A Psychological Perspective on Islamophobia

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Photo Credit: Shamain K. Photography

 

If you’re like me, you’re beyond done with all the negative rhetoric floating around the net. You’re probably equally done with the amount of shit you hear from crap news channels, or the insensitive & overzealous Facebook politicians and activists. If you’re like me, you’re probably insanely frustrated with what appears to be an influx of mass shootings and terrorism. All of this perceived negativity might be bringing you down, especially when combined with your daily stresses & struggles.

Well.

I don’t know enough about politics to really offer any solutions to anything. And Trump is a dumb ass. So there’s that. What I do know is, psychologically, the type of hateful speech that is floating around in the overall hostile air is creating the perfect climate for depression, anxiety, stress, mistrust, and fear. When all you hear is how one group hates another and that someone somewhere shot up something, it’s hard to develop a positive outlook on life. In fact, it’s even harder to develop a positive outlook towards ourselves. According to Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory, much of how we view ourselves is based on our perception of other people and their lives. However, what happens when we begin to relate less to each other? What happens when we focus on our divides rather than our similarities? What happens when isolationism appears to be an answer. This creates a dichotomy of an attitude that is so detrimental to the foundation of this nation. It is the antithesis of who were were meant to be as human beings–as individuals with the ability to understand each other. We were meant to be connected.

People ask me about my position on what’s happening in the world with regards to Islamophobia, and I have no response. It’s unfortunate. It sucks. And I can condemn the shit out of it. But what does that really mean?

It forces me to become more aware of myself as a Muslim.

For example, I intern in the Counseling & Psychology Center at Texas A&M University-Commerce as part of my Master’s in Clinical Psychology. Twice a week, sometimes more, I drive an hour and a half to the rural town of Commerce, Texas, which has a population of less than 10,000 people. It’s way out of my comfort zone and far removed from my home, but it is actually a beautiful place. One day, in the middle of a counseling session, a client asked about my religious affiliation.  I said I’m Muslim. The client paused for a second, and then continued talking.

Now that is pretty insignificant, but what is significant is the level of awareness & perspective I gained from that simple question.

I might be the only Muslim this person ever came in close contact with.

Now I don’t practice hijab, yet suddenly I felt the weight of my shared responsibility of being a Muslim–not good or bad–but just Muslim. I felt aware of how I presented myself, how I was perceived, and whether I conducted myself in a respectful manner.

Suddenly I felt really responsible. And it was awesome.

My point is, it really doesn’t matter what trash is being said about Muslims. Garbage is being said about white people, black people, Mexicans, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Christians, Syrians–just about everyone–so there’s no need to be so butthurt all the time. We can mull over the politics and conspiracies of why all this is happening, yet none of it matters. What’s most important is that as Americans, we share a responsibility to connect and form bounds within our community. If we challenge people’s attitudes and perceptions about ourselves on a daily basis, just by being kind or taking the time to ask someone at work or school about their day, then that insignificant gesture will have lasting effects in our communities. It will create a type of cognitive dissonance and challenge people to evaluate their perceptions less on the words of some clown on the news, and more on the quality of their interactions with real American Muslims.

So yeah we are all tired of condemning and hearing about things that we in our wildest imaginations could not even relate to. We want to distance ourselves from the severely disordered and corrupt people of this world, but further adopting a low-key attitude towards anyone you don’t understand is not the progress we need. There’s no need for some grand gesture and you don’t need to compensate for anything, just talk. Talk about the issues, about your life, and invite your friends & colleagues to a healthy discussion about what’s going on. Don’t shy away from an opportunity to connect.

You could be that one random Muslim that changes an adopted attitude for generations to come.

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