October 4, 2016

Leadership Conference 2016: Who’s Afraid of Hyphenated Americans? Confronting Misconceptions About Iranians and Muslims

img_0640-2Washington, DC – In the shadow of the Trump campaign, which has capitalized from and promoted xenophobic ideas and policies, an expert panel at NIAC’s 2016 Leadership Conference considered how to confront bigotry and racism toward Iranians and Muslims. None of the panelists expected Trump to win the Presidency, but author and foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal warned that, even if Trump doesn’t become president, “his legacy will remain.”  

Jebreal voiced concern that political figures such as Trump have used anti-Muslim propaganda to garner mass followings and push forward “hate based” platforms. Jebreal stated she is “less optimistic after Brexit, the killing of MP Cox and the GOP rallying around Trump.” Especially in the event of a Trump presidency, Jebreal indicated there would be an urgent need for Americans of Middle Eastern descent to mobilize and unite as one in order to block the administration’s most harmful policies. “We need to better organize,” she urged.

Comedian and actor Maz Jobrani discussed how Donald Trump’s political campaign has utilized the topic of immigration as a means to deviate from topics of substance. “Pointing at immigrants as a problem is a distraction from looking at internal, structural problems,” observed Jobrani. Born in Tehran, Jobrani emphasized the absurdity of Trump’s proposed “extreme vetting process” but said it could portend immense negative impacts on Iranian Americans like himself.

Panel moderator Mehdi Hasan pointed out that “a lot of Islamophobia is not spontaneous, it is organized, well-funded and has an overlap with right wing foreign policy goals.” Hasan also noted how perpetuated stereotypes of Iranians and Muslims alike have taken root in the media, which has further contributed to racism and discrimination. Hasan maintained that there is a “long way to go when you still see lazy orientalist stereotypes in supposedly liberal publications.”

Washington State Senator and candidate for Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib discussed the need for more diversity within the American political spectrum. With greater Iranian and Muslim political presence there would be an opportunity to better combat bigotry and discrimination. However, Habib noted the critical importance of cultural acceptance in opening up political space. According to Habib, the other panelists “are laying the groundwork for more Middle Eastern Americans running for office. Cultural acceptance increases political space.”

Comedian and filmmaker Negin Farsad noted her concern that the Iranian-American community had become somewhat tolerant of the unfair treatment they continue to receive at the hands of their government and fellow Americans. “The success of the Iranian-American community,” Farsad said, “has made many complacent on these issues.”

Back to top