Allyship for Transatlantic Leaders: Focus on Islamophobia

February 13, 2020
Lora Berg
Elandre Dedrick
4 min read
Photo Credit: John Gomez / Shutterstock

In a season of brutalizing political rhetoric, Islamophobia is among the many forms of hate gaining virulence. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in the United Kingdom defines Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” New America’s mapping of anti-Muslim incidents in the United States shows the rapid growth in hate is in fact a well-funded enterprise. According to the publication Hijacked by Hate, 1,096 organizations funded 39 groups in the Islamophobia Network from 2014 to 2016 to propagate fear and hate of Muslims and Islam across sectors, from politics and lobbies to media and schools, and have yielded tangible results such as anti-Muslim legislation. In Europe, Open Society Foundations notes: “The 2017 EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey found that on average one in three Muslim respondents faced discrimination and prejudice in the previous 12 months, and 27 percent experienced a racist crime. Research also shows that Islamophobia can especially impact women—in the job market, for example, as is highlighted in recent research by the European Network Against Racism.”

Protecting and including minorities is a hallmark of a successful democracy, and we each can play a role as an ally, regardless of minority status. As Jimmy Carter notes in the introduction to the Carter Center’s “Countering the Islamophobia Industry”: “When we turn a blind eye to discrimination against our Muslim neighbors, we cannot claim to remain true to our American values, and if we tolerate discrimination against those of another faith, we undermine our own cherished religious freedom.” This observation applies equally in nations across the Atlantic, where the Islamophobia industry is also at work and expressions of intolerance are on the rise. So, how can we effectively serve as allies for Muslim compatriots who may reasonably be anxious at this juncture?

We can gain an introduction or hone and expand our knowledge about how to be good allies in an information-rich online environment where a plethora of articles exist on this topic. However, while most articles outline actions one can take to be a good ally, there is less discussion of the internal work that “allyship” involves. Allyship means creating relationships with individuals from other groups that can be leveraged as alliances for social justice. In addition to a willingness to step in and stand up in instances of bigotry and discrimination, achieving solidarity in these relationships requires mindfulness and a recognition of the value of acknowledging how much we can learn and embracing discomfort.

In order to be good friends and listeners to people of Muslim faith in our networks who are likely facing both micro and larger aggressions individually or in their wider communities, we must acknowledge our own lack of information so that we can learn from the perspective and experiences of others. Admitting ignorance and seeking guidance creates and sustains the types of dialogue that maintain alliances. Every day varying levels of aggression cause a level of stress for our Muslim peers that others may not experience. Relationships based on the exchange of perspectives from a place of respect and a genuine desire to address injustice inspire engagement and heighten the personal stake in confronting negative trends.

Further, in order to have alliance-forming conversations, we must also embrace discomfort. It is uncomfortable to have frank discussions of unfairness and inequality and to acknowledge the ways in which we may unwittingly act to the detriment of others. Challenging our own biases and assumptions is a continuous and difficult process. Nevertheless, it is by working through this discomfort that we strengthen our ability to be inclusive and effective allies. We may not be aware of the challenges our colleagues face unless we take the time to ask and to empathize. From macro-political concerns to daily social aggressions, our coworkers may be affected in personal ways by bans, acts of hate, and violent conflict. By being mindful of what our Muslim friends and coworkers may be experiencing in the public sphere, such as harassment over wearing the veil, exclusion at borders, receiving hate messages through social media, or learning of violence and death faced by friends and families in countries of origin or in new homelands, we can seize the opportunity to show empathy, learn, and advocate alongside our colleagues.

Here at the German Marshall Fund, we are proud to have people of many faiths in our workforce, including colleagues who are Muslim. We have significant Muslim representation in the alumni network of our leadership programs. Our major conferences are enriched by speakers who are Muslim, and our thought leadership publications are likewise enriched with these voices. As leaders, we can raise awareness in solidarity by joining or organizing occasions for non-Muslims and Muslims to meet and get to know each other better. The graphic below is the kind of useful tool that can be accessed online. We can support organizations that work for civil liberties and for tolerance and that monitor hate crime. We can take the time to learn about our own biases and to counter stereotypes. We can reach out to our political leaders on specific policy issues. For those with legal expertise, we can volunteer time to challenge discrimination.

Even as we go about our daily engagements, being mindful to connect with our Muslim colleagues and friends has never been more important.