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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Anti-Muslim rhetoric increasingly rejected 

Attitudes in US show positive shift, say scholars at Abu Dhabi peace forum

More and more Americans are rejecting the anti-Muslim rhetoric of populist politicians, a prominent scholar told attendees at a peace forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Dr James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, noted that President Donald Trump has been stoking anti-Muslim sentiments, “but here is the good news, the reaction to Trump and his agenda has had a backlash effect.”

Speaking on the second day of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies conference, Dr Zogby said: “The good news is that we are winning the political battle here, certainly we’ve got a problem with the rhetoric coming from some, but more and more Americans are rejecting it.”

He pointed to a recent poll that found over 50 per cent of Americans had a favourable attitude toward Arab Americans and Arab Muslims.

“And republicans have recoiled against the president’s rhetoric and Muslims’ ban,” he noted.

Dr Catherine Orsborn, director of Should to Shoulder in the US, reinforced this point. “Many policies are polished up as not Islamophobic when they actually are, but when people see hate for what it is - they don’t want it.”

“One of the things we see working is that Americans are committed to this idea of fairness, so when we are all standing together and making arguments about fairness of treatment, we see this going a long way,” she added.

Participants also discussed anti-Muslim sentiments and examples of best practices that tackle the issue around the world.

Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a renowned American Muslim scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkley, California, similarly noted progress in the US and Europe. “During the mid-centuries in Europe they had the worst attitudes towards Muslims, now we have thousands of mosques in the US and Europe, despite (the attitudes of) some people in these countries.”

“We are in an extraordinary time when we talk about Islam and peace, a lot of people see it as the opposite,” he said, but stressed once more that Islam was a religion of peace, uniting Arab tribes during a time of war. “That’s (why it is) very important to do the greeting as ‘peace be upon you’.”

Dr Zogby added that while hate crimes against Muslims spiked after 9/11, many Arab and Muslim Americans have continued to advance their careers in US government agencies.

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At an inter-agency meeting, during the Obama administration, he said “about a third of those representatives from government agencies were either Arab American or American Muslims.”

“And I think this is the kind of progress that we made, when we started this work we did not have anybody in our community (in those positions) and they are now. Even if they don’t agree with the politics now in Washington, they are keeping their positions and that is one of the most positive things,” Dr Zogby noted.

He said the FBI and security forces have “done a great job” to fight hate crimes when they are reported.

Dr Orsborn noted that communicating experiences was key to energising responses to attacks.

“Like if there was hate crime or an attack on the local mosque, within minutes people are on the phone with each other to quickly go and repaint the mosque together, so local relationships are built.”