With the presidential election less than a week away, about 50 people gathered Tuesday at Hatcher Graduate Library to listen to researchers Saeed Khan and Sarrah Buageila discuss data on how everyone, but especially those from marginalized communities, can affect the political process at both the local and national level.
The event — Islamophobia: Politics, Priorities and Prejudice in 2016 — was organized by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonprofit founded in 2002 that conducts research aimed at empowering American Muslims to increase community involvement and participation in democracy in the United States.
Buageila, the project manager for ISPU’s research department, began the talk by detailing the results of two polls on American Muslims. She said the ISPU found 61 percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam, roughly half of all Americans do not know a Muslim and 80 percent of U.S. media coverage of Islam is negative. Furthermore, she said only 60 percent of Muslims are registered to vote in the United States — compared to 94 percent of Protestants.
She told the crowd she hopes these numbers bring light to issues with voter registration and negative perceptions and spark more involvement from the Muslim community.
“We don’t want to do research just for the sake of doing research, we want to do research that empowers the community,” Buageila said.
In her remarks, she focused on how to increase voter turnout in not only the Muslim American community, but also in all minority communities. Noting Islamophobia and the erosion of civil liberties is a main concern for Muslims, she emphasized that this should be a concern for all Americans, calling it an extension of the United States’ legacy of slavery and imperialism.
Buageila concentrated on increasing Muslim-American civil participation particularly through short-term strategies, long-term strategies and “Get Out and Vote” tactics. In practice, these strategies include educating the Muslim community, volunteering to work at the polls on Election Day and increasing mosque attendance. Despite some negative perceptions of mosques, Buageila said polls show that frequent mosque attendance is linked to greater civic engagement.
Khan, a lecturer in the department of Near East and Asian Studies at Wayne State University, continued the conversation by connecting Islamophobia to other anti-progressive campaigns during American demographic shifts.
He said rapidly shifting demographics in the U.S., like the first year with a non-Protestant religious majority in 2010, has led to an unprecedented moral panic regarding the direction of the country.
Although the religious majority has changed, Khan also acknowledged the prominence of Islamophobia and questioned the real root of its increase, saying it does not solely come from the federal level.
“Washington has proven to be paradoxically fairly impotent when it comes to fairly moving the needle on anything,” Khan said.
To instead locate the source of Islamophobia at the local level, Khan researched six topics of law: voter identification, immigration, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, right to work and anti-Sharia law.
Through this research, he said he found restrictive legislation is overwhelmingly driven by Republicans, though only 13 percent of total Republican lawmakers in the country work to pass such legislation. Khan said 80 percent of this small group supports voter-access laws, adding they display a desire to disenfranchise and restrict people from their rights as Americans to engage in civil and political matters.
Based on his findings, Khan said it is important for Muslims to increase their self-awareness and education on these areas of law, as well as to take part in more political engagement. For the broader community, Khan urged people to develop a contextual understanding of the Muslim community, as well as identify and integrate how wider legislative and policy concerns will impact the Muslim community.
“It is all connected, it is all related, it is all integrated,” Khan said.
LSA sophomore Mary Najjar, who attended the event for her Arab-American studies class, and said she thought many Muslim Americans feel conflicted about their political participation.
“I thought that it was interesting, I guess you almost kind of understand it, but, like, the Muslim community thought that there wasn’t anyone there to represent them so there was no point in voting because nobody is there for their interest,” Najjar said. “It is kind of a paradox where you have to vote to get their attention so they focus more on your issues, but also if they’re not focusing on your issues you wouldn’t want to get involved.”