Kumar, Kundnani and Alim deliver talk on Islamophobia in America

By Sarah Robertson

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Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Thursday evening the UMass Amherst International Socialist Organization facilitated a free lecture titled “Islamophobia, Racism, Surveillance and Empire.” Guest speakers Dr. Deepa Kumar, the Associate Professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, and Arun Kundnani, author of “The End of Tolerance: Racism in the 21st Century Britain” and “The Muslims Are Coming!,” spoke at the event about their work and the social stigma surrounding the Muslim community today.

The seminar focused on the state of national security in the U.S. and chronicled the existence of Islamophobia in the United States both before and after 9/11. Much of the seminar focused on the imprisonment of Ayyub Abdul-Alim, a Springfield man who was charged for an alleged firearms and ammunition after a random stop-and-frisk by Springfield police.

Abdul-Alim is a half African-American, half Puerto Rican man raised in a Muslim family and the owner of the store Nature’s Garden. In December of 2011 he was stopped and searched by police officers outside of a convenience store and detained for allegedly having firearms and ammunition.

Instead of serving a 15 year sentence, he was offered freedom in exchange for becoming an informant within the Muslim community. Abdul-Alim refused and received the 15 year sentence in the Hampden County Correctional Center where he awaits trial.

During the seminar the student leaders of the ISO called Abdul-Alim and had him speak to the audience about his incarceration and the struggles of being Islamic in America. He encouraged the audience to never stand for the injustices like those he has seen when he says “Silence is a form of consent.”

While none of the speakers encourage violence in any form, they do preach a form of hyper-activism meant to protect minorities from police brutality and protect their own rights. They encourage people of all races to speak out against any injustices they see and to see past the discrimination they are confronted with every day.

Abdul-Alim, Kumar and Kundnani all see Islamophobia as a form of institutionalized racism mean to drive the expansion of the United States as an empire. In response to the tragedy on 9/11, the Bush administration launched a “war on terror” that exacerbated the anti-Muslim sentiments already in place in the U.S.

The speakers believe that the goal of this war is not peace in the Middle East, but rather to spread western culture throughout the world. The ISO believes Islamophobia was perpetuated by the government to justify the surveillance, discrimination and abuses of power needed to create an empire.

Ayyub Abdul-Alim’s case is just one of hundreds that the ISO is trying to fight against. His first court appearance was on Aug. 23 and twenty supporters showed up bearing signs saying “Justice for Ayyub” in support. Bail for Ayyub is set at $25,000 but a campaign was started by his friends and supporters to raise the money for his freedom. Donations can be made at justiceforayyub.org.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected]