Islamophobia by Naved Bakali is a novel about the anti-Muslim racism faced by Muslim youths in Canada and the challenges they have encountered since the 9/11 attacks. Bakali holds a “PhD in Educational Studies from McGill University, with interests in critical race theory, anti-Muslim racism and post-colonial theory.” (Bakali, 2017). This novel strives to retell the stories of marginalized youths within the systemically biased Canadian system and urges readers to work towards a more equitable society. I believe every Canadian youth should read this book because it gives a largely needed Muslim perspective to anti-Muslim racism issues and relays the personal experiences of Muslim youths in the Canadian secondary school system.
This novel examines the fear of Muslims since the 9/11 attacks and how societal beliefs have linked Muslims with terrorism and evil. Bakali defines the what factor within Islamophobia and goes on to examine why and how they have impacted Canadian beliefs and perceptions of Muslim peoples. He hypothesizes how racist behavior towards Muslim peoples in both society and political contexts have been facilitated through the War on Terror. Bakali incorporates race, gender, politics and media issues into the racist societal beliefs that exist regarding Muslims. The systemic biases have caused hostility and loss of opportunities for Muslim youths. The political debates and policies have increased the impacts of Islamophobia and institutionalized racism towards Muslims in Canadian society.
Bakali breaks down this novel into two parts: understanding and experiencing Islamophobia. Within the understanding portion of the novel, he defines Islamophobia and gives a historical context and the reason why the term has evolved to encompass the present-day negative connotations. The latter part of his novel focuses on Islamophobia within the Canadian secondary school setting. This setup is extremely effective in reinforcing and conveying his message because he eases readers who do not know much about Islamophobia slowly (into the content) by beginning with the definition – telling the background stories and origins of the term starting with the 9/11 attacks. Each chapter is relevant to the category/part it falls under, which largely increases the reader’s understanding and makes his message flow better – which ultimately helps effectively support his thesis.
A prime example can be seen in Chapter 4, which falls under the category of understanding Islamophobia. Bakali touches upon mainstream media and the negative perceptions of Muslim peoples due to depictions of terrorism and violence in Hollywood films. In Iron Man, the Muslim terrorists were seen to be incompetent – failing to prevent Tony Stark’s escape and were “unable to possess and handle Western technologies”. (Bakali 2016, 66). Using this film to demonstrate the existence of anti-Muslim racism in Hollywood films – and how it continues reinforcing Islamophobia – was effective because most present-day Canadian youths have watched Iron Man. Thus, they can easily relate back to the film and realize the striking differences between the portrayals of White and Muslim characters. The Muslim characters were depicted as evil and violent, causing much bloodshed and killing of the Afghan civilians. On the other hand, the White characters were heroic and smart – building technology to help them escape from the evil terrorists. The relevant and relatable example Bakali provides helps convey his message because it effectively proves how the media is negatively defining Muslims and reinforcing anti-Muslim racism. It motivates non-Muslim Canadian youths to consider reshaping their outlooks of Muslim peoples and correct the false assumptions the media portrays.
Bakali incorporates quotes from his interviews of Muslim peoples and their experiences in Canadian society, which gives life to his arguments and proves to the reader that Islamophobia is an ongoing issue. Reading about the experiences and struggles of Muslim youths gave a personalized touch and draws sympathy from readers. This strengthens Bakali’s thesis, as it is extremely difficult for anyone who reads these quotes to not feel inclined on removing the anti-Muslim belief. In Chapter 6, participants in a group discussion mention that their teachers were the most outwardly racist. Ahmad states that “I was balancing a book on my head and a teacher said, Ahmad, stop praying. He thought it was funny and a good joke.” (Bakali 2016, 107). Ahmad’s experience clearly depicts the systemic racism that exists in Canadian secondary schools, and Bakali uses these types of examples to support his arguments. He attempts to persuade the reader to work towards creating a more just and equitable society, and it is without doubt that any reader would find the teacher’s behavior to be offensive. Thus, they would lean towards taking the side of Muslim individuals and look through an unbiased lens to present them the opportunities they deserve in the future – leading to an equitable society.
The book was written with a lot of research to support Bakali’s stance. The large amount of citations (however) present a weakness, as individuals in high school would find it difficult to absorb the knowledge and thoroughly understand the points he is trying to convey. Even as a university student, the sophisticated word choice sometimes made it difficult for me to comprehend the message conveyed. A prime example was when Bakali explored class relations and Islamophobia, where he claims, “when a nation adopts a laissez-faire economic system in which its natural resources become liberalized that its political system…will be acceptable in the eyes of US hegemony.” (Bakali 2016, 39). Individuals without economic knowledge would find it confusing, since not knowing what the laissez-faire economic system means would confuse the reader. Despite this weakness, Canadian youths should still read this book because it provides insightful information and opinions on why a more equitable society should be created for Muslims in Canadian society.
In conclusion, I believe every Canadian youth should read this book because it gives a largely needed Muslim perspective to anti-Muslim racism issues and relays the personal experiences of Muslim youths in the Canadian secondary school system. The novel allows the Canadian experiences of oppressed Muslims to be revealed and the historical events that have caused lasting negative impacts on today’s society. Moreover, Bakali presents a well-researched and highly informative book that proves the existence of the systemic biases and motivates readers to rebuild a more just society. Overall, Islamophobia is a must-read that opens the eyes of Canadians who do not know of the systemic problems that exist.