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Dr. Amer Ahmed talks intersections, Islamophobia

November 2, 2018

After a quick introductory breath, Dr. Amer Ahmed kicked off No Hate November with a rap. “I stand poisoned by religion / the decisions of sin / while television spins the lies of white men / I see no friends as the media sends / the myth of the truth to fear my brown skin,” he performed to a surprised audience in Kresge Auditorium last night. Departing from the playful tone of the rap, Ahmed’s keynote took a more serious note, addressing the implications of Islamophobia.

“What was prevalent for him was how he described coming together as communities and really trying to make that process happen despite boundaries of intersectionalities that are really important. He really wants to create change through coalition and communities and working together,” said Mamadou Diaw ’20, chair of diversity and inclusion for Bowdoin Student Government (BSG).

Ahmed has both personal and professional understandings of Islamophobia. As a Muslim-American, he experiences racial and religious bias everywhere, from TSA checks at the airport to encounters with his next-door neighbors. Professionally, Ahmed has dedicated most of his career to addressing and understanding racial and religious bias through roles such as the CEO of AFA Diversity Consulting, LLC, a consulting practice dedicated to helping institutions address diversity, race and intercultural development, and as director of intercultural teaching and faculty development at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

For an hour, Ahmed argued that social issues such as race, religion and immigration are intersectional. Ahmed uses Islamophobia to exemplify not only how race and religion intersect with one another, but also how these intersections could be used to create a stronger network to support marginalized people and eradicate misconceptions.

“These intersections create opportunities to recognize that we need each other, we need to come together to build power, to resist systems of oppression in ourselves as individuals and in the surrounding world,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed traces the rise of Islamophobia in the United States through Islam’s relation to Christianity. He argued that bias towards Islam has been constructed from the historical context of white, Christian power that ostracized Arab and African populations through the colonization of Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.

Turning away from historical accounts of racial and religious bias, Ahmed discussed the ways in which modern media has reinforced racial stereotypes. He expressed frustration at the sensationalization of crimes committed by Muslim-Americans despite low crime rates.

Ahmed ended his speech with a call for action, despite marginalization.

“We don’t recognize [that] a lot of our communities share issues around immigration. Meanwhile, it is being framed against the Latinx population,” Ahmed said. “If we’re not operating within these intersections and if we aren’t building coalitions within these intersections, we’re not going to be able to stand up when children are being ripped from their families, we’re not going to have the relationships in place to say ‘this is not OK.’ It should not matter if it affects our community or not.”

Students found that Ahmed’s message reiterated the goals of No Hate November, which aims to raise awareness about diversity on campus through a month of programming organized by the BSG.

“No Hate November is a month dedicated to understanding that the Bowdoin community is more diverse than ever before. It is taking the step to make Bowdoin a more inclusive community by addressing all of our identities,” Arein Nguyen ’21, Multicultural Coalition representative to BSG said. “[No Hate November] allows students to lean into the conversation.”

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