Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

Dr. Deepa Kumar Visits UT Austin

Fri, December 6, 2013
Dr. Deepa Kumar Visits UT Austin
Drs. Deepa Kumar and Snehal Shingavi

By Dr. Snehal Shingavi

A troubling sequence of events motivated CAAS to invite Dr. Deepa Kumar to speak at UT Austin.

In March of 2012, The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas, published an advertisement which suggested that Islam and violence were synonymous.  It was printed as a part of “Islamic Apartheid Week,” a project sponsored by David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, which has been pressing partisan arguments about the threat posed to the US by “Islam.”

Then in September of 2012, the University of Texas, along with several other universities in the country, received bomb threats.  In reporting to the media, the press liaison at UT Austin said, “At 8:35 a.m. the University received a call from a male with a Middle Eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus. He said he was with Al Qaeda [sic] and these bombs would go off in 90 minutes. President Powers was notified and it was decided to evacuate all of the buildings out of an abundance of caution.”  The bomb threat was later exposed as a hoax, and the university took steps to initiate planning in response to the charges that it had too hastily racially profiled the phone caller.

The Center for Asian American Studies reached out to a number of campus groups—the Campus Climate Response Team, the Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, the Office of the President, and several departments and centers—in order to organize promoting Islamophobia awareness.  The overarching goal was to make students and staff on campus more aware about Islamophobia and to begin initiating programs that might help Muslims on campus to deal with the varieties of hostility that they might encounter.

The coalition of groups then agreed to bring Dr. Deepa Kumar, associate professor of media studies at Rutgers University, to speak at UT.  Kumar’s most recent book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (Haymarket Books, 2012) argues that “Islam” has to be repeatedly constructed as an enemy in the service of various empires which can offer no rational argument to their populations about why they are going to war. Kumar argues, in part, that justifications for war are created by manufacturing images of Muslims abroad as congenital enemies to American values of democracy, feminism, and freedom.  These threats are constructed, in part, through what Kumar calls “green scares,” or artificial and inflated worries about the threats of domestic terrorism which has justified a regime of surveillance and fear that follows every Muslim around. 

Kumar gave two workshops, one tailored towards staff and another for student activists, and then spoke to a packed auditorium of nearly 250.  Shehnaz Haqqani, Middle Eastern languages and cultures graduate student spoke to The Daily Texan newspaper: “It’s important to be reminded of context, because, if not, we end up hating people without understanding their reasoning.”

Snehal Shingavi is assistant professor in the Department of English and core faculty at the Center for Asian American Studies.

Watch Dr. Kumar's public lecture at the Avaya Auditorium here.

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