This past week I have been attending an international conference on Islamophobia, situated in Istanbul.
Many of the speakers here keep pointing to the parallels between the struggle against Islamophobia and the American struggle against racism in the context of civil rights era. There is a pronounced attempt to state to fight and approach Islamophobia primarily through legal means. But I think that approach fails to understand that the civil rights struggle was a combination of a legal strategy (headed by the brave lawyers affiliated with NAACP and the equally brave ordinary African-American citizens who put themselves out there) WITH a grassroots level strategy of social mobilization, of boycotts, marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, etc.
The most dramatic example, of course, is that of the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that reversed (partially) the Jim Crow “Separate but Equal” policy. It’s crucial to realize that the Brown decision came about because courts were responding to very practical social and psychological studies that demonstrated the harmful nature of racism for children. In other words, the law was catching up to and reflecting social realities, not the other way around.
It is this second strategy of social mobilizations which often produced the “facts on the grounds” that the courts were forced to respond to, as opposed to a situation where the court decisions would flow down throughout society. These strategies involved costs, sacrifices, and a price paid through people’s lives, dignity, and resources.
I am delighted that people are eager to fight Islamophobia through legal policies, but I wonder when we will grow to demonstrate the same level of commitment to the social mobilization that will actually force the legal process to respond to it. To put it briefly, are we willing to pay the price? Are we willing to commit to the social mobilization necessary to necessitate the legal updating of policies against discrimination against Muslims?
That social mobilization will necessitate for Muslims to form increasingly deep and meaningful alliances (as some people have already done) with civil rights organizations, African-American organizations, Hispanic organizations, immigrant rights organizations, women’s rights organizations, gay/lesbian groups, and others. That approach of situating Islamophobia alongside other forms of prejudice and injustice is a key towards coming up with equally holistic solutions.