Rutgers University professor discusses “Muslim enemy” political construction

Lizzie Jespersen

Dr. Deepa Kumar urged students to look through political constructions to see the humanity inside of everybody, including Muslims, in a lecture Wednesday about the Western world’s construction of the “Muslim enemy.”

In addition to being an internationally recognized author, Kumar is an associate professor of media studies and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University. She was invited to speak at UT as a part of a series of lectures addressing Islamophobia, the fear of Islam or Muslims.

Snehal Shingavi, department of English assistant professor, said this lecture is relevant now because of recent happenings both nationally and here on campus. While introducing Kumar, he cited the New York Police Department’s designation of mosques as terrorist organizations.

“There’s no mystery to the fact that there’s a belief in the U.S. that Muslims are dangerous,” Shingavi said. “We wanted to do [the lecture] in response to anti-Islamic things we’d heard happening on campus and wanted to educate students on things that can’t be heard in classrooms.”

The lecture explored the construction of the idea that Islam is not only the enemy, but that Muslims are polarized into extremists and moderates. According to Kumar, this idea did not exist until the 11th century. Kumar said from this point forward there was a growing need for anti-Islam propaganda, emphasized by the separation of east and west that came from the use of language like “orientalism” and, more recently, the attacks of 9/11.

“I don’t mean to say that the events of 9/11 didn’t happen … I just want to put this in perspective,” Kumar said. “In the 10 years since 9/11, of the 150,000 murders that have taken place in the United States, Muslim Americans are responsible for a grand total of 32. That is less than 1 percent.”

Maggie Rake, Middle Eastern languages and cultures sophomore, attended the event because she wanted to be able to defend herself when asked about her passion for the Middle East.

“I came from a small Texan town where a lot of people were ignorant about the Middle East and these issues,” Rake said. “Fear of Muslims is not based on religion. People do not take context into account.”

Shehnaz Haqqani, Middle Eastern languages and cultures graduate student, commented on the importance of teaching school children that the idea of the “Muslim enemy” is a political construction.

“It’s important to be reminded of context, because, if not, we end up hating people without understanding their reasoning,” Haqqani said.