Confronting Islamophobia

January 5, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif.--Over 70 students at the University of California at Berkeley participated in a teach-in on Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in early December following hate crimes committed by members of the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA) against Palestinian students.

During a ZFA music concert, three Palestinian students responded to some of the hateful lyrics by hanging a Palestinian flag from a building in protest. At this point, three members of ZFA attacked the students, making racist anti-Palestinian remarks. The next evening, unknown attackers assaulted another Palestinian student.

While this hate crime is repugnant in and of itself, the school administration's lack of action following the attack spoke volumes about anti-Arab racism on campus. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has so far remained completely silent.

In response, the Berkeley Stop the War (BSTW) coalition organized a teach-in on Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, with support from the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association. The event included speakers from each organization, as well as Palestinian-American professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies Hatem Bazian.

The discussion focused on how the U.S. uses Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism to legitimize the trillions of dollars going to the occupation of Iraq. Many students spoke of the need to build coalitions united in opposing racism on campus in order to challenge the government's justification of these imperialist wars.

Although much more work is needed to build relationships among campus groups and to establish stable coalitions that oppose racism in all its forms, this meeting was an important step.

Following the teach-in, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a "Solidarity Speak-Out," in which panelists spoke about their experiences with discrimination and racism at UC and refuted the university's claim that Cal is a diverse and inclusive campus. Most agreed that solidarity is needed among campus groups on the left.

Furthermore, a Left Conference is currently being discussed for the spring semester in order for progressive groups to be able to work more effectively with one another to oppose racism and discrimination.

It is imperative for the antiwar movement to continue fighting anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia and to recognize the connection they have with the imperialist wars of the U.S.

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