It is no secret us millennials have a different take on activism than our predecessors. Many groups of millennials take stands on social issues and do not leave room for discussion or less-than-extreme resolutions. Thanks to social media, the direct consequences of challenging views are not always expressed when we share that somewhat radical article on Facebook. It goes without saying that social politics surrounding race and religion are complex, and to ignore their nuances is to ignore the issue altogether. Censorship scratches away at free speech and causes the loss of the ability to converse and learn from one another. College campuses all over the country are experiencing this new activism which aims to create a safe space at the expense of the free speech of those with opposing views.
Tension builds when administrators do not act to punish or stop those who express hurtful speech or opinions. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and others are protesting the lack of action by college administrators, to protect minority groups. In the case of Mizzou, protesters did not back down until the president of the university stepped down. This issue is being seen not only with regards to racism against African Americans but also against Syrian and American Muslims. While it seems Islamophobia is slowly taking over people’s attention, in reality, the issue of Islamophobia is converging with the current political tensions surrounding race, compounding the nuances, while offering a very similar example of the issue of free speech in social politics and the ability (or lack thereof) to converse.
With the Paris terrorist this November, Islamophobia has regained its spot in every news and media outlet out there. A large manifestation of Islamophobia among American people is people’s hesitation to accept Syrian refugees into the country. Islamophobia is defined by dictionary.com as the “hatred of fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture.” Those who oppose acceptance of refugees are afraid of the culture these refugees may have been exposed to and their possible actions as a result of such culture and exposure. Those who support the acceptance of refugees draw attention to the radical nature of ISIS and how this radical behavior is not characteristic of all Syrian Muslims. While either view may be offensive to some, they are views which if unspoken or unexpressed could cause great tension, possibly greater than what we are experiencing today. Some suggest a need to combat anti-Muslim protests and rallies in response to the reports of armed groups protesting Islamization of America by standing outside of mosques. Imagine if these people were not allowed to vocalize or assemble around their view, what means would they go to in order to express their views?
College campuses provide a unique setting for political views to come together and be shared. Private universities like Trinity University do not allow campus carry and would not tolerate armed protests on campus. For a reason. Such protests are meant to intimidate and silence the opposing view. Instead of acts of armed protests, Trinity University and other universities invite students to have a conversation, and most attempt to welcome all views. Silencing a voice, by not allowing verbal expression of an opinion, does not make that opinion change, it just takes away the chance for fruitful conversation and resolution. I am not among the 40% of millennials who believes we should enforce a speech code, that prohibits speech which is offensive to minorities. I believe as young adults, millennials should work harder to understand one another and learn from one another.
To the Muslim American who is afraid to practice their religion out of fear someone may say something, do not stop practicing. Continue to practice and engage in conversation about the personal value of doing so. To the BLM protesters, remember the value of conversation and seek to engage others with opposing views. Remember to respect each other, and your backgrounds. To universities around the country, enable the conversations, and do so by providing settings for students with all views to be heard by one another. Protect students from physical harm, but allow students to be challenged by words, especially those of different views.
Islamophobia is not going away, neither is racism. As the U.S. heads towards becoming a minority-majority country, the number of people affected by Islamophobia and racism will only grow. It is an issue that will continue to cause tension until we can learn to converse with one another, without hate speech or violence. Silencing voices we do not agree with is not the answer. Conversation, which allows individuals to learn from others is the key. Social media allows for people to promote hate speech, but is not often used for constructive conversations. Each individual must choose for themselves to learn and engage rather than oppose and bombard. After all, a conversation is the only road to compromise.