As I’m sure you’re all now aware, Trinity Progressives (in association with TDC) held a Prejudice Panel to discuss “prejudice and the ways it manifests itself from a variety of perspectives.” While it was called in response to Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest, its purpose was to discuss Islamic prejudice and allow students to explore ways to combat it. The panel itself hosted professors, faculty, and a student in order to provide a variety of views and opinions on prejudice and its manifestations. In the last issue of the Trinitonian, Nikita Chirkov wrote an opinion piece criticizing this panel. This article aims to respond to his critique and point out the flaws in his arguments.
One of the most pressing problems with the article lies with how the term Islamophobia is defined. Nikita claims that the term is used to classify critics of Islam as “racist lunatics” in order to delegitimize their arguments. However, all one needs to do is look at the etymology of the word (and take a quick glance online for a fully-fleshed definition) to see the problems with this interpretation. Islamophobia stems from two roots: Islam and ““phobia. Islam, while it does refer to the religion, in this context includes not only those who practice Islam but those who “look” like they do; -phobia obviously refers to an extreme fear. It is thus easy to come to the full definition of the term, as is here provided by Gallup: “An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.” It is important here to separate the religion from the people who practice it (or at least fit the stereotype of someone who does). Islam, as a religion, is thus open to criticism; one does not need to be afraid of something to criticize it. The term Islamophobia is reserved for those who take criticism a step further into active hatred and who discriminate and marginalize those who practice it. It is this critical distinction that Nikita overlooks and thus his use of the term is inherently flawed. Upon reaching this conclusion it is clear that his qualms over the term simply serve to obfuscate the real issues at hand and don’t actually serve as a valid criticism of the term, the topic, or the panel.
The next major problem that Nikita addresses is the lack of “variety” of the panel ““ specifically political variety. However, prejudice is a non-partisan issue that exists outside of the political spectrum. The variety of the panel thus doesn’t lie in any political leanings, but on the different views they have to offer on the potential origins and manifestations of prejudice as well as how to deal with and respond to its many forms in the real world. Furthermore, looking at his critique surrounding “discrimination based on ideology,” it is easy to see that it lacks topicality.
The existence of prejudice is not really up for debate, and the existence of one form of discrimination doesn’t negate the existence of another. Just because discrimination of ideology exists doesn’t mean that “anti-Muslim sentiment” does not; they can both exist at the same time. Playing the game of “Who’s more oppressed?” never leads to anything constructive, and by bringing it up here Nikita simply derails the discussion at hand. This panel was meant to be a discussion about Islamic prejudice (a discussion implies different perspectives and opinions ““ opinions that you might not agree with). It’s unfortunate that it has instead been degraded to a handful of buzzwords and mulish contempt.