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Tackling Islamophobia on campus

Student VP takes a stand after racial slurs scrawled around school

Sirag Syed, the vice-president of university affairs for the Student Association at Durham College and UOIT, is one of the organizers of an upcoming conference on Islamophobia. The college and university campus has seen its fair share of Islamophobia, with references to terrorist group ISIS vandalizing club posters for Muslin and Arab groups on campus, as well as campaign posters for nominees in the recent student elections.

Sirag Syed, the vice-president of university affairs for the Student Association at Durham College and UOIT, is one of the organizers of an upcoming conference on Islamophobia. The college and university campus has seen its fair share of Islamophobia, with references to terrorist group ISIS vandalizing club posters for Muslin and Arab groups on campus, as well as campaign posters for nominees in the recent student elections.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The Student Association at Durham College and UOIT is set to host a conference dealing with Islamophobia and one organizer has received serious threats because of it.

“I’ve definitely received some ‘amazing,’ quote, enquote, comments…I wouldn’t say death threats, but I’ve received some threats,” says Sirag Syed, the association’s vice-president of university affairs and a main driving force behind Unlearn, Relearn, Challenge: Islam and the Media.

Whether those threats have come from students or other members of the community is not clear, but Syed says it is something he is accustomed to.

“I know that personally, a lot of people know that I’m one of the lead organizers of the conference and they know my beliefs, my perspectives and my politics as well,” he says. “It’s the nature of the game.”

But it isn’t just threats. Over the past two years, racial slurs have been scrawled on club posters for the Muslim and Arab associations and references to ISIS have defaced campaign posters of those running in student elections, including Syed’s when he ran for his position last year.

Syed says recently, things may have gotten worse.

“I think it has started to, from what we’ve seen recently,” he says. “I think once we started this Islamophobia conference, I think creating this discussion piece, I guess when one side of the conversation starts amplifying their voice, naturally, the other side of the conversation piece starts to amplify their voice.”

In response to an inquiry sent to both UOIT and Durham College, the college said it did receive a pair of reports regarding the incidents and has launched a public awareness campaign.

“The campaign focuses on reminding the campus of safety measures that are in place and importantly, the role of all community members in being observant, speaking up and reporting matters of concern,” the statement reads.

The statement also says the administration requested to meet with the SA following elections to discuss future steps.

The idea for the conference first came about after the murder of several members of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, by extremists with ties to the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda in January 2015.  The aim of the conference is to aid students in recognizing discrimination and depictions of Islam in the media.

“We’re here trying to convince them that this is something that’s happening everyday, affects so many people, whether you associate yourself with that religion or not. It does affect millions of people around the world,” Syed says.

Slated for Saturday, March 19 at Deer Creek in Ajax, the event has a range of guest speakers including Faisal Kutty, an international lawyer and human rights activists who for the past six years has been included in The Muslim 500, a list of the world’s most influential Muslims compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. Also set to speak are Amira Elghawaby, a member of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and comedian Mohamed “Big Moe” Saleh.

Along with the different talks, the conference will include panel discussions, comedy and other entertainment. Syed says the conference is intended to have several different avenues for discussion.

“Any time you have a social justice issue, it’s a little touchy and people don’t know how to approach it,” he says.

However, the response from those wanting to get involved has been overwhelming.

“We didn’t know at that time the magnitude of the conference, but once we started sending our email invitations out to our speakers and they were contacting us left, right and center and they were super interested in the conference,” he says.

As for the dissenters, Syed says it’s something he will get used to as he pursues his goal of tackling Islamophobia, and not just on the campuses of Durham College and UOIT.

“You do that through good interactions with folks, you do that through one-on-one relationships and your principles,” he says. “This is what I pride myself on.”

For more details and ticket information for the conference, visit www.sadcuoit.ca

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