Islamophobia and the 2020 election cycle

On Thursday, May 9, more than 50 students, faculty, and community members filed into Olin 102 to hear Associate Professor of Religion Todd Green’s lecture titled “Islamophobia and the 2020 Presidential Election.” In this lecture, Green outlined a recent history of Islamophobia in U.S. politics and anticipated the trajectory of Islamophobic behavior and rhetoric in the upcoming presidential election.

The lecture began with religion and political science double major Asha Aden (‘20) introducing Green by describing his published works. Green then began his lecture by describing his impressions of each major political party’s relation to Islamophobia.

“In the Republican Party, the trend has become far more overt over the past three or four election cycles to instrumentalize Islamophobia, [and] to mobilize a certain portion of the electorate,” Green said. “This is very calculated and strategic, [tapping] into anti-Muslim fear or hatred to garner votes. With the Democratic Party what we have seen over the past two decades is consistent ambivalence on how to respond to Islamophobia.

Annie Harriman (‘19) is a social work major interning at the Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center, as well as the secretary of student organization Interfaith in Action. These two organizations worked together to coordinate the lecture.

“[Green] is one of my favorite professors here, but I think the topic of Islamophobia, [specifically in light of] the election, [is] something that not many people think about,” Harriman said. “And also since he’s so well known and respected in the community and on campus that we’d be able to [reach] a larger audience.”

Nora Weigle (‘22) attended the lecture and enjoyed Green’s ability to recognize that both parties were at fault for the culture of Islamophobia in U.S. politics. Weigel also believes the historical context for young voters is important.

“It’s interesting because he kept talking about [political events from the past,] but 9/11 happened when [I] was two,” Weigle said. “I didn’t start paying attention to [politics] until I was probably 12, so I have no idea of what an election cycle would be like without this kind of issue.”

The lecture not only described the recent history of Islamophobia in politics, but put forth theories about how it is currently being developed in anticipation of the 2020 election. Green spoke about Rep. Ilhan Omar a Democrat from Minnesota and how she believes the Republican Party will attempt to villainize her in this election, accusing her of antisemitism and being an advocate for the implementation of Sharia law.

“In her very person, [Omar] embodies all the identities that generate anxiety for Trump himself, and some of his core supporters.” Green said. “She is a Black, progressive, Muslim woman [and] a former refugee…[Republicans] will try to funnel [Islamophobic] strategies through this one person. In criticizing Omar she becomes a proxy for all American-Muslims.”

At the end of the lecture, Green opened the floor to questions, and engaged in dialogue with the audience for over half an hour. The last question before the end of the lecture was regarding the meaning of a passage from the Quran. Green responded to the audience member by asking if he was Muslim, and the audience member responded that he was not.

“I would want Muslims to be my teacher in how they understand that passage just as I understand that Christians would want to be the teachers of those who are not Christians when it comes to [controversial passages from the Bible,]” Green said.

Attendee Josie LaVoi (‘22) appreciated his response to this question, commenting on his ability to give easily understandable and well-articulated responses.

“With the last question, I like how he placed it in the context that is understandable for the majority demographic [at Luther,] Christian.” LaVoi said. “He had such good answers, [and] putting it into that perspective [was helpful.]”

Green emphasized the importance of a strong moral standpoint in his lecture, criticizing both parties in their reaction to Islamophobia. He also invited the audience to pay attention to the ways in which political parties’ beliefs pervade our politics.

“What I want this particular audience to grasp is that they play a unique role [because of] where they live,” Green said. “Every four years, Iowa is the center of the political universe … I think [we] are in a unique position in the country to help shape the conversation about the great moral ills that plague our country, including Islamophobia, and what I hope this audience starts to think about is how they can be a part of this conversation and hold these candidates accountable.”

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