A Panel on Islamophobia

I was honored to witness a conversation about moving beyond  Islamophobia, the first of several of its kind sponsored by the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, and moderated by its CEO Frederick Kempe. Some of the most renowned experts on Islam sat together and shared their thoughts about how Islamophobia began and how to solve it. One of the major themes of the discussion (which only touched the tip of the iceberg) was open, active, consistent conversation.  Here are the highlights from my notes. You can find the full video here; it’s worth a watch.

Vuslat Dogan Sabanci

Publisher, Hurriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper

It’s a Small World

The Problem:

  • “Terrorism is promoting Islamophobic sentiments within the Western World, and unfortunately, in return, it’s fueling anti-Western sentiments within Muslim communities overseas. Both diseases are feeding each other and causing a bigger and bigger problem for the world. Islamophobia is also giving a good propaganda tool to the terrorists, who are trying to recruit Muslim youth who are oppressed and isolated.”
  • “The World is small now. People’s destinies are interlinked more than ever.  Terrorist organizations built in the name of Islam have created a global problem. Both shores are creating propaganda, which serves as a tool in the hands of the terrorists. “


  • “What are people afraid of? The unknown. So let’s get to know each other, have good conversation, with active listening [not monologue] and an intention of understanding the other side, to heal the world and coexist together.”
  • “Media has a huge role in creating a language where the world can start a conversation.  Yet right now, in media the loud voices and the radical voices get the attention and coverage.”
  • “Changing the language is important. How do we talk about Islam, sincerely, without fear?”
  • “We start with questions. The freedom to ask questions is a treasure. But do we always have to ask [rhetorical] questions to get our prejudgments verified? I think not. Let the other side express itself fearlessly in a field of grace.”
  • “Freedom of thought and speech are basic human rights, but not meant to be exercised at the attacking of each other. Dignity is also a human right.”

Karen Armstrong

Author, World Comparative Religions Scholar

Tear Down These Walls

The Problem:

  • “Islamophobia is an irrational fear, not based on reason. Yesterday, we cheered as the Berlin Wall came down. Today, we’re cheering about walls being erected. We in the West should be afraid of losing our souls. History repeats itself with regular explosions of hatred and phobia, [like the Crusades], projected onto a supposed enemy, in order to vent our own fears and worries.”
  • “As we struggle with the profound effects of globalization, more people are retreating into denominational or national ghettos.  If catastrophes can happen in places like Germany and the Former Yugoslavia, none of us can say ‘it can’t happen here.’“


  • “As Socrates said, ‘If you realize you know nothing at all, you’ve become a philosopher.’”
  • “The British Empire, largely responsible for what’s happening now because it supported regimes in the past that denied people freedom of expression, must dismantle its sense of superiority, and realize we have a lot to learn.”
  • “Stop miniaturizing. Once you miniaturize an identity, it’s possible to attack it.”

Dr. Vali Nasr

Dean, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

It’s no longer just a matter of foreign policy.

The Problem:

  • “Pointing Fingers. After 9/11, the U.S. Administration put Islam itself on trial instead of putting U.S. foreign policy on trial, and this quickly found traction in evangelical communities in the U.S.”
  • “If Isis is defeated, Islamophobia is not going to go away. This has morphed into a dynamic of what’s happening to American society itself: anger at outsiders. The world has to deal with what’s happening in Europe, refugees in Syria, beheadings in Iraq, bombings in Paris and Brussels. All these events combine to fuel the fire.”
  • “It’s no longer about foreign policy. It’s about a rise of Popularism that has economic roots, and culture war that goes back to beliefs about immigration numbers and assimilation. Muslims are seen as a problem on both fronts.”


  • “Realize that one Muslim does not a Muslim make. There are differences in diversity, ethnicity, culture, and artistically.”
  • “President Obama, in his Cairo Speech,  abandoned  Islamophobia as official U.S. foreign policy.”
  •  “It’s not just about History. It’s about Understanding. We must have patience in the process and with each other.”
  • “Education needs to be much broader, showing the diversity of Muslim culture.”
  • “Young Muslims are on the front line to fight Islamophobia — in our college campuses, in our classrooms, in our dorm rooms.”

Minister Mehmet Aydin

Former Turkish Minister of State

The Parents of Islamophobia

The Problem:

  • “Islamophobia as an idea existed long before it became a term, going back to the early days of Islam. It’s existential.  It is multidimensional: sociological, psychological, and political. We need to address the inner struggle, not make it academic or theoretical. Now we are face to face with the psychological and political effects of Islamophobia. It’s going to affect all of us.”
  • “This Western idea of superiority, as Samuel Huntington said, is not scientific or moral. It’s dangerous to have an assumption that everyone is like us, or if they are not like us they want to be like us, or should be forced to be like us.”


  • “Intercultural Education. Some prejudice comes not from stupidity but from ignorance.”
  • “We need to take care about criticizing anyone’s religion. We must respect the values of other countries and cultures.”
  • “Be aware of what terrorism is and what it stems from. Extremism and Culturalism are the parents of Islamophobia, not Islam as a culture, or the Islamic civilization.”

Zainab Salbi

Author, Activist, Founder of Women for Women International

We cannot generalize Muslims.

The Problem:

  • “Iraq is utterly destroyed. The Gulf Wars and the war in Syria have had an immediate impact on Islamophobia, yet Isis is as much against Islam as it is the rest of the world. Muslims see Isis as a threat to Islam because they are introducing new terminology and descriptions that are alien to Muslims themselves.”
  • “The Muslim world does not see itself the way it’s depicted. Isis is as as much against Islam as it is the rest of the world. Terrorists are introducing new terms and descriptions that are alien to Muslims themselves.”
  • “Muslims are hurt and scared. They are afraid to pray. Women wearing headscarves suffer the most in the West because their scarves are symbolic and physically different, and they trigger Westerners’ fears that Sharia Law might be imposed. The women are faced with a choice. Do they face discrimination or even violence by wearing headscarves? Do they admit they don’t eat pork?”


  • “We’re all part of this extreme reaction. We need dialogue to demystify.”
  •  “We’re stuck in the dynamic of us versus them. It’s not about us and them. We all need to work to address Islamophobia. [Most Muslim immigrants] came to this country because we like the Constitution. Many Muslims do not even know what Sharia law is.”
  • Churches such as the United Methodist Church host dialogues between Muslims and non-Muslims. Some mosques are opening their doors to the public after the high wave of attacks against Islam and their places of worship.”
  • “Educate others about the facts. For instance, terrorists are not recruited in Mosques. Ninety percent have been recruited from the Internet or informal gatherings.”
  • “See us as the diverse people that we are. We are 1.6 Billion people. The fact that you keep referring to us as one faith is to deny the diversity of our identities beyond nationality, regions, or professions. Am I a mother or an activist or an Iraqi or a Muslim? Am I religious or not? We need to individualize, not generalize. What if we generalized all Christians as one faith?”


 You can find more about me on this blog, on my author website shoresofoursouls.com, or at my coaching site groundonecoaching.com. I’m a journalist, author, speaker, and during my time at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, I found myself mediating conflicts, large and small, all over the world.

Please join in the conversation. I’ll post my own thoughts on solutions in my next blog, and I hope you’ll share in the discussion by posting below or on social media with #beyondislamophobia. Or you can search out dialogues in your area to become better educated about Islam, like the ones sponsored by the United Methodist Church, which I’ve also attended. Feel free to fact check; it’s your prerogative. I’m in gratitude to these experts all for their courage to share with the world, and to help us all heal.


  1. Ruth Schimel on November 2, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Excellent summaries of views of significant, wide-ranging experts, as well as caring people, in the field. My main concern is that the solutions are long-term and organic and the challenges immediate and dangerous. Where are the bridges?

    • Kathryn Ramsperger on November 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Ruth. I agree that these solutions are long-term, and the challenges immediate. It’s my belief that conversations need to be numerous and diverse, now instead of later. Global citizens must be the bridges and lanterns to light the way. It won’t be an easy fix, but then no discrimination is ever easily solved. I’m trying to do my own part by stimulating discussion. I also think those of us that work in the arts have a special role to play, and I’ll be posting about that soon.