As someone who writes about the news, I can't exactly ignore it. Still, lately, I have been tempted. So many of the breaking news alerts I receive on my phone now seem to have something to do with a certain leading political candidate saying hateful and ignorant things about me.
Sure, it's not me personally, but religion is personal. And when someone denigrates my faith, I can't help but take it personally -- especially when that individual appears to have so much public support.
That said, I cannot bring myself to believe that my fellow Americans truly support the idea of banning me from my own country or interning me or even just debasing me, simply on account of my religion. Over the past few weeks, however, I have felt more fear and hatred in the air than ever, and I am not alone. I have never before found it so difficult to watch, read or listen to the news without feeling personally targeted.
Still, in my experience, Americans are far better than the media can make us appear, and I have recently received strong confirmation to that effect. I live in a small neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we have many old one-story houses, no McMansions and no gates or guards of any kind. This week, overwhelmed by the national news, I sent out the following message on my neighborhood chat under the subject "From Your Muslim Neighbors."
My husband and I have lived in this neighborhood for nearly four years, and we love it here. We feel safe and welcome in the neighborhood, and nothing has ever happened here to make us doubt that. Nationally, however, a wave of fear and hatred seems to be spreading, and I can't help but think that this is largely because so many people don't know their neighbors. So because neither of us is easily identifiable as such, we'd like to share a few things:
1. We are Muslims.
2. We are Americans.
3. We are your neighbors.
As neighbors, we look out for one another. We find lost dogs and cats. We frequent hot chocolate and lemonade stands. We offer shelter when the power is out. We don't announce our religion during any of these encounters because it doesn't matter.
Religion is and should be personal -- until it becomes a reason for people to fear and hate you, which is the only reason I bring it up now. It's much easier to fear and hate the unknown, so we wanted to be sure that we were known as your Muslim neighbors -- not because we think it should matter, but because we think it shouldn't.
Since sending this out, I have received more than a dozen messages of support, and not a single cruel or hateful comment like those I've grown so used to seeing posted at the end of many of my Islam-related articles. Ultimately, when we see each other as neighbors, we can get past the rhetoric that divides us to the reality that unites us.
So today, I share this message with my broader American neighborhood in the hopes that it will resonate and as a reminder that love is always the best answer to hate.