A Visit from CAIR-Houston
By Alisa Perkins, Assistant Instructor, Asian American Studies
Posted: May 21, 2012
CAIR billboard recently posted in Houston. Mr. Carroll is second from the right, among other Muslim Americans of Texas.
During Spring 2012 semester, the Center for Asian American Studies was pleased to welcome honored guest Mustafa Carroll, Executive Director of The Council of American-Islamic Relations Houston. Mr. Carroll visited campus in order to provide a lecture for students in an Asian American Studies class which was opened up to the entire UT campus for the occasion. His visit was hosted by the Center for Asian American Studies in conjunction with the College of Liberal Arts.
CAIR is a Washington-based advocacy and civil liberties organization for Muslims in America founded in 1994. Over the past several years, Mr. Carroll has worked with CAIR both in its Houston and Dallas Fort worth branches. CAIR is a pro-active organization that arranges educational and community forums, and also works directly with victims of unfair treatment, discrimination and targeting. In addition, CAIR plays an important role in representing Muslim American perspectives in the media.
Mr. Carroll's lecture was entitled, "An Introduction to CAIR: Muslim American Advocacy in the Post 9/11 Era." The presentation began with an overview of Islam as a world religion and a history of Muslims in America. Students were surprised to learn about the many theological connections uniting Islam and Christianity. They were also fascinated to discover little-known facts about the earliest presence of Muslims in America that are most often left out of mainstream retellings of American history. Some of these stories stretch the racial and ethnic associations normally linked to Muslim Americans. For example, reports indicate that there have been Native American Muslims for several centuries. Another interesting aspect of Muslim American history that Mr. Carroll included was information about Polish speaking Tatars who built a mosque in NY in 1926 that is still standing today.
Mr. Carroll moved from background and history to the contemporary era, with an analysis of the problems of discrimination, stereotyping and defamation that are currently confronting Muslims in America. He stressed the importance of groups like CAIR that are working to counteract discrimination against Muslims on local and national levels. The highlight of Mr. Carroll's talk may have been the detailed information, pictures and stories that he shared with us about the local grassroots projects and efforts that are ongoing at CAIR-Houston. These include the Houston chapter's Civil Rights Workshops and its Peace and Unity Billboard Campaign, as pictured. According to Mustafa Carroll, the billboard campaign is "designed to promote mutual understanding and to highlight the contributions of American Muslims."
Other billboards will emphasize interfaith aspects of CAIR's mission. Mr. Carroll also provided us with information about the internship opportunities for college students available at CAIR, and several audience members expressed interest in pursuing this possibility for the future. http://cairhouston.org/internship.htm.
Mr. Carroll's lecture was organized by Professor Alisa Perkins as part of the AAS 310 class she is teaching entitled: Muslims in America: Community, Nation, Representation. The class studies South Asian, Arab, and African American Muslim groups in comparative and historical perspective while exploring how 9/11 and the subsequent “war against terror” have impacted the status and position of Muslims in America. Mr. Carroll’s visit productively complemented a unit that zeroed in on the power of activists, artists, and civic organizations to mediate the public image of Muslims in America and other minority communities.
Jessica Chan, a UT sophomore majoring in Asian American Studies and biology summed up the lecture experience this way:
I thought Mustafa Carroll gave a wonderful presentation and I learned a lot about Muslims in general and their religion. . . It made me realize that a lot of things that are said about Muslims and other minority groups are not always true and he was right that a lot of things do get tweaked along the way. His power point also tied very nicely with the class and helped me get a better understanding about the terms Islamophobia [fear of Muslims] and Islamophobe. . . It was good to know that there are people who are counteracting [these negative trends] and helping those who are targeted for being a certain race or religion.