Several student organizations concerned with the existence of racial stereotypes in today’s popular culture met yesterday to address the negative connotations associated with Middle Eastern society.
The event, entitled “I Don’t Trust Him… He’s an Arab,” focused on the false representations of Arabs in America and questioned why Muslims are often equated with terrorism. Approximately 75 people attended the discussion.
According to Chris Martin, president of the Black Pioneer Renaissance Organization, when the mistaken notion that President-elect Barack Obama was either Arabic or Muslim gathered attention around the nation, the BPRO realized public knowledge about the Middle East was limited. Martin said this misconception during the presidential election was the reason he conceived the idea to host last night’s event.
James Brandon, a first-year student, spoke during the event and said that ideas about Muslim people are commonly misconstrued today. Nearly every ethnic group has terrorist factions among them, Brandon said, and the fact that Muslim extremists have been prominent as of late does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists.
“[People tend] to pick on an ethnic group and say they are all terrorists,” Brandon said. “All ethnic groups have people that do things that are terrible, and that’s not discussed in society. … Nobody talks about Columbine, but those kids weren’t Muslims and that could be called terrorism, too.”
One speaker, Eddie Saade – a former graduate student in global studies – said the media can inadvertently create a false stereotype that is difficult to reverse or correct in mainstream society.
“How many of you have seen Disney’s film ‘Aladdin’?” asked Saade. After nearly every hand in the audience was raised in response, he continued, “Many of the attacks immediately following 9/11 were directed at Sikhs as opposed to Muslims, in part due to misrepresentations of Arabs such as those depicted in ‘Aladdin.'”
James Altman, a first-year global studies major, spoke about how inaccurate stereotypes can be. Altman said that many people mistakenly assume that all Arab people follow Islam.
“If you look at the percentage of Muslims that are Arab, they are only a minority worldwide,” Altman said. “Indonesia is the country with the highest Muslim population.”
Nabil Alshurufa, who also attended the meeting, criticized the lack of education regarding the Arab people as a whole.
“A lot of it comes from fear and a lack of education,” Alshurafa said. “We talk about Arabs and Muslims, but we don’t realize that there are a lot of Arabs that aren’t Muslim, but a great deal of Christian Arabs, as well as Jewish Arabs. … And in Lebanon, there is a kind of religious melting pot.”
Members of the Lebanese Club, the Muslim Student Association and the [A.S.] Student Commission on Racial Equality, were also present to contribute to the discussion last night with the BPRO.