Letters to the Editor – March 2021

Addressing Islamophobia

Recently, the Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee published an article in which a Muslim student recounted her experiences with anti-Muslim bias at Fresno State, including an experience in an anthropology classroom.

As faculty members in the Department of anthropology at Fresno State, we were troubled, but not entirely surprised, to read the student’s story. We have observed the sustainment and amplification of Islamophobia, as well as xenophobia, anti-Blackness, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia on our campus.

Sadly, this is not surprising, given recent national surges in discrimination and violence targeting racial and religious minorities. Further, topics surrounding anthropology and religious beliefs are often difficult, and talking about religion in the classroom takes careful groundwork; even then, it can go wrong.

In short, anti-Muslim bias is real, and the student in this case (and many students) regularly experience both subtle and overt bias.

We feel angry and accountable for what happens on college campuses every day to the student in the article and far too many Muslim and other religious minority students and colleagues. Historically, our field has been responsible for upholding pseudoscientific ideas about race and untenable views of cultural and religious groups as static, uniform and unchanging.

More recent generations of anthropologists, however, have insisted on the relentless recognition of common and equal humanity and dignity across all intersecting differences, including religion, gender, sex, class, race, ethnicity, ability, nation or other dimensions of individual or group identity. Given these core commitments in today’s anthropology, it is especially alarming and disheartening to learn of their betrayal in any anthropology classroom.

Stereotypes about Muslims have been mobilized to justify war and genocide, detention and deportation, legalized discrimination, incarceration and profiling. This is the case from grade schools to airports, to college campuses and city streets, and all the spaces beyond and in between.

While much work has been done to challenge and correct these poorly conceived assumptions and policies, stereotypes hold a dangerous sticking power. Anthropologists are not immune to this. No one is.

These ideas continue to shape the popular and political constructs of Muslims, even though this religious group is not at all homogenous. Indeed, Islam is practiced by over one billion people on six continents.

Islamic communities include individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds, languages and political beliefs, and Muslim people contribute in just as many diverse ways to Fresno State, the city of Fresno and the broader San Joaquin Valley.

We are committed to doing better for students like the woman in the article. We are committed to racial justice, unqualified by anything. We are here to serve all students, equally and without bias. We are committed to growing.

We offer an apology to the student in this case, and all Muslim students and colleagues who experience isolation, exclusion, discrimination or harm on our campus.

We would like to be among the first to participate in the unique program that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is offering to help address anti-Muslim sentiment, discrimination and violence. We want to find ways toward accountability, reconciliation and justice.

We know we can do better. We are here to listen and learn and to collaborate toward the creation of truly safe and inclusive classrooms and communities.

Faculty of the Department of Anthropology at Fresno State


Covid-19 Outbreak in the Fresno Jail

Thank you for your excellent article on the Covid-19 outbreak in the Fresno Jail. The sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the district attorney knew of the dangers of a serious outbreak months ago.

A coalition of community organizations submitted a letter to the Board and the other elected officials in April. One of our demands was to submit an action plan with policies and protocols to deal with a potential outbreak. Our letter was never responded to, and to this date no plan has been made public.

I personally have contacted my Board member, Nathan Magsig, on several occasions in the vain hope that the potential crisis would be taken seriously. His only response was, “We have different approaches to the problem.”

I personally wrote District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp about the issue in March and received no response.

In addition, I wrote a letter to the editor at the Fresno Bee in an attempt to raise awareness of this critical issue.

Our group organized a car caravan around the jail on July 4 to bring attention to this issue.

The total disregard of elected officials for the health and safety of inmates and staff is inexcusable. Their total lack of accountability to the public is also inexcusable. The press should hold them accountable. Thank you for your attention to this issue.

Bob McCloskey
Prisoner and Inmate Rights Advocate


Covid-19 versus the Essential Worker

As a fellow essential working Fresnan, I am concerned that the issues stated in the article “Covid-19 versus the Essential Worker,” do not portray all essential workers affected by Covid-19, but only those of a rural community and workers in food production sectors.

Although a rural community and workers in food production sectors are at the “exclusion of government aid and Covid-19’s list of most affected,” the effects are not limited to one general area of essential workers.

The stability of essential workers who have received the help of the economic impact payment is not ongoing. The exposure to Covid-19 is not limited to those essential workers of food-production sectors, but also includes those who provide customer service or aid.

Lastly, the concern on those in a rural community exposed to bad air quality is out of proportion. According to the Air Quality Index, the air quality for the city of Fresno remains consistent throughout all zip codes. All those who live in Fresno County are susceptible to health and Covid-19–related complications.

Our community needs to be made aware of the importance of the hardship of all essential workers, who are also vulnerable to the effects of this virus. In a time like this, the community needs to stand together.

We can start by breaking language barriers and translating information in all languages. That first step could save people’s lives even if it is just a reminder of the Covid-19 safety guidelines.

Gaozoua Cha
Fresno


Republican Senators Ignored the Constitution

(Editor’s note: This is a letter that Ron Martin wrote to Pastor Jim Franklin of the Cornerstone Church in response to a recent Franklin show on KMJ, one of Fresno’s conservative stations.)

I expected you to put a positive spin on the impeachment proceedings. I wonder why primarily you support Trump if it is because he supports restricting abortion.

Trump was not found guilty because too many Republican senators ignored their oath of office to support the Constitution with its most basic provision of free and fair elections, which I believe is Biblical, permitting God’s way of “Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come and…let him take the free gift” (Revelation 22:17). Instead, they validated Trump’s lies about the election being stolen and his attempt to instate himself as President in ways that ignored the election, thinking that would be a way to get votes in the next election.

As most of the Republican senators failed to condemn Trump’s attempt to become a dictator, Trump may run again, further threatening our democratic government. At least the impeachment managers and the trial made the case against Trump clear, which may persuade many voters to abandon him.

You said that science is on the side of opening the schools for in-person instruction. Certainly, social science will show that students learn more in classrooms rather than by screens. But what about the biological sciences?

For Fresno Unified, the County Supervisor of Education has decided that the science of viral spread is shown by the death of a teacher. He does not want to sentence more teachers to death. I don’t recall you mentioning that science in your show.

It would have been good if [California gubernatorial candidate] John Cox had gone beyond passionately declaring that California must get housing prices down and eliminate homelessness and said something about how he plans to do it if elected.

Cox said that taxes are high. Does he plan to lower housing costs by lowering property taxes? That wouldn’t work since in a competitive market prices should be driven close to costs, but if supply is limited, this will not happen.

Lowering property taxes will not affect market-driven prices since developers are uninterested in developing the low-cost housing that is needed to bring prices closer to costs.

Does Cox plan to initiate a program of state-funded housing for low-income people? If not, what plan does Cox advocate? 

As a progressive evangelical, I would like to have a different governor, one who is not determined to please the oil corporations but will take seriously the threats of climate change and the air and water pollution from oil drilling and burning. Newsom’s regulatory agency has approved hundreds of oil-well-drilling permits when we should be winding down fossil fuel use. Perhaps a genuine environmentalist will run in the recall election.

Ron Martin
Fresno

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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