â€œIn the past couple of years, there has been an effort by an organized minority to divide Americans amongst religious lines, and we are seeing a tremendous increase in Islamophobia, particularly in the last couple years,â€ said Syeda.
She cited specific examples, like Park51, the planned 13-story Muslim Community Center that is being built two blocks away from the World Trade Center, and the opposition that grew against Park51. Other examples included the Temecula Mosque and the opposition that sprang against that.
The usage of Muslims by politicians as political ammo also attributed to the increase in Islamophobia, Syeda said.
â€œWeâ€™re also seeing a rise in rhetoric when politicians run for election or when theyâ€™re running for a campaign and theyâ€™re using Muslims as a political punching bag,â€ Syeda Â said.
Again, examples were cited, like the rumor of President Barack Obama being a closet Muslim during his presidential campaign. Syeda also brought up that Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison was called the â€œantithesis of the principles upon which this country was established,â€ by Rep. Allen West as another political example of politicians exploiting and contributing to the Islamophobia affecting the country today.
In regards to much more recent events, like the death of Osama bin Laden, Syeda considered it to be a victory of Muslims and a great opportunity.
â€œItâ€™s a great thing for our country and we should use this opportunity to redouble our efforts and engage each other and try to be a role model for the rest of the world. It is a critical time for us and our moral leadership is needed in the world right now,â€ Syeda said.
Syeda fielded a few questions from the audience. Many asked about what could be done to clear up misconceptions of Islam and Muslims. Syeda advocated engaging in dialogue.
â€œAsk us questions, because when we engage one another, we can better understand one another,â€ Seyda said.
Syedaâ€™s lecture was met with a positive response.
â€œShe kind of helped me become educated of what Islamophobia is and how we get the wrong impression of, â€˜Oh, if someone is a Muslim they must be radical or extremist,â€™â€ said Lyndsay Madru, an undeclared student. â€œSo she made us better understand (Muslims).â€
â€œItâ€™s a way to get more in-depth information than what they get in class,â€ said sociology Professor Patricia Literte, who plans and heads Desserts and Dialogue. â€œItâ€™s always a way for other students who arenâ€™t in the social sciences to get an opportunity for them to learn about these issues.â€
Syeda is the communications coordinator of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The council strives to create a greater understanding of Muslims and others who practice the Islamic faith.