A few months ago, at one of my lectures, a young mother approached me and said, eyes downcast, that her seven-year-old son didn’t want to go to school anymore because of the names people were calling him: “Terrorist,” “Osama,” “America-hater.” Kids were starting to gang up on him on the playground. Pushing him down, sometimes kicking him.
He had started to have nightmares again. And he didn’t want to be Muslim anymore. He wanted to change his name, he wanted to stop praying, he wanted his parents to stop fasting during Ramadan.
She got no response when she talked to the teachers about it. Some said her son was making it up, others said it really wasn’t that bad.
I have heard that story several dozen times over the past few years: from students in Chicago high schools to students at Duke University.
My wife and I will (God willing) be having a baby in May, and I find myself having anxiety attacks about his childhood in this country. Will he face a constant barrage of bullies, media messages and authority figures that demean him because of his faith? When I confessed my fear to a group of African-American professors at a college in South Carolina, one said: “It sounds like the experience black parents had, and still have, in the South.”
Something profoundly un-American is happening in America: the irrational fear and hatred of a group of people because of an aspect of their identity. People are taking the criminals of this community and superimposing their image on every other member, including children. Somehow, my Muslim baby will look like Osama bin Laden to millions of Americans.
In every other circumstance, we would call this way of thinking absurd at best and racist at worst. If you see an armed robbery suspect on the evening news who happens to be five foot eleven inches, you do not expect every person who is the same height to be an armed robber. That would be absurd. And if that armed robbery suspect happens to be of South Asian descent, you do not hold the first South Asian you see on the subway responsible for his actions. That would be racist.
So why am I – a five-foot-eleven-inch South Asian – implicated in and held responsible for the actions of people (terrorists, murderers) who happen to share another part of my identity, faith? Why isn’t that way of thinking considered both absurd and racist? And why isn’t more being done about kids in school who are subject to a constant barrage of hatred based on such absurdity and racism?
Thus far, I have discussed the experiences of other people, but I realize that the direct question was about whether I have experienced discrimination because of my faith.
My answer: read the comments people have made to my previous postings on this blog. Notice the ugly terms they use to describe the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him). In what world is it appropriate to insult the founder of a religion in a public forum?
Read how the commentators insist on highlighting only the dark sides of Islam, making some things up, taking other things out of context and dramatically twisting the tradition to which I belong. Doesn’t every nation/religion/tradition have a dark side?
The Constitution of the country that I love treats human beings of a darker hue as 3/5 of a person. But that is not the entire story of this nation, and it would be perverse to point out only that without also noting how it was in tension with other ethics and how the matter was resolved. Why is it OK to twist Islam?
Is there any greater violation of the American spirit and the human ethic than to spit on the heritage that somebody considers precious? Would these people spit on somebody’s race? Their ethnicity? Their language? Their parents?
Isn’t America about people from different backgrounds – racial, ethnic, national, linguistic, religious – who maintain pride in their heritage and come together to build a new nation?
I want to be a part of that. Millions of Muslims in America want to be part of building this nation.
The people who are trying to shut us out are not only twisting our faith, they are insulting the soul of this country.