Perceptions and Realities of Muslims: Paradigm Shifts in Public Policy, Media, and Academia
In recent years, there has been a propensity in both academic and public discourses to subsume diverse communities of Muslims living in North America and Europe under the monolithic label “Islamic.” Doing so not only masks critical aspects of these communities’ identities—including language, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic status—but often reinforces the notion that “Islam” is something distinct from, and ultimately irreconcilable with, the so-called “West.” More specifically, the label “Muslim” is often enmeshed in the rhetoric of citizenship and belonging: that by being “Muslim” one cannot be truly “Western”—or even patriotic. As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has pointed out, this tendency to privilege religious identity over other identities can animate a dangerous divisiveness in society: “The world is made much more incendiary by the advocacy and popularity of single-dimensional categorization of human beings, which combines haziness of vision with increased scope for the exploitation of that haze by the champions of violence” (“What Clash of Civilizations?”).
By bringing together three knowledge communities—policy makers, media professionals, and Islamic-studies scholars—our conference aims to interrogate both current representations of Muslim communities and their perceived relationship with the West. We hope that these conversations will be enriching for all participants, and that by sharing methodologies, approaches, and experiences our participants and audience will emerge with fresh ways and new paradigms to consider these important issues.