Words have Power: Using Books to Combat Dangerous Islamophobia

Some days we don’t have enough words to encapsulate our rage. We don’t know how often we have to repeat ourselves to people who don’t get it when we say the monsters we fear are not under the bed, but wearing people-suits and are real, and we don’t want them to be.

New Zealand has suffered, what they have accurately called, a terrorist attack. An Australian national went on a rampage at various mosques in Christchurch, killing at least fifty people who were praying. The suspect has been taken into custody but the damage, emotional and physical remains. He apparently wrote online that he expected to go to Valhalla, the Norse afterlife for heroes, if he died during his massacre.

First, as social media has pointed out, the Norse gods would not call senseless killing of innocents heroic. While they were imperfect, the Norse were all about trying to do the right thing for people in the best of circumstances. Murderers end up in Nástrǫnd where the dragon serpent Níðhöggr chews on corpses, including the killers, adulterers and oath-breakers. Don’t you dare claim Norse mythology as yours when you can’t even get the research or virtues right. The goddess of death Hel would hate you, and she would send you straight to the dragon.

Second, this is why we don’t want books that blatantly promote Islamophobia. These people were gunned down while praying. None of them were the terrorists we see in stereotypical works. But when you normalize the hate, in media and with books, then you increase the odds that a person with a gun will commit a hate crime. We don’t need to enable this echo chamber.

In the book world, we have a responsibility to not perpetuate stereotypes about Islam.

Screen Books and authors for Islamophobia Before Publishing Books

A few months ago; I covered why A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library was a problematic book. It features an “illiterate” Middle Eastern title character who stops his assault when he reads Western books. An editor reading the submission or proposal should have pointed out the issues ahead of time, so that Dave McKean and Jack Gantos could have devoted their time to a healthier project.

We also need to watch celebrities who are known Islamophobes for when they get book deals and publications. Other cases include Ian McEwan, who defended racist tracts from Martin Amis; Bill Maher, a self-described libertarian who blatantly displays his Islamophobia; do we need to even mention Ann Coulter? We should not listen to them or give them traction.

Promote More Ownvoices Authors

This should go without saying. We need more Muslim authors publishing their works in fiction and nonfiction. To do that, as we do with the We Need Diverse Books movement, we need to make systemic changes. Editors need to accept more than one book by an author of color or of one minority religion. Agents, we hope, can do the same.

Salaam Reads is one imprint that achieves this goal. As Teen Vogue illuminated in 2017, this Simon & Schuster imprint publishes “Muslim stories by Muslim Writers.” The publications include the wonderful novels The Gauntlet, The Weight of Our Sky, and Saints and Misfits.

Resources

Until we can reach an ideal world where we won’t have terrorist attacks against Muslims and normalized hate, we need to use the resources we have to educate ourselves and other people. And we need to help the communities involved in the tragedy.

Pluto Press has a reading recommendations list for fighting Islamophobia in the Trump era. The Conversation has an analysis piece on the troubling trends in literature about Muslim children and women, and how to turn the tide in the other direction. Goodreads has a shelf of books that discuss Islamophobia, in both fiction and nonfiction.

We can do better. We need to do better, because lives are at stake. And we know people can change their views.

Right now, Everyday Hero has a page raising money for the victims of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand. So does Givealittle, which has raised 3.7 million USD so far. If you can donate, it would help the communities that were affected. If not, please share the links so that we can do more good to outweigh the prejudiced bad.

We have 10 copies of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles to give away to Book Riot readers! Go here to enter for a chance to win, or just click the image below. Good luck!
Priya Sridhar: A 2016 MBA graduate and published author, Priya Sridhar has been writing fantasy and science fiction for fifteen years, and counting, as well as contributing columns to Chalkpack Magazine and drawing a webcomic for five years. She also enjoys reading, biking, movie-watching, and classical music. One of her stories made the Top Ten Amazon Kindle Download list, and Alban Lake published her novella Carousel. Priya lives in Miami, Florida with her family and posts monthly at her blog A Faceless Author. Website Twitter: @PriyaJSridhar