Saturday, February 1, 2020

IONHoCo meeting of Unity through Islamophobia

Tonight the Indian Origin Network of Howard County held a hearing session. Below is how the event was promoted.

“Recent events such as a student organization led event at Centennial High school has renewed the discussion between freedom of speech and profiling based on religion and ethnicity. This meet is to bring everyone to the table and hear each others perspectives.
Please join us on Saturday Feb 1st from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM.for a better understanding of issues such as CAA, NRC, religious shift in South Asian Countries, freedom of speech and other related topics. Please let us know if you like to speak for up to three minutes on any of these topics at the forum.”  

The first speaker began with the intention of laying groundwork to discuss the CAA as an effort to assist persecuted religious minorities in surrounding countries. He discussed vast decreases in the non-Muslim populations in those countries since 1947 and offered the CAA as a protective remedy against persecution. He described this being an area of concern since as early as the 1950’s.

Next up was a presenter with a supporting slide deck who was having trouble getting the projector to work. While the projector issues were resolved, he was replaced by the next speaker. This was where the hearing session went sideways. Instead of addressing the concerns raised by the Muslim Student Association or addressing the concerns raised by IONHoCo about whether the students were acting inappropriately at school, he instead was speaking to why India should be seeking to limit the influence or even population of Muslims. He spoke in graphic terms about how the partition of India by the British was damaging to the Indian people and equated the partition to having limbs severed. He blamed that history on Muslims as a class, and further called out the remaining Muslim population as unwelcome. Every possible concern of anti-Muslim hatred was legitimized by this speaker.

It was at this point I began to feel relief that the Centennial MSA members had not accepted the invitation to be a part of this gathering. They did not need to have a grown adult look at them and say that if people sharing their religion wanted to live in a country then f*ck them.

A library employee had come into the room and got the projector set up so the skipped speaker could present. Like the first presenter he was lobbying in support of the CAA. I noticed he used a lot of orange and green color scheme in his slides, which the IONHoCo uses as well in their logo, and which the flag of India uses. Around this time it was mentioned, I think by an audience member, that the MSA invoking green and orange meant they “were bringing religion into it.”

Comment: I would have thought that religion was sufficiently brought into it when a student organization was attempting to bring awareness to a foreign law for being damaging to a religious group on the basis of their religion.

... The Centennial High School Muslim Students Association has asked students to wear green and orange in support of Indian Muslims, to bring awareness to a citizenship bill in India that has been categorized as Islamophobic …
Description of the event from Howard County Muslim Council

Later it was described that the color to religion association was green for Islam and orange for Hindu. I can’t speak to the intentions of the organizing students as to whether they were meaning to assign any meaning beyond just that orange and green are the colors of the Indian flag.

The evening continued with more speakers speaking not to the awareness campaign, but to the dangers from Islam. Some provided anecdotes about specific acts of violence that have occurred with Muslim perpetrators as justification of broad Islamophobia. One speaker expressed intolerance of the mere word Islamophobia based on her families’ personal history of violence in Kashmir.

Her discussion of the elimination of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus resonated with me, something I brought up when I spoke. She explained that at one time ethnic Kashmiri made up 100% of the population and that they now make up a small minority before blaming that change on all Islam.

I took the floor to address that the hearing had derailed into Islamophobia and that some of the speakers had attributed to Muslims what was better described as the result of empire. I couldn't sit silently through such an event when I was in photos and videos. To do so would have been implicit agreement.

What she described is an all too common pattern that we observe in the post-empire fallout. Canada, United States, Australia: an aspect of the British Empire is decimation of the indigenous population. Another pattern that has played out repeatedly following the British Empire has been a society of apartheid. United States and its criminalization of black people. South Africa and its criminalization of black people. Israel and its ongoing criminalization of Palestinian Muslim people. History supports the concern that a recently freed country following British subjugation will resort to apartheid.

“As educators, we are constantly seeking balance between allowing for healthy student expression and providing structure, guidance, and even limitations for our students. As Principal, I believe in working alongside students to cultivate a sense of voice and empowerment while also helping them understand that their words and actions can cause a reaction in their peers and neighbors. Often, this reaction is one in which they weren't expecting or agree with. That is all part of the learning process and an effort to prepare them for life once they leave the accepting and supportive confines of Centennial High School and Howard County.”
-text attributed by a third party to the CHS Principal

The cherry on top of this Islam hating sundae of a hearing would have to be right at the end when the gathering questioned, to broad support, why a Muslim Student Association would even exist in school. The obvious response is that a Muslim student body exists.

I am running for Howard County Board of Education and as such it is in the public interest to know where I stand on incidents such as the initiating awareness campaign. First off, let me acknowledge that Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969, takes the decision out of the hands of the board. Second of all, I applaud the school district for helping train students to perform civics and not just read about it. Finally, Tinker v. Des Moines.