Credit: Raw Story.
Hate disguised as free speech is a particularly ugly thing. Google Maps labeling the White House as N****r House is no less disgusting than a French magazine drawing the Prophet Muhammad in a stereotypical or untrue sketch. As I see the intolerance among us grow and ultimately divide us, I fear for the world we will leave our children and grandchildren in. Instead of learning to live in peace and love, we still think of ourselves as Muslims, Jews, Christians, white, black, brown, Israeli, Palestinian.
Shalom and Peace! Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day I would like to share a recent experience that changed my perspective in an unexpected way. My perspective about Jews, about the Holocaust, about myself. Sounds mysterious? I didn’t mean it to be. Let me go back a couple of weeks and start again.
Social media is fast becoming my main source of information, a fact that speaks volumes in itself. This morning I checked my Twitter feed and found myself filled with horror and sadness. Three young Muslims were killed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a 46-year old madman. What was their crime? What was the murderer’s motivation? The police are silent, or rather they parrot the same lines they always do whenever this kind of incident occurs. Every lead must be investigated, we will not say anything until we are sure. The latest? The murderer had a beef with his victims over parking.
We have an Islamophobia problem in this country. Typically I don’t like using the “I word” because it’s easy to see how others may hold a different view than mine about what constitutes hate and bigotry. But the news out of Austin, TX this week is startling in a number of ways and the word Islamophobia just fits perfectly, especially the phobia part. A group of Muslims from Texas, many of whom I know personally, went to Austin to this week to meet their elected officials and they had a few unpleasant surprises waiting for them. The worst part? It was all under the guise of patriotism and loyalty.
It’s been almost two weeks since terrorists entered the offices of a satirical magazine in Paris and killed more than a dozen in the name of Islam, allegedly to avenge the insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Two weeks of anger, confusion, heartache and a loud cacophony of voices. Two weeks of Muslims being asked to condemn the terrorists, asked to condemn ISIS and Al- Qaeda, asked to prove that we stand with freedom of speech and not violence and terrorism. It’s an old, tired subject that we have literally beaten to death, yet we continue.
This morning I woke up unaware of the ordeal hundreds had endured overnight while I slept. Terrorists had entered a school in Peshawar and killed more than a hundred innocent children while my own safely dreamed in their soft beds. My Twitter feed alerted me to the calamity that had befallen the land of my birth, and the rest of the day was spent in a strange kind of agony. How many of us sleep safely in our beds without a thought for those who are killing and being killed in other parts of the world? Perhaps we have become immune to the suffering of others because that’s the only way to survive the mental and emotional stress of living in a violent and cruel world.
Today is Veteran’s Day. I should be feeling proud and patriotic, but I’m not. Does that make me a bad American? Perhaps I should “go back to my own country” as someone calmly told me the other day. Except, I’m already in my own country, I’m proud and happy to be American, and my identity as American-Muslim is all the more stronger and faithful because of the hyphen. So what gives? Why can’t I explain Veteran’s Day to my children without feeling a bit uncomfortable?
Tonight, when Americans open their doors at the sound of “Trick or Treat!” they may be in for a big surprise: a little boy dressed up in a jihadi fighter costume! That’s right, while our planes drop bombs on the real bad guys, our neighborhood children may be dressing up like them. I know that many, Muslim or not, are offended, but I see this Halloween as especially important from a sociological perspective.
First, the usual and necessary disclosures about Halloween: As a Muslim I don’t commend or celebrate a pagan holiday with its roots in worship of the devil and fear of evil spirits. As a Muslim mother I don’t allow my children to wear costumes or go trick-or-treating, for a number of reasons which include not only religious beliefs, but also worry and fear of the times we live in. My children of course, being typically American, never take it lying down. My conversation with them on the days leading up to this year’s Halloween can be read here.
But all day yesterday and today, as I read several reports of this year’s new “genre” of costumes I slowly exited from mother mode or even Muslim mode and started thinking like a sociologist. Halloween costume companies this year are encouraging their customers to really get the crowds buzzing with items like ISIS fighters, Ebola nurses, Hazmat suits and even burka-clad Arab women. WHAT? Is this what we have come to, making fun of our biggest problems? Offending people? Taking serious things lightly? Associating Ebola or war with candy?
Credit: Creative Commons/Southbank Centre
I switched on my computer early this morning to get a lovely surprise: Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. For all those who think Muslim women are too oppressed, too quiet, or too busy being mothers and housewives, to make international news, todays’ announcement from the Nobel Peace Committee may have come as a bit of a shocker. For me, it was validation of a lot of things.
If you can’t tell from these words that I am bursting with pride, let me break it down: I am absolutely ecstatic! Here’s why:
Do you remember where you were, what you were doing that fateful morning on September 11, 2001? A Pew survey shows that 97 percent of Americans remember exactly where they were when 9/11 occurred, the highest percentage, followed by JFK’s assassination (95 percent) and Pearl Harbor (89 percent).
I certainly remember where I was when the terrorists attacked. I was eating breakfast, preparing to drive to my classes at the University at Central Florida when my husband called to tell me to turn on the television. I thought it was a cruel joke. Sadly, tragically, it was reality. Life changed for everyone that day, and the term 9/11 is indelibly inked into our collective consciousness. How we as a nation became more paranoid, more stressed, is the subject for another time and place. Countless studies show the effects of 9/11 on our health, short-term mental well-being, and so much more. But these reports often fail to address the positives.