‘Campus Jihad: The Struggle Within The American University’
From the shootings in Paris and San Bernadino to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim immigrants -- many are grappling with what it means to be a Muslim-American.
Playwright Nicole Anderson-Cobb’s previous work Tangled took on the issue of gun violence in Chicago. Now, she’s turned to a fictional college campus to explore the Muslim-American college student experience.
The play is called Campus Jihad: The Struggle Within the American University.
University of Illinois African-American Studies professor and playwright, Nicole Anderson Cobb spoke with host of The 21st, Niala Boodhoo about the rise of Islamophobia on college campuses and her newest play.
NB: "You discuss racism and Islamophobia. Would you say Islamophobia is a form of racism? (or religious intolerance)?"
N A-C: "I would hold back from calling it racism, because I believe that racism is a structural institutional problem. I would call it certainly, prejudice. I think prejudice is a very important way to categorize what's happening between people, and I think that this play really looks at the way in which we misperceive, misunderstand and really miss out on opportunities to really get to know one another better. I think the play really looks at intimacy. It looks at students of different races: Pakistani, African-American, European-American, Latino-American. It looks at how we live among one another. We work among one another every day, but we very rarely get an opportunity to deal with each other's histories and presences. We're busy going about the business of learning about the subject matter in class, but we miss the opportunity to really learn about each other."
NB: "And then there's this moment in the play, that's not so much an everyday moment, but a hate crime that happens. This is something that you teach in the Department of African-American Studies here at the University of Illinois. Do you think we've gotten to a point where we afford the same level of horror and outrage about religious hate crimes as we do racial ones?"
N A-C: "I don't. I really do believe that we ignore hate crimes, particularly against non-Christian groups -- Jewish groups, Hindu groups, Muslim groups, the Sikh community, I think those groups are ignored quite often and need more of our attention. That has come out from me teaching (courses on) hate crimes for five semesters. I hear those accounts from students who share those incidences with each other. As a campus, I'm not sure that we're hearing students in a way that we need to: To help them, to protect them and to foster better relationships between them."
NB: "And that's what I was going to ask you. How does this play out differently on college campuses? How would you like to see better understandings and better interactions?"
Those individuals who are paid big salaries, those individuals who have tenure and are secure are often the individuals are not pushing the issue and I want to see the grown-ups, not the students, leading revolutions around justice, around equity, around salary disparities.Nicole Anderson-Cobb
N A-C: "This is a play that deals with the fact that we exist in silos far too often, and at an institution where we really focus on faculty duress. We focus on the duress that happens in the halls of power. This play is a call to remember the student experience. Students are the reasons why we're here, students are whose lives we're supposed to invest in most. Not our athletic directors, not our high paid administrators, but students are who we are supposed to invest in."
NB: "There's another moment in the play, Nicole that I wanted to ask you about, and it's when that administrator is reacting to a hate crime and he's challenged by one of his colleagues to resist the impulse to make this one student the focal point of action, and he's trying to solve the situation, and I think so much when we think about hate crimes, or prejudice or overcoming stereotypes, we just want to "fix it." What was the point of having that in the play? How would you like to see people approach this better?"
N A-C: "One of the things I hope this play does is to call administrators to account for the work. Too often, students bring up a problem, and I've seen far too often students are required to carry the water. What this play is calling for is for adults to step up and do the work. Those individuals who are paid big salaries, those individuals who have tenure and are secure are often the individuals not pushing the issue and I want to see the grown-ups, not the students, leading revolutions around justice, around equity, around salary disparities. I want to see the adults at the table, engaged with these issues more."
NB: "What about the grown-ups who aren't on campus? What about the grown-ups and the rest of society? Because this play is set in 2010, the Ft. Hood shooting features prominently in this, and now I feel like now in 2016, we had last year, Paris and San Bernardino, we have this whole other element of perceptions that Muslim Americans have to contend with. What are you hoping people outside of a college campus take away from this?"
N A-C: "I hope that they recognize that they are represented in the play. It's one of the reasons I have the Imam, the religious leader, present. I want them to hear the voices of the people off campus who have their own set of concerns. It's the reason that families are represented, because one of the things that we ignore is the fact that every student articulates to a larger community. This absolutely is a play not just for campuses. This is a play about the interplay between campus, community and home."