Contributing writer Abby Siegel interviewed Ihsan Alkhatib, assistant professor of political science, in relation to our article, “When sensitive topics become tense.” He has worked at the university since 2010 and is one of the advisers for the Muslim Student Organization.
Abby Siegel: Please visit thereligionofpeace.com. I have read online that you have done extensive work with Muslim American clientele, so I assume you have great knowledge in this area. Because of that, would you use the website in your class if you were discussing information on terrorism? If so, why? If not, why not? Is the website credible? Why or why not?
Ihsan Alkhatib: I am a Muslim Arab American and have done extensive work with Arab clientele and with Muslim clientele. The religionofpeace.com is a disturbing and disgusting hateful website that is designed to promote the view of Islam, the religion of more than 1.5 billion fellow human being on planet earth and the religion of millions of overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding Americans citizens, as a violent terrorist religion. Incidentally, this prejudiced portrayal is exactly the way that the terrorists of the heinous group ISIS understand it to be. The website privileges the ISIS brand of religion as the authentic Islam. I would never use such a website in a classroom or outside the classroom. It is an extremist hateful website that I would classify as a hate website that one day will end up in the digital trashbin of history.
AS: Do you think the website could influence student opinion of Muslims on Murray State’s campus?
IA: Of course it could and an educated guess is that it does. I think for the impressionable youths, using this website, of all places on an academic campus and in a classroom, without balancing it with other sources that are of objective/neutral/respectable academic source, would definitely poison the minds of students and would negatively influence their perception of Muslim students on Murray State campus. Our campus, by all measures, is a campus that laudably embraces students from all walks of life and all backgrounds – we value diversity and inclusion in word and in deed. I am trained as a lawyer and academic. I have been a civil rights advocate for more than 15 years. I have done outreach work with the U.S. State Department countering the hateful propaganda of the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS. The outreach involved telling the world of how the U.S. is a great country that celebrates diversity and where Muslims are respected and accepted as fellow citizens. Ironically, our government worries about ISIS propaganda because we fear its radicalizing effect on the impressionable Muslim youths of the United States. I believe that hateful rhetoric, digital hate included, creates a hateful and charged environment that can lead to all sorts of illegal discrimination such as wrongful termination, disparate treatment, discrimination in terms and conditions of employment and promotion, as well as even violent hate crimes.
AS: What is the issue with showing websites like this, if any? Do you think there are any benefits to using this source?
IA: The key issue is that the website is a hateful anti-Islam propaganda website, pure and simple. Replace the word Muslim with Buddhist, gay, atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish or female and the problem becomes clear – it paints a whole group as evil and violent. The website presents Muslims as terrorists and evil doers and mocks Muslims by presenting the image of a seminude Muslim woman pole dancing as the image of the acceptable Muslim who is not a terror threat. It is simply disgusting and outrageous beyond all bounds. It has no academic value whatsoever unless one is teaching a course on digital hate and digital islamophobia – then that website would be Exhibit No. 1. Our job as academics is to educate and enlighten, not to indoctrinate. I believe that website is indoctrination in otherization and hate.
AS: Are there sources that keep a running tab of “deadly terror attacks” online anywhere other than this source that you are aware of?
IA: There are many respectable class-worthy sources that keep track of terrorism around the world. The FBI has a database. The University of Maryland has the Global Terrorism Database. There is the National Counter-Terrorism Center that academically studies the subject. Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown is one of the most prominent American scholars on terrorism, works like his are worth exposing the students to. The referenced website is simply a hate group in the form of a website. And, most importantly, what is the relevance of such an inflammatory website in a basic introductory American Government POL 140 course? I have taught that introductory American Government class at MSU and other universities more than 30 times and I can’t imagine why such a website would be used in an American Government class let alone be prominently displayed in course material and in class.
AS: What is the professor’s role in discussing potentially offensive topics in their classrooms? What about the students’ role?
IA: The key is relevance to subject matter. This is an excerpt from that course’s syllabus: “Purpose and Objective. The purpose and objective of the course is to give the student a basic knowledge and understanding of what the American political system is and how and why it works as it does so that he/she may be a better informed citizen and a more effective participant in the political process. It also counts as a Category IV social science elective in the university studies requirements.” The university catalog describes it as a course about the “American political system, its constitution, institutions and processes. An approved social science University Studies elective.” The course is about the American political system. What is the relevance of an anti- Islam website to the study of the workings of the American political system? When we teach we have to use academic sources and we have to be objective, regardless of our personal views, preferences, biases and prejudices. If the students signed up to learn about American Government, they need to learn about American Government.