Turning Islamophobia into informed compassion with emotional intelligence

When practitioners refer to the nuts and bolts of emotional intelligence we discuss things like self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. All of these are key to the success of healthy, sustainable human relationships. They are also key in helping people realize their own biases, the biases of others and where we need to make changes to improve our abilities to be compassionate, empathetic, respectful and inclusively tolerant to all people in the human race.

In recent months, news around Islamophobia has increased more than ever. This constant barrage of misinformation overload has even created fears in some people who previously never even used to think about being afraid of people who identify as Muslim. One individual I spoke with who has always been one of the kindest people I know said she found herself almost scratching her own head wondering about people like one of her nearby neighbors, but quickly dismissed the thought when she realized that she too had begun to buy into the ill-informed hype she’s seen in media. Sadly, repeated messages going across our television screens, radios and social media have a way of making many believe that the sheer number of reports must mean there is some truth to the news right? I can tell you that most certainly is instead by far not the whole story.

The reality is that we are shell shocked by terrorism and that leaves many feeling helpless. Feeling helpless is not something we as humans do well with. We are also shell shocked, however, by domestic violence, drive-by shootings, financial and weather disasters and many other things that cause us hurt, pain and fear. The difference in the case of Islamophobia is that many who harbor fears really don’t know anything about people who practice this faith. And face it, we are all susceptible to fear of the unknown. What we don’t know can be unsettling, and when you have people playing into those fears it can be overwhelming trying to figure it all out.

Imagine growing up in a neighborhood with only people who look like you all of your life. In this scenario, the “others” are people you see on television and due to so much propaganda to feed the fears and keep people coming back, media reports in this case constantly show pictures of people who look like a certain race, ethnicity, gender, social class or religion. Once you decide to branch out and go out into a world that is not the one you are accustomed to, you see “those people.” What would your immediate reaction be? More than likely, you’d be terrified of “those” people because you assume what you’ve seen is right. Keep in mind, you’ve not been given the opportunity (or taken the opportunity) to research the people who have been portrayed in a negative light. Your only knowledge of them is based on what you see all over the news and heard from others in conversation. It seems to make you “feel” like all people in that category are like that. If they aren’t like that, surely their friends, relatives or others they associate are like that right? Further, you don’t even have any idea how many people there are in the world that look like them, but you “think” you know “all of those” who make the news for their horrific acts operate in a way that their belief system encourages hatred and violence against others. What would you do? What would you feel in your body? What sensations would take over your stomach, skin or central nervous system? Would you run? Would you hide? Would you confront them angrily because of overpowering, unwarranted FEAR which would only make things worse??

In getting back to the issue, the same kind of scenario holds true in the case of Islamophobia. Many of us don’t know a lot about people who follow the religion of Islam. It could because many of them are very quiet about their religion as it is between them and God who they call Allah. It could be for a number of reasons which I don’t claim to know personally; however, at the end of the day, what I do know is that except for the extremists committing terrorist acts, they are simply peaceful people like you and me who go about their day just living life. On the other hand, there are people of all different faiths, ethnicity, genders, generations and social classes that commit large-scale crimes all around the world. Right here in the United States gun violence is growing daily and at times it scares me!

So this leads me to ask, what about the horrific church shooting in South Carolina, should that make me afraid of all Caucasian males that look like Dylan Roof? In the case of the Sandy Hook school shootings, should I be fearful of everyone who looks like Adam Lanza? And what about the 52,120 gun-violence incidents reported by Gun Violence Archive (as of 12/30/2015), should I be fearful of ALL people who look like those that committed those acts? I’d venture to say if I were afraid of all of them there wouldn’t be anyone left in the world to NOT be afraid of. Do you see how extreme that thought is?

Attacks on innocent people are nothing to make light of. Unfortunately, because of the acts of a few there are amazing, intelligent, peaceful Muslims suffering in fear also. They fear people like you and me as they wonder if WE want to hurt them because others committed crimes saying they were done because of their faith. Children who “look” Middle Eastern are presumed to be Muslim and have been attacked or verbally slighted in many cases. Adults have been attacked and shunned and many of them were born in the United States. Why should they have to suffer any more than I would because of the acts of a black person who may hurt others simply because I’m black? I don’t believe in violence. I don’t commit crimes. And lastly, I don’t believe in terrorism so fear of me is irrational too, yet there are those who fear African Americans for no valid reason. Believe it or not, there are those who still fear that the LGBT communities’ orientation somehow rubs off on people and they won’t associate with them for that reason. To be honest, I almost find this last one comedic as I think about how many great people in the LGBT community I’ve met that have been nicer to me than people in some other communities and it didn’t rub off on me and we respect each other’s differences because we are all HUMAN!

So what can we do or what should we do? What does emotional intelligence tell us about how we can deal with Islamophobia?

  • Be motivated. CHOOSE to learn more about Islam. Study the numbers and you’ll see how many millions practice this faith compared to the few we see in media propaganda. Learn about how the religion speaks of peace. Many people would be happy if you asked questions about them and saw them as a whole person and not just define them by their religious preferences.
  • Think empathy. Think about how you or your own children would feel if it seemed a great majority of people in the world didn’t like you simply because you looked like someone who committed a terrorist act. A great example is if a Caucasian person were to have to be responsible in 2016 for the acts of their ancestors who were slave owners. Why should this one person be scrutinized and you don’t even know their position on slavery, religion, human rights or anything else?
  • Work on social skills & relationship management. Start in your own circles. Join a diversity & inclusion group at your job if there is one. It’s not just for people of a specific color or gender. These groups help ALL of us learn about each other and use the differences we have to create collaborative solutions but also show us the commonalities we all have as the human race. No one expects you to be naive to the dangers of the world but living in fear every day cheats you out of the beauty of the world and all of the great people in in. Remember your body language matters too.
  • Think compassion. How would you want to be treated? Do you think assigning guilt to others instantly is the right thing to do? By doing so, know that you are not being pro-active but instead adding more fuel to the fire. Learn how to control your fears and use the emotion to be compassionate. And don’t forget to talk to your children about how they can be good citizens in school as well and not bully other kids the may appear to be of Islamic faith(they learn from us).

by Aleasa Word, @thewordallogic. Mz. Word is an internationally certified professional life coach, editor at the Good Men Project, small business consultant and author specializing in helping people develop the second chapter of their lives professionally and personally. She has offices in Atlanta, GA and Newark, DE. Through emotional intelligence modeling, she assists others who seek growth and change in their decision making abilities for professional growth, personal growth and increased wealth. She is a motivational speaker and workshop facilitator for various youth and adult development. This post first published by http://www.chapter2living.com/wordallogic-blog


Written by

Amplify the compassionate voice in the world. Join Karen Armstrong in her TED-prize winning quest -- sign the Charter now. http://CharterforCompassion.org