France have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades as Muslims are targeted with violence.
The university atmosphere acts as a social laboratory of sorts, a model written into the mission statements and strategic plans of many schools. That’s why, like many other cultural groups, Muslim organizations use resources—in the form of student activity fees or membership dues—to stimulate intercultural interaction. Zeb explained that Muslims are among the most active participants in the university’s interfaith community. A principal goal is to foster understanding and respect among people who may have never been exposed to significantly different beliefs and practices.