On February 13, 2017, I attended a religious studies colloquium on the UC Riverside campus entitled, Conversation on the Immigration Ban. The event was put on by a collection of campus organizations, including the Middle Eastern Student Center, the English Department, and the School of Public Policy. An extensive list of esteemed speakers were in attendance: UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Sherine Hefez, and Reza Aslan to name just a few. The discussion was split up into three sessions with the topics, “Scrutinizing the Immigration Agenda,” “American Stories and Experiences,” and “Campus Resources.” This colloquium was organized in response to the new executive order set in place on January 27, 2017 by Donald Trump which prohibited immigration into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. In the face of this blatant discrimination and Islamophobia at the Federal level, all Chancellors of the UC campuses issued a statement lamenting that this executive order would not demolish the integrity of the UC system and its premises of diversity and inclusion.
Some incredibly interesting points were brought up by a couple of the speakers that can be tied back to the ideas of Robert Sharf. For example, Sharine Hefez broke down the political implication of the ban. She pointed out that the immigration order was not necessarily meant to ban Muslims per se, but to create a discussion about Muslims in the U.S. in general. However, this is more of a mustering up of hate and skepticism against Islam than an objective discussion. Furthermore, by strategically inserting Islamophobia into the political and social system, it allows for people to reinterpret it, desensitizes the public, and therefore normalizes Islamophobia. This type of structural discrimination leads to institutionalized Islamophobia in quite a systematic way. Reza Aslan goes deeper by positing that Islam in America is largely considered an ideology, not a religion by government officials. In this sense, if Islam is an ideology, and not a religion, then it has no constitutional religious rights. In Sharf’s opinion, people in power should pay attention to the fact that every religion and every person who practices it has an internal, subjective experience of it. If our government officials, especially Donald Trump, can overcome this theory of mind barrier, Islamophobia probably would have never taken hold and the Muslim ban might have never been put in place.