Expert says change, politics spur fear of Muslims

Charles E. Ramirez, and George Hunter

Dearborn — Shifting demographics, the shrinking middle class and U.S. foreign policy are driving fear and hatred of Muslims across the country from people looking for a scapegoat, a University of California lecturer told a group of Metro Detroit Muslim leaders Friday.

The lecture, “Islamaphobia: Muslim in the Public Square,” was set up months ago, but is especially relevant now in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, said Hatem Bazian, who teaches courses on Islamic law and society, Islam in America and Middle Eastern studies at UC-Berkeley.

“We are facing a very difficult period for Muslims,” Bazian said during a private event organized by the American-Arab and Muslim Leadership Council at Habib’s Cuisine banquet hall Dearborn. “A massive demographic change has taken place in America and that has made individuals still living in the 1950s uncomfortable.”

Bazian said politicians are fanning the flames of discord to divert attention from the country’s loss of jobs and lower standard of living.

“As manufacturing (jobs) left ... the shrinking middle class creates resentment — and that resentment has been utilized by politicians as a wedge to split people,” he said. “That’s how you win the election.

“Islamaphobia becomes a flag to not talk about other issues,” Bazian said. “For Muslims in America, we’re being used as the patsy for this larger political debate.”

He also said U.S. foreign policy has contributed to the growth of fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims. He cited the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that were supposed to create stability and end terrorism.

“Iraq didn’t have a single suicide bomber before our invasion in 2003 and now, it’s the hub of terrorism,” he said. “Colin Powell said ‘If you break the barn, you own it.’ This is the consequences of a policy that collapses a sovereign state.”

The thirst for oil is driving unrest in the Middle East from several countries, he said. “The United States ... Russia ... China aren’t in the region because they love or hate Muslims,” he said.

Bazian said education, unity and embracing diversity are the keys to dispelling Islamophobia.

A crowd of about 70, including local leaders such as Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad and former state Rep. David Nathan, D-Detroit, attended the event.

“Dearborn is forever drawing attention, and there are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes,” Haddad said. “Media people from other parts of the country come here and expect to find something else, but intelligent, honest people see Dearborn as just another great American city.”

Mansour Sharah, who attended the event, said he agrees with Bazian.

“I think what he said was common sense, but unfortunately, media coverage is really ticking people off,” said the 35-year-old from Dearborn. “We have so many urgent issues that need to be covered, but the only one on TV screens is what happened in Paris.”

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