Racism comes in all forms and in the United States’ history, every minority group has been subjected to it. Today, Islamophobia finds itself as one of the main manifestations of racism in this country, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation was proud to be a cosponsor of the Challenging Racism and Islamophobia forum on June 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The organizers of this event, the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia (MERI) have seen North Carolina become a “battleground state for Islamophobia,” in the words of Manzoor Cheema, one of MERI’s organizers. He referenced politicians winning elections on Islamophobic campaigns, universities being pressured by the state representatives for providing religious freedom and space to Muslim students that is afforded to Christian students, universities not allowing Palestinian activists space to speak in what is supposed to be a beacon for the free exchange of ideas, and an Islamophobic “anti-Sharia” bill being passed in the state in 2013.
This, along with what Cheema calls an “increased consciousness of anti-black racism” really brought to light the reality of intersectionality among the issues faced by all minorities and oppressed groups in their various campaigns for social justice. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding actually reported that 80% of the 102 “anti-Sharia” bills that were introduced around the country from 2011 to 2013 were sponsored or cosponsored by the same legislators who sponsored or cosponsored anti-Union and anti-labor bills, anti-immigration bills, voter suppression laws, anti-abortion bills, and anti-LGBTQ bills. This is a clear manifestation that all these types of issues come part and parcel with each other – one does not exist without the other.
This has prompted a campaign by MERI to work on combating Islamophobia and racism, and advocating for women, the LGBTQ community, and all marginalized communities. The conference was attended by over 120 people representing groups, organizes, and causes from around the country who all seek the same thing: giving a voice to marginalized and oppressed peoples. Cheema reported that the conference was a great success, and he said that one unheralded challenge they faced was Islamophobia within the liberal community (case in point: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins). Some on the left are even reluctant to use the word “Islamophobia” denying its very existence.
MERI and its partners believe that the best way to go about changing the narrative and creating a better and more accepting future is through grassroots work, and they will be focusing their energy on one-on-ones and community organizing – both time-tested methods to educate people and accomplish social change.