North Central College program deals with Islam and politics
By David Sharos For The Sun September 27, 2012 10:52PM
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:50AM
North Central College’s associate professor of speech communication Steve Macek calls it “one of the last acceptable prejudices in America.”
The topic of Muslims and the effects of racism and its impact on domestic politics was the focus of a free presentation offered Wednesday night at Smith Hall on the North Central College campus in Naperville.
Deepa Kumar, an associate professor of media studies and Middle East studies at Rutgers University, was invited to speak during the presentation.
“I have been familiar with her (Kumar’s) work for a number of years and have been on panels with her a number of times,” Macek said. “There is a book of hers I use in a graduate class I teach, and with growth of ‘Islamophobia’ and the YouTube videos out there, I felt this was a topic people should learn more about.”
Kumar’s presentation, “Constructing the ‘Muslim Enemy,” focused on both a history of anti-Muslim sentiment as well as an argument that the growing sentiment against Muslims is designed to “promote political agendas.”
“The idea of Muslims as a threat is not something that begins right after 9/11, but the fear and hatred has a much longer history than that,” Kumar said.
Kumar offered a 45-minute address during which she argued that the ongoing war on terror is much more complicated that just targeting the work of extremists.
“There has not been a consistent policy and there continues to be political motivation behind the images,” she said. “What we have to do as people is understand that every society, including ours, is complex. There are always extremists and regular people. If we don’t focus on that, we miss the complexity of each race and nation and we wind up consenting to wars.”
The audience included a wide range of people, including students from the college to senior citizens who said they were drawn by the topic or even personal experience with some of the areas of the world that were discussed.
Anthony Nuccio, 19, originally from Plainfield, said he has always found “the topic of Islam and Western society engaging” and that he was working on a study grant which focused on the same topic as the speaker.
“If Islamic people here at North Central are feeling like outcasts, I hope the speaker is able to open their minds and give people a different perspective and enhance their critical thinking skills,” he said.
Shavonn Nowlin, 29, is a graduate student at North Central who works with some Muslim students in her student affairs job. She said that “based on recent incidents and the fear that exists about Muslims” learning more was important.
“I have several Muslim students that I work with, and I feel it’s important for my own education and self-culture to learn more about this issue so that I can be an advocate for the people I serve,” she said.
Kumar’s views were echoed by Naperville resident Paul Sjordal, who said he had served in the military in the Middle East including being a member of a rapid deployment task force in the early 1980s.
“I met Dr. Kumar at a 2012 socialization conference and she’s an expert in this area. I wanted to learn more,” he said.
Mary Hayes of Naperville said the title of Kumar’s book and talk “piqued her interest” and that she wanted to understand more about the issues.
because “too many people jump to conclusions.”
“We need to extend our hands across borders and understand each other better and achieve a better sense of unity,” Hayes said. “In the end, we’re all people who pretty much need and want the same things.”