The burning of a mosque in Peterborough and the defacing of Muslim Student Association and Arab Student Association posters here on campus, are proof of Islamophobia close to home, according to the Student Association.
It saw these and other incidents as justification for the development of a conference centered around Islam and the media, which took place last month at Deer Creek Golf and Banquet Facility in Ajax.
Just over three hundred people attended.
This school year the SA started an advocacy campaign called Unlearn, Relearn, Challenge. Mike Guerard, vice-president of College Affairs, had a key role in the planning process.
He says the idea to turn the campaign into an event came from the new vice-president of University Affairs, Siraj Syed.
“When he took office, he really wanted to do an Islamophobia event.” Mike said. “We decided, let’s take Unlearn, Relearn, Challenge and make it an annual conference, with the first one being Islam and the media.”
The SA partnered with programs at both Durham College and UOIT, allowing students the opportunity to receive bonus marks for attending.
Students got to attend the event for free and made up 89 per cent of the tickets distributed. Each student was also allowed to bring one guest.
Tyler Persaud, a Durham College Film student, credited his girlfriend for bringing him. Before the speakers took the stage, Persaud said he was interested to see “how the media truly treats Islam.”
Members of communities outside of campus were offered the chance to purchase tickets. Toronto resident Ifthikar Hassen paid just $10 for his. “I feel like I gate crashed,” he said. “I would have paid fifty.”
The Unlearn, Relearn, Challenge event played host to three speakers.
Amira Elghawaby was first to speak. She leads the National Council of Canadian Muslims media relations, public engagement and strategic communications. Elghawaby provided insight into the issues around Islamophobia.
She focused on the importance of reframing narratives when it comes to the treatment of Islamophobic issues.
“The narratives around Muslim men and women affect us all,” she said. “No Canadian should be asked to check their faith at the door.”
Several students left the event after Elghawaby’s speech. Those who stayed got to hear from Fasil Kutty, associate professor at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana and a human rights activist.
“Maybe you could call it Muslimphobia, maybe you could call it anti-Muslim hate,” he said. Kutty referenced several misrepresentations of Muslim people by the media. He talked about the hateful words of Donald Trump, the assumptions made about Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s attacker on Parliament Hill, and even Disney’s Aladdin.
He talked about the hateful words of Donald Trump, the assumptions made about Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s attacker on Parliament Hill, and even Disney’s Aladdin.
After Kutty spoke, those in attendance were treated to lunch and entertainment. Two entertainers took the stage, first was hop-hop artist Mohammad Ali, followed by comedian Mohamed “Big Moe” Saleh.
Following the break, keynote speaker Reza Aslan spoke. Aslan is a frequent guest commentator on CNN, as well as an acclaimed author and religious scholar.
“We’re looking for real estate in preparation for President Trump,” Aslan joked.
Aslan spoke about the importance of relationships in erasing the fear people harbour towards Muslims.
“The single most determining factor for your views about Islam,” he said, “is if you know a Muslim or not.”
Following the conference, Persaud said he thought “it was very insightful look in to how the media can twist stories to make the audience create a negative reaction towards Islamic culture.”
The SA hopes the incoming executive will pick up the idea to carry on the annual event.
“Hopefully next year it expands, and one of the things we keep talking about is, wouldn’t it be great if we could use the GM Centre,” said Guerard.
There have been a few questions raised about the decision to host the event at a banquet hall instead of on campus.
Guerard says one of the SA’s goals going into the planning process was “to establish a really high-end, classy event. We have CampusFest and other events throughout the year, we wanted this one to be better.”
Critics also question the cost behind the event, especially given the star-power of Aslan, on top of the other speakers and performers, the venue, transportation and lunch. Guerard says the SA initially budgeted $29,800, with around $10,000 more coming from UOIT and DC. The event ended up costing more than $33,000.
Guerard says the SA initially budgeted $29,800, with around $10,000 more coming from UOIT and DC. The event ended up costing more than $33,000.
If all goes according to plan, Guerard says, each year’s conference will have a different theme. “We’re setting it up where hopefully they will do it, but really it’s up to the will of the execs every year.”