Diving into Islamophobia in America
Strapped with massive camera equipment, we struggled off the subway into the summer heat in our nation’s capital. We rounded the corner to find ourselves directly in front of the Pentagon to visit the 9/11 monument commemorating the 125 people who lost their lives in the attack.
We made the journey from the West Coast in our pursuit of understanding the many complexities of the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in America. By traveling to the locations directly affected by tragedy with this controversial subject, we were unsure what reactions to expect.
Pulling our equipment out, the first person to approach us was ex-military who had recently returned from a tour in Iraq. After inquiring into our topic, he retorts that he hopes we understand and do not disrespect the lives lost during the attacks and do not dishonor the sacrifice made by our military every day.
That moment was a wake-up call to all three of us. In pursuing this topic, it was never our intent to dishonor the sacrifices made by U.S. service men and women.
After months of research, I was traveling to D.C. and New York City as part of a team of three exploring anti-Muslim sentiment in America. More specifically, how mainstream media has influenced its spread, the social implications for American Muslims and the greater American public today, and how to mitigate its harmful effects.
“Beyond Burkas and Bomber: Anti-Muslim Sentiment in America” is the upcoming documentary produced by PLU’s MediaLab, premiering on April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Studio Theater on campus. (The screening will be livstreamed online.)
Coming to PLU in 2009, I quickly decided to major in political science and global studies. But, I had never considered the field of communication until I discovered the opportunities for documentary filmmaking with MediaLab.
I joined MediaLab in September 2011 and I was given the duty of choosing the next documentary topic along with another member; both of us came from political science backgrounds with an interest in the Middle East. We chose the topic of “Islamophobia” and in June 2012, three of us set out on a two-week trip to the East Coast.
But our most exciting breakthrough in our formation of the story behind Islamophobia came right here on PLU’s campus when we met two students, Bashair Alazadi ‘12 and Carlos Sandoval ’13.
We ran across a 2010 TIME Magazine poll that reported that 62 percent of Americans claim to have never met a Muslim. Through the story of Bashair and Carlos we are able to create a personal connection with the audience as we explore their vastly different backgrounds and experience their journeys with Islamophobia.
I could relate to their stories. We were all in elementary school when the tragic events of 9/11 happened, barely old enough to understand what had happened, and too young to fully comprehend the magnitude of the event.
We have grown up since with the image of the ‘Muslim terrorist’ broadcast daily on local and national news. It’s hard to take that step back and ask the question, “Is there more to the story than the images of terror I see every day?”
Islamophobia is a topic we can all relate to at some level as Americans. whether it takes you back to that day that so many people lost their lives or you know someone that has experienced the harmful bigotry that anti-Muslim sentiment can produce.
It may be an understatement that we’ve heard countless times in the past decade, but 9/11 has shaped the social fabric of American life more than we may feel comfortable admitting.
Immersing myself into this fear-fueled phenomenon, I have not only been able to grasp the greater complexities of xenophobia, discrimination, and the profit driven world of hate mongering, but I have been able to better understand what role I can play as a citizen in this country.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing and inspirational people through this project; from students my own age, to academics, politicians, and famous comedians. It was hearing their personal stories that made this problem so important and personal for me.