A Conversation on Maple Street

I had lunch with a couple of my friends recently. They are Muslims and I have known them for several years. As we were enjoying Malaysian cuisine and exchanging holiday stories with voracious enthusiasm, the conversation shifted to the current political climate. One of them hesitated for a second before he went on to share an incident that happened to his niece recently. Let's call her Layla and here's the story in her own words.

"I experienced something that I thought would never happen at my place of work. I was told by a student that their mom is uncomfortable with me being their Math teacher because I am Arab. Their mom wanted to know my religion because she was worried that I was a Muslim. She feared I would cause harm to their child so she told him to be on 'high alert' around me."

Here's the kicker, the boy's family happen to be immigrants themselves and as a matter of fact, they are Latinos. When the GOP candidates are actively spewing hateful remarks about Latinos and argue about who can build a bigger wall to keep them out, I would imagine the mother of that kid would possess some modicum of empathy for America's re-emerged public enemy number one, the Muslims! Or is this a vicious cycle of a victim becoming a bully because there is a new kid in class who the jocks hate more?

I am not saying all Latinos behave this way. As a matter of fact, only 20 some percentage of Latinos support someone like Trump (which is still too high a number in my opinion). Not to mention, I have heard similar stories about other minorities who have said and/or did things that perpetuated islamophobia.

Layla who as a kid lived through the propagation of anti-Muslim rhetoric that followed the 9/11 incident went on to say this:

"I keep thinking of this 13-year-old kid, and how confused he must be. I'm his favorite teacher. He told me because he did not know what to do with the information he received. I respect that. And I keep thinking of myself at 13, how confused I was. How confused I was about the world I had to start living in after 9/11... about the world I live in now. About all the hate I read then and read now. And I keep thinking about how so many people who look like me, just feel so out of place. Like we shouldn't be here. Like we don't belong at all. My heart was utterly crushed. It's been breaking for months. For years, since I was 13. At 27 I just have one question... Where the hell do I go from here?"

Layla is a smart, caring, law-abiding citizen. She doesn't deserve to bear the brunt of this abhorrence. While it's all too easy to blame it on people like Trump and their fear mongering tactics, it's much harder to take a look at ourselves and realize that our words and actions matter. It can have a profound impact on people around us. The casual and passing racist comments can leave permanent scars on others.

If you have lived in United States long enough and happen to be a non-white immigrant, chances are that you have been subject to some level of discriminatory remarks. I can attest to this and so can most of you. Let's not perpetuate this hate and ignorance on to others. There is absolutely no reason to think someone is a bad person simply because of the color of their skin or the way their name sounds.

A few weeks ago, in Fresno, California, two white young men attached a Sikh man because they thought he was Muslim. A few days before that, in Michigan, a store clerk was called 'terrorist' before he got shot in the face. This list goes on. It's nothing new that politicians want to capitalize on people's fear. It's this fear that trades freedom for a sense of security, that can replace empathy with hate and transform ignorance into violence.

There is an episode on The Twilight Zone series called "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street". It's a story about how two aliens observing humans use fear as weapon to turn neighbors into murderers. It ends with the narrator saying, "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices -- to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to The Twilight Zone."

Let's not turn this country into Maple Street. Before you post a hateful message on Facebook or spew ignorance on Twitter or decide to tell your child to be on high-alert around teachers who might be Muslims, think twice. If your decision remains unchanged, think again, do research, put yourself in others' shoes and do whatever it takes to not become pawns in the ongoing political games. I will leave you with words of the great Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."