Panelists discuss Islamophobia

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Habiba Noor and Jennifer Graber speak to community members about Islamophobia in Texas.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Martinez-Arndt | Daily Texan Staff

With increased public attention concerning Muslim terrorists, Islamophobia in Texas is on the rise, a panel of speakers said in an on campus forum. 

 In the forum, six speakers discussed the political and social climate of xenophobia, or the fear of people from other countries, anti-Muslim discrimination in Texas, the origins of Islamophobia and what needs to be done to make the phobia possibly disappear.

The department of religious studies and the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life held the event, titled “Islamophobia in the Texas Public Sphere,” in the Liberal Arts building Thursday.

 Tiffany Puett, president of the Institute, said the presence of Islamophobia in Texas is important to discuss because of the state’s diverse population.

 “It’s a top immigrant destination, a top refugee resettlement location...and additionally, Texas is home to the largest Muslim population of any state in this country ... yet many Muslims in Texas, as well as those perceived to be Muslims, face a social and political climate of bias and discrimination that situates them as marginal or other,” Puett said. “Texas has seen a significant uptick in hate crimes against Muslims and apparent Muslims in the past year, which fits in a larger pattern across the country.” 

Muna Hussaini, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at PayPal and a member of the Austin/Travis County Hate Crimes Taskforce, said she doesn’t see a big change coming in terms of discrimination
against Muslims.

 “I keep seeing this uptick and it’s not in national news, it’s not getting tracked anywhere other than maybe in our conscience,” Hussaini said. “Wearing a scarf, I do feel like I’m walking around with a target on my back so I’m constantly vigilant. It feels like the response now is a little bit different than what I’ve seen in previous years, where [now] I would say that normal people, like regular good people, are speaking
out more.”

Hussaini said recent events like the arrest of a Dallas Muslim student who brought a homemade clock to school but was suspected of having a bomb are indicative of bias and racial profiling. 

 Theater and dance junior Jasmine Kurys said the forum helped her connect with minority groups that are often discriminated against. 

“[In my experience,] just watching people get discriminated against because they weren’t white, or Christian or conservative Republican males, was really tough, so it created a lot of passion in my heart for certain groups, including Muslims,” Kurys said.