An interview with Naved Bakali on his book Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism through the Lived Experiences of Muslim Youth
What inspired you to begin this project, and how did this inspiration transform or continue during your project?
I have worked as an educator in the public school system for over nine years. Throughout my experiences I would regularly come across students that had extremely ignorant views about Islam. As such, I was curious to know how young Muslims felt about their high school experiences in Canada. Did they perceive racist treatment in the post-9/11 context, how did they cope with biases, discrimination, etc. I also wanted to give young Muslims a platform to express their thoughts and views, as many young Muslims, particularly Muslim women have their views authorized for them. What I mean by this is that, everyone tries to speak on behalf of Muslims and Islam. Rarely are Muslims given an opportunity and platform to speak for themselves.
How do you see your work fitting into the rich and varied literature on Islamophobia?
I think what is unique about my work, and how it differs from most of the literature on Islamophobia that's out there, is that it's looking at Islamophobia within institutional settings (i.e. schools), which in a sense is demonstrating how Islamophobia is a systemic and embedded in society, like other forms of racism. Also, most of the literature that's out there looks at the issue of Islamophobia within the US or Europe, my work is looking specifically at Canada. I think people have this utopian view of Canada, and how Canada is somehow a post-race society. I think my work challenges that view.
What types of fieldwork and research did you complete to understand the lived experiences of Muslim youth?
I engaged in a critical ethnography for this study, which entails in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. I interviewed about twenty people for this study. My goal was not to do a large scale empirical study setting out to definitively prove the existence of Islamophobia. Rather, I wanted to develop an understanding of my participants' lived experiences. To do that I had to engage in very long and detailed interviews. This provided rich and detailed data to help construct my understanding of these issues. I don't think I would have been able to acquire such rich and detailed data in a large scale interview survey type study.
How does your work help understand Islamophobia as it is enacted in local communities?
I think the best way to understand Islamophobia is through learning about the lived experiences of individuals. One thing I realized in doing this study is that most of the people I spoke to didn't experiences too many overt instances of Islamophobia like physical violence (although some of my respondents did get physically and verbally abused). Most people experience Islamophobia in small everyday interactions, where the perpetrators of the racism aren't even aware that they are being racist or offensive. I think by speaking with people it creates a space where they can speak about how these microaggressions can be damaging and the kind of impact that it can have.
How do you hope to see people using your book?
I believe my book can be used by different types of audiences. This work can definitely be useful for educators, because it can help them understand how Islamophobia can manifest within school settings. The book also provides some insights as to how to challenge Islamophobia within school settings. This book can also be of interest for teacher educators in courses which address issues relating to social justice education, multicultural education, and global citizenship education. I also feel that this book would be of interest to a broader readership and to anyone who is interested in reading about and understanding issues of race, racism, and Islamophobia, both at a theoretical and practical level.
What is your next project?
Building from this study, I'm currently taking on projects relating to critically examining countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives in the West, Muslim youth radicalization, as well as the growth of far-right extremism in the West. In one particular research project I'm looking at parallels between far-right extremism and Muslim extremism. Ultimately, one of the underlying themes in these projects is to demonstrate that the CVE industry unfairly targets Muslims, and effective CVE initiatives need to focus on all forms of extremism, not just radical Muslim extremism.