Jonathan Brown, an associate professor at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, stood before a large audience in Franklin & Marshall College's Mayser Gym and presented a Rorschach test inkblot.
“What you see tells more about your perspective than it does the inkblot itself,” he said.
Brown spoke at the Sept. 7 Common Hour, a community discussion open to the public and held every Thursday classes are in session. A Sunni Muslim and the university's Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization, he speaks about Islamophobia and discrimination.
When non-Muslims in the West thinks about Islam, they often do so by reducing the idea of “Muslims” to the idea of the “other,” a sort of negative integration, Brown said.
Of the nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world, approximately 3 million live in the United States, and only a tiny, unrepresentative percentage, .0007 percent, are labeled as having committed a terrorist act, Brown said.
“When we think about this incredibly diverse, massive amount of data, we generalize; we draw on our own stereotypes," he said. Brown said vilification of Muslims paints Islam as “the ultimate boogeyman for many Americans. There’s a conspiracy that relies on the enemy being so sneaky and unseen that you can’t prove it’s there.”
Islamophobia is a removal of agency resulting from an incomplete understanding of what Muslims believe and who Muslims are, Brown said. This lack of understanding leads to mistreatment of Muslims based on dangerous assumptions.
Brown also highlighted the double standard that allows Islamophobia to persist in debates about freedom of speech and news coverage, where such negative stereotypes persist.
He didn't have a clear answer on how to eliminate Islamophobia, but Brown said there are two ways to start: encourage personal relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims and continue to educate others with accurate facts.