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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Islamophobia brought Stephen Sheehi to speak at the Civic Media Center on Saturday.

The Arabic and Arab culture professor from the University of South Carolina came to speak about his new book "Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims."

Sheehi called Islamophobia, which he described as an irrational fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, one of the inherent racist tropes in America.

Event coordinator James Schmidt agreed.

"Racism is the classic American way to divide and conquer," he said. "[Racism] is a linchpin in our society, unfortunately."

A group of 17 showed up for the event.

Lauren Byers, 19, a student at UF, heard about the event from a friend and attended it to learn more about Islamophobia. With the conflicts in the Middle East and the United States involvement, Byers said Islamophobia is relevant now more than ever.

"It's a way for America to justify the war," she said.

Tracy Graham, a 20-year-old UCF student, said white Americans don't experience acts of hate the way other people do and that they are not affected by racism the way other people are.

Islamophobia, Sheehi said, is a rising example of racism in America. Anti-Muslim protests rallies and "American lunatics like Terry Jones" are convenient places to see the "hatred of brown people," he said.

He said Islamophobia is not seen as a larger phenomena but more of an extremist phenomena, which can cause it to be overlooked. It's something most Americans share, he said.

Sheehi, who described himself as a "Arab-Christian-Catholic," said he is determined to get Americans to reflect on their own predispositions rather than Muslim culture and characteristics.

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His goal is for "white Americans" to discover why they have problems with Muslims. He said solving those problems is not the responsibility of the "brown people."

"You don't ask a Jewish person why the Holocaust happened," he said. "You don't ask a victim for the reasons they were victimized."

Ziad Ghanimi, a spokesman for the Islamic center in Gainesville, said the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Anti-Muslim events are happening more than in the past, but Ghanimi said this country is not as racist as some would suggest.

He said there might be areas where hatred is more common or concentrated than others, but the United States is a country of immigration and other countries are much worse.

"A general rule when you come to this country is that it doesn't belong to any ethnic group," he said. "It belongs to everyone."

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