UT must help fight fears that fueled overturned burkini ban

Emma Berdanier

Just last week France’s highest court overruled the ludicrous Burkini ban that degraded not only women but also an entire culture. The ruling was viewed as a triumph by international liberal groups and Muslims alike. Except it wasn’t. As of today, more than twenty of the mayors of the coastal towns that originally implemented the bans before the law was overturned have refused to comply with the ruling. It’s about keeping France secular, they say, though it’s clear that an underlying tone of fear following the Nice attacks stains this law.

How France will address these towns is yet to be determined. But given their past history with and the continued presence of Islamophobia in their cities, it won’t be good.

“Any kind of phobia stems from a lack of understanding,” Dr. Mahmoud Al-Batal, a professor of Arabic at UT and the director of the Arabic Flagship Program, said.  “Our fear of Islam stems from our lack of understanding. There is no one Islam, just like there is no one Christianity. But we tend to think of Islam in a very monolithic term.”

If Islamophobia is a problem of understanding, then the best solution is to educate. And Texas seems to be the perfect place to implement that education: the second most prevalent religion in Texas, behind Christianity, is Islam, according to the 2010 US Census on religion.

However at UT, the presence of Islamophobia seems to pale in comparison to the rest of the state. It’s a phenomenon Dr. Al-Batal recognized. The only instance of Islamophobia at UT he could recall was when a student of his was “verbally assaulted by a bystander because she wears the hijab.” But even when discussing this event, though recognizing how wrong it was, he commented, “Because we are on a university campus, it is limited. It is not what you see in the real world outside university campuses.”

If UT is doing such a great job, then why try to enforce any sort of education at all? Why not let a good thing lie?

Because doing so is dangerous. In the United States, as with the rest of the world, there is hate that lingers beneath the surface towards any sort of ‘other’ we can’t identify with, any sort of ‘other’ person who is different enough to provoke fear in us. And although Islamophobia may be limited on a university campus, once students leave those campuses they enter a world where it is all too real, a world where they have to be prepared to deal with it and not fall into practicing it.

It is UT’s duty to have more educational outreach about Islam to all of its students, not just those enrolled in classes pertaining to it. Because UT is creating the next lawmakers, the next mayors, the next lawyers, who could all determine whether America follows in France’s legal footsteps, they must actively address Islamophobia.

Berdanier is a philosophy junior from Boulder, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @eberdanier.