Sunday, April 27, 2014

X is for XENOPHOBIA #atozchallenge #Islam #islamophobia

If I may be so bold as to attempt to speak on behalf of three million or so people ...

The big challenge we face as American Muslims is that we so frequently find ourselves treated as foreigners in our own country ... and loathed foreigners at that.

This delusional pattern has intensified over the past decade.

It presents itself whether we were born here or not, whether we were born into Islam or we accepted it as adults, whether we condemned religious extremism publicly or condemned it in one-on-one conversations. 

Not everyone we run into treats us like foreigners. But more people treat us like foreigners than is healthy for the country. So we need to make it clear. We are not foreigners.

"Why is he on a rant about this?"


This problem is getting steadily worse in the realms of media and government.

When American Muslims are portrayed on major (or minor) news outlets, and when they appear on episodes of TV dramas, they are likely to show up on our television screens with a heavy accent, with unflattering lighting, or both. What they say and do on those programs is likely to be underscored with music and/or visuals that emphasize fear, uncertainty, and danger. Is it really that hard to find a native-born Muslim who doesn't have an accent? Do we really need scary music to tell us how to feel about one religion over another? And do we really have to watch an entire "news" network devoting itself to spreading religious intolerance? Are we, as a country, willing to accept that level of mainstream religious hatred? 

And in the governmental realm, the trend is just as obvious and just as disturbing. For legislators to hyperventilate about whether (for instance) Muslims want to impose Sharia law on the rest of the country is a little like hyperventilating about whether Orthodox Jews want to impose Kosher dietary restrictions on the rest of the country. Voters and politicians: You can relax. Orthodox Jews don't want to make you follow their religious law. We don't want to make you follow ours. We accept the laws of this country, and we always have. But pointing that out doesn't attract votes for reactionary politicians.

It is a symptom of a kind of disease within the body politic when a country directs XENOPHOBIA against a targeted group of its own citizens, based solely on their religious affiliation. 

In mainstream US media, you can't promote stereotypes at the expense of African-Americans, American Jews, or any other minority group, and you can't pull votes (anymore) based on your explicit, clearly stated prejudice against African-Americans or American Jews. Yet when it comes to American Muslims, somehow we are the exception to this rule. We're fair game

Our message to the portion of country that is fomenting this stuff is a simple one. Drop it, please.

We live here. We love it here. We have been patient for more than a decade. It is time now for us to speak to you clearly, as fellow citizens of this nation. 

When it comes to civic involvement and responsible engagement with our communities, we are proud of what we do. 

If you think we are more likely to own a gun than the average citizen, more likely to deprive anyone of their civil rights than the average citizen, more likely to bomb a doctor's office or anything else than the average citizen, you're wrong. 

Treat us like your neighbors, please, because that is what we are. 

Together, we can come together as citizens, make the right choices, reject extremism in all its forms, and celebrate both our differences and our similarities. That's the guiding idea behind this great country, after all. 

We're not foreigners. 

Thanks in advance for remembering that.

Islamophobia and xenophobia are topics covered in my novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, an excerpt of which you can read here.