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Muslim Groups Use Video to Combat Islamophobia

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of 9/11/01. In New York, the day is always loaded, especially in the face of the continuing controversy around the Islamic cultural center proposed for near Ground Zero, and the fact that this year, the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr falls on 9/11.

So it seems a perfect time that this week, a number of Islamic-American organizations have released public service announcements (PSAs) seeking to address Islamophobia.

For example, in the video to the right, Muslims try to make the point that Islam is not a monolithic faith whose followers are guilty of terrorism by association.

Faiza Ali of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hopes that the public service announcements "will open a conversation where we're more comfortable with asking each other some difficult, some honest questions."

In the video released by her organization, "9/11 Happened to Us All," first responders talk through tears about what they were doing on 9/11. The videos are straightforward 60-second testimonials until the end of each person's monologue, when we find out that the first responder is in fact Muslim: "I'm a New York City firefighter, I responded to 9/11, and I am a Muslim."

Clearly in the Internet wasteland of 100 Cats Running Loose in Ikea and auto-tuned stories about grocery baggers, there are worse public service announcements. But Anny Bakalian, co-author of Backlash 9/11 and Associate Director of CUNY'S Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMAC), questions the effectiveness of the videos.

A case in point, she says, is "My Faith My Voice," which is made by an organization with the same name. Bakalian says because all of the women in the video are wearing the veil, or hijab, the video underscores the complexity of Islam.

"I have an issue with the veil because there is an essentialization of Islam, and especially women," Bakalian says. "There is the impression that Muslims are more religious than anybody else. I don't know what they're thinking, but that's not the universe."

Bakalian says the real work to combat Islamophobia is for people to connect with neighbors and classmates who are Muslim, so that "you start slowly over time to realize that they are human beings."

Still, she supports the sentiment of the public service announcements, and thinks conversations about Islam, post-9/11, will long be contentious in America.

"It's damned if they do, damned if they don't," Bakalian says. "Right now, there is so much hatred, so much othering. I think they can't win right now."

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