American internet guru and co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg recently hung out with Muslim students while visiting the University of Michigan in Dearborn last week.
The students were mostly immigrants who had fled from war zones in Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. Their discussion touched on various topics including community, education, faith and entrepreneurship.
“They told me stories of the violence they experienced, including an early memory of [one] having her building bombed and jumping into her mother’s arms even though she couldn’t do anything to prevent it,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
The post has since garnered over 140,000 likes and over 11,000 shares on the social media platform at the time of writing.
Zuckerberg made a stop at the university after visiting the Ford Rouge Plant, where he got to experience working on an assembly line first-hand.
He got in touch with the university’s communications manager Kate Malicke, and specifically asked to speak to a group of Muslim students in a closed-door session.
The meeting went “really, really well,” according to Malicke. “It was a great opportunity for our students as well.”
Zuckerberg’s 2017 resolution places heavy emphasis on connecting with Americans across the country.
“His 2017 challenge is to meet and talk with people from all 50 states by the end of this year,” the University of Michigan wrote in a post.
Dearborn has one of the largest and oldest Muslim communities in America, with about 20 percent identifying as Muslim. The intimate session ultimately gave Zuckerberg an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to be Muslim in today’s America.
“Still, even in a community like Dearborn, the students told me they still feel they have to self-monitor. One student told me about feeling like she has to be on her best behavior at the grocery store, letting white people cut in front of her in line to prove that Muslims are nice people. Over time, she said, ‘I’ve learned not to apologize for my identity. I’m Arab. I’m Muslim. This is who I am,'” Zuckerberg’s post continued.
“Before I left, a student told me his professor’s advice that one way to reduce Islamophobia is to recognize the problem, but then focus on connecting with people around other issues, building common understanding and setting an example of a solution. Thanks to the young people I met for helping me understand, and for helping lead the way forward.”
Rising Islamophobia in the United States
Islamophobia has been on the rise in the United States over the past few years, even before U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
According to The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 2016 saw the highest number of anti-Muslim hate groups and the greatest surge in the number of such groups since the center began documenting them in 2010.
Overall anti-Muslim hate groups have increased by nearly 200 percent in the U.S. since last year.
But, it hasn’t gotten any better since Trump became president.
In just the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, Islamophobic incidents at U.S. borders have risen by 1,035 percent.
According to preliminary data released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 193 incidents involving U.S. Customs and Borders Protection were recorded from January to March of 2017, up from just 17 cases during the same period last year.
Of the 193, 181 were recorded after Trump’s attempted “Muslim ban,” which was signed on Jan. 27. CAIR documented a total of 67 cases in 2016 and just 35 total cases in 2015.
This means Islamophobic incidents at the U.S. border have nearly tripled compared to last year … and that’s just after three months.