Islamophobia discussion digs into Middle East conflict

By Ashley Elder – aelder@unca.edu – Staff Writer | April 8, 2015 |

Hunter Jefferson, sophomore economics student and member of UNC Asheville’s International Socialist Organization branch, spoke to students Wednesday night, giving listeners a brief history of relations between the United States and Islamic states like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He brought up Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. He mentioned the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the recent shootings in France.
“To be honest, up until last year I harbored some very anti-Islamic beliefs,” Jefferson said.
However, he said going to a socialism conference changed his perspective.
“I had made a friend from Palestine,” he said. “She was living here. She was so nice to me, so friendly.”
One night she and Jefferson were hanging out and she broke down to him, he said.
She said in Palestine people were asking, “Why can’t America do this, why won’t they help us? Why is America doing this to us?”
After coming here, Jefferson said, his friend realized that Americans are just as bad off as Palestinians and that people here don’t know what’s going on.
“I think especially with the shootings in Chapel Hill, people are really starting to tune in, and the population that showed up today shows that people are starting to pay attention to this as a problem and it facilitates greater political questions and makes people want to know more,” he said.
Ahmed Elassy, sophomore transfer student, attended several of the International Socialist Organization’s meetings prior to this one.
“I think there is a necessity for Islamophobia to justify American policy. And it is not in the best interest of the U.S. to have this perpetual war,” he said.
During the discussion, students wanted to know what the U.S. could do to end conflicts with the Middle East.
“The best way for us to avoid conflict is nonintervention,” Elassy said.
The shootings of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill added to the list of violence mentioned that evening.
“The shootings were a natural progression of things you see in the media. The media’s coverage of Arabs or Muslims in general. Anytime there is an attack it’s always labeled Islamic terrorism,” Elassy said.
Islamophobia continues to be present in the U.S. even years after 9/11.
“When you say the word terrorism I think everyone across the board thinks Muslim,” he said.
Born and raised in India, Santosh Pai, junior, said he moved to the U.S. in 1983.
“A country is only as good as its populous. To see students who think that war is wrong and getting involved is wrong is a new kind of feeling to me,” he said.
As a truck driver in Florida after 9/11, Pai said he temporarily lost his job because the color of his skin, even though he was an American citizen.
“I was dealing with ignorant people, mostly truck drivers,” Pai said.
Pai asked some of the same questions as the students around him such as, “What is happening in the Middle East?” and, “What is the cost of the war going to be?”
The discussion closed with students proposing solutions to war in the Middle East.
“I always try to walk in somebody else’s shoes,” Pai said.
Some students expressed that maybe the U.S. should not be involved in the Middle East.
“A kid in Palestine or Israel who has lost his parents to bombing, what are they going to do? There’s going to be so much anger. That is what creates that,” Pai said.

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