Duke incident highlights misplaced anti-Islamic sentiment, cultural problems


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Duke University’s decision to cancel a planned call-to-prayer following backlash illustrates the deeply misguided views that many people in the United States hold about Muslims.

While I do not believe this is a First Amendment issue or particularly a freedom of religion issue, it is certainly a cultural issue.

A number of the individuals who protested Duke’s original decision to allow the prayer, particularly Boone’s own Franklin Graham, cited the violence of Islamic fundamentalists as a reason for not allowing the prayer in a Facebook post.

As an atheist and a secularist, I believe that religions in general are wrong. I find the degree to which believers of various faiths refuse to acknowledge the violence in their own texts and histories to be frustrating.

Yet, to treat all members of religions as though they are a danger to society is wrong and counterproductive. The notion that all Muslims are unable to be a part of a free, democratic society is absurd.

After all, it is generally assumed that there is no conflict between Christianity, with its own notable history of violence and democratic society. In fact, when fundamentalist Christians campaign against marriage equality or the teaching of evolution, they are in their own way working against the values of free, democratic society.

Still we understand that not all Christians hold these views, that not all Christians wish to have their views imposed on everyone. There is no reason we should not assume that the same is true for the majority of Muslims.

It is possible to live in peace with all religious believers, provided those believers do not impose their own values over others. If Christians can meet that requirement, so can Muslims.

Perhaps more importantly, taking such an attitude toward all Muslims undermines our attempts to fight the truly dangerous fundamentalists.

In our own Western-centric bubble, the effects of fundamentalist Islam are often seen through its own prism, through 9/11 or Charlie Hebdo. What this view leaves out is that the worst victims of this fundamentalism are Muslims themselves.

Just in the last year, the Islamic State perpetrated numerous acts of brutality toward thousands of Muslims, according to an October report from the United Nations.

By treating all Muslims as threats, we only further alienate an ally in this fight.

Muslim Student Association President Omar Heikal believes that ignorance, and reinforcement of these messages through media, is what causes this type of negative sentiment.

He is right, and the only way to put aside the strong emotions that legitimately arise following these attacks and really take in the reality of the situation. Lashing out at all Muslims is both morally and strategically wrong.

Duke’s decision, while perhaps justified in the light of certain threats, is still a sad commentary that we remain unable to respond properly to these incidents.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.