Press Shia Agency – The WVU Muslim Students Association held a forum on race, religion and politics, as part of Diversity Week in the Mountainlair Tuesday night.
Press Shia Agency – The rise of domineering political rhetoric along racial and religious lines has been criticized for its potential effect on the people it is used against.
Tuesday evening the WVU Muslim Student Association hosted a forum on race, religion and politics and the impact of political rhetoric, specifically as it can be seen in the current election cycle.
The forum featured three speakers: Kip Curnutt, an Imam and religious coordinator at the Islamic Center of Morgantown, as well as a political science graduate from WVU; Dalia El Said, a former media and public affairs officer for the Canadian Embassy in Cairo, as well as a journalism graduate student at WVU; and Mouaz Haffar, a Syrian-American medical student at WVU who also holds a BA in biology with a minor in political science.
When asked what led to the rise of such political rhetoric, Curnutt pointed to the media.
"A lot of it is the media’s fault," Curnutt said. "More people have access to what’s going on, but you reach a point to where it becomes a little bit of a form of entertainment."
Moreover, he explained that people want to be entertained and the media is taking advantage of this.
"Politics in America have become like a (disaster) movie and disaster movies are the most entertaining movies," Curnutt said. "I do not see the mainstream media doing this in a purposeful way. I just see them as bringing the information to the people."
Haffar argues that the media outlets on the far-right and far-left are the ones perpetuating the problem by, as Haffar puts it, "pushing people to the extremes."
Haffar argued that the rise in intimidating and harsh political rhetoric is a result of who America is, as a whole.
"I don’t necessarily mean that the media has an agenda, but it’s the format or the whole system that organically produces this (intimidating political rhetoric) on its own," Curnutt said. "At the end of the day they have to do what is going to sell the ads and get the attention (of the people). It doesn’t bother me that what Trump is saying is offensive, what bothers me is to see a room of 10,000 people all screaming (in agreement with Trump)."
Curnutt also attributes part of the rise in the rhetoric to the sentiment of the people, which he described as worrisome.
Furthermore, El-Said said maybe what is to blame is the definition and framing of politicians’ messages, and that politicians will often frame issues in ways to create sentiment toward an issue.
"By using these methods," she said, "you disseminate information and you create a sentiment inside people and they act around it."
Aside from the media, the forum also discussed examples of intimidating political rhetoric, the most notable examples used being those of Donald Trump.
Haffar spoke about how the Trump-rhetoric has put Muslim-Americans in a bad light, insinuating that they may not hold similar American values as everyone else.
Haffar, however, stated that Muslim-Americans are just like every other American.
"I’m a West Virginian boy," he said. "I go hunting. I’m pretty southern in a way."