Prejudice today: how to reaffirm what you already believe

On September 30, Trinity University student groups hosted a panel discussion on “Prejudice Today.” The panel was supposed to serve as “an interactive forum in response to Ahmed Mohamed’s Arrest” and a “discussion on prejudice and the ways it manifests itself from a variety of perspectives.” Before the panel started I had a sneaking suspicion that, although the flyer clearly stated that there would be “a variety of perspectives,” that there would be no “variety” to any of the “perspectives.” Therefore, I took it upon myself to attend the panel of diverse views and perspectives in order to supply what I predicted would be missing.

As it turns out, I was right. Of course, the panel of four did not include a single conservative speaker, and it became very clear that the majority of students weren’t that diverse in opinion either. Most of the statements and questions provided different stories of racial discrimination and blamed the American society for how it treated minority groups. This political narrative was evident throughout the entire discussion panel, with an exception of one or two brave conservatives who dared to challenge the framing of the discourse.

“Islamophobia,” a term favored by the left in debates about social justice, also made its immediate appearance. I have long been a critic of this word for a number of reasons. Of course, those of us who analyze the pillars of Islam and other religions and challenge their legitimacy aren’t suffering from a psychological disorder. It would be quite absurd to claim that we are. Yet what this term does is paint the arguments of Islam’s critics as the crazy utterances of racist lunatics. It presumes a logical fallacy on the opposition’s by questioning our ability to reason in the first place. Indeed, how could we have a clear and sound argument if we were suffering from Islamophobia? This method of reasoning would be just as absurd as conservatives making up words like “free-marketphobia” (the fear of capitalism) or “offendophobia” (the fear of offensive ideas) in order to dismiss the arguments of our adversaries.  No such medical conditions exist in psychology, and it is high time we shift away from this ad-hominem fallacy and address the arguments with reason, facts and logic.

After making the latter point to the panel, I was pleased to see that a more reasonable alternative”””anti-Muslim sentiment””” was offered to me instead. (Although I quite struggle to see how one can make a leap from one to another with such ease”¦  after all, those terms mean entirely different things by definition.) Nevertheless, while that definition was certainly offered, it was not really implemented by many of those who decided to speak afterwards; and the word “Islamophobia” appeared again, and again, and again. So be it.

Another interesting discussion revolved around what I view to be a clear double standard in the culture of victimhood. While many conservative students and professors get threats and pure hatred from other students and administrative staff, the discussion never seems to address those cases (unless one of us dares show up at an overwhelmingly biased event and open our mouth). Now naturally, this is okay by me””I was raised in a country where publishing a contrary opinion will land you on a “blacklist” of Putin’s enemies. Therefore, dealing with a few teenagers and administrators throwing a tantrum is tolerable in comparison. Still, if we are to have a discussion on the nature of discrimination, it seems rather odd that the current trend of suppression of ideas doesn’t make the list.

I was then shocked to hear that some students actually believe that suppression of ideas and discrimination based on ideology is not really a problem at all. “You are lucky” said one attendee, “that you are only discriminated against when you express your opinion rather than before you even speak.” Another attendee stated that suppression of ideas “is not a big problem” since I have “a choice in what I say” and that “more people suffer from other types of oppression.” This is truly astonishing. Never mind the fact that humanity just recovered from the biggest ideological genocide in its history””the Soviet gulag””which single handedly wiped out more people based on their political ideology than any other genocide in human history. Yes, suppression of ideas isn’t really a problem in human civilization.

There were other occasional utterances that left a few of us in dismay. When asked about whom you would imagine as a typical terrorist, the honorable lady next to me loudly exclaimed “anti-abortion groups” which was completely ignored by the audience (I’m not joking, I got this on audio). So much for tolerance of political opinion.

Much more could be said about the case of Ahmed Mohamed, and the details of his arrest. Personally, his suitcase looks exactly like a bomb and I would run far away if I saw it, even unattended, at the airport or a stadium. Furthermore, it seems that the student had actually been told to put the device away repeatedly throughout the day. It was only after the lack of cooperation and 6 periods into the day that the police were actually on the scene. I am quite sure that if I were to pull this stunt in my high school I too would be arrested if I didn’t cooperate.

In conclusion, there were really no surprises to this panel. The majority heard what they wanted to hear and reaffirmed their personal beliefs. There was no one really challenging the majority opinion or the framing of the debate. Part of me regrets not writing about the astonishing geopolitical events that have happened at the UN and Syria, but I suppose we all make mistakes. If, however, I had one piece of advice it would be as follows: actually invite conservative professors to provide you with the other side of the argument (it’s not that hard to find them, we all know exactly who they are.)  Otherwise these events will simply become pointless reiterations of unilateral opinion that foster nothing more than what the majority already knew before ever walking through the door.