I’m A Muslim American: What Do Islamophobes Want Me To Do?

Lack of empathy is what created this climate of divide.

The Muslim community isn’t unique in having evil-doers. It may come as a surprise to many, but the overwhelming majority of its men and women are good, bright, law-abiding people who care about protecting others. But alas, the media has gotten into a cadence of giving bullies air-time as they toss more fuel on the flames of racial and religious hatred.

During a sit-down interview last week between Fox NewsSean Hannity and Donald Trump, Trump argued Muslim Americans can’t assimilate to U.S. culture— whatever that is— and "a percentage" of the 8 million Muslims living here want to carry out terrorist attacks. He has also repeatedly suggested that Muslim Americans have the tendency to withhold information from authorities surrounding potential terrorist threats.

Honestly, most days I’m on Waze trying to find an alternative route to work. I’m trying to grow fond of kale smoothies, open up a GMAT book, and find a concealer that gives me good coverage. I would venture to say that “a percentage” of Muslim Americans are actually very well-assimilated to American culture. They love BBQ, pick-up trucks, trans fats, bulk food shopping, and some of them say “y’all." After all, that’s all there is to American culture, right? Just like how a lack of assimilation, hijabs, beards, and violent terrorists are all there is to Islam.

The media has gotten into a cadence of giving bullies air-time as they toss more fuel on the flames of racial and religious hatred.

Jokes aside, an academic study conducted by Pew Research Center demonstrates Muslim Americans are highly assimilated, and 56 percent of Muslim Americans say that most Muslims immigrating to the U.S. have interest in adopting “American customs and ways of life.”

There’s plenty of Muslims like me. We’re your doctors and lawyers, comedians, teachers, and engineers building bridges, building skyscrapers, and building apps. We’re your Olympians and investors, Uber drivers, and top chefs. We’re also your soldiers fighting in the trenches.

My question is: how exactly are the perfectly normal Americans — who happen to be Muslim — supposed to prove their humanity? What do Islamophobes want people like me to do? Should I denounce my religion, which Islamophobes unsympathetically argue is violent because of Qur’anic verses taken out of context. Would it help? Will a condemnation from my mouth stop twisted people like Omar Mateen — who was self-radicalized on American soil over social media —  from carrying out a mass murder? Would a condemnation from a white man have prevented Craig Hicks from shooting Deah, Yusor and Razan in their home? How about Adam Lanza? If a lanky white guy condemned shooting school children, maybe Lanza wouldn’t have murdered 20 of them. 

Sure, we should always categorically condemn bad behavior. But condemnations have never prevented bad people from doing bad things. In fact, the people making over-generalized statements about Muslims and spewing hate against a faith of 2.3 billion because of Omar Mateen, are the same folks who enabled people like Mateen, Hicks, and Lanza access to assault weaponry.

The loose rhetoric that Trump has nurtured and rewarded has changed the entire complexion of America. Right-wing conservatives are pigeon-holing entire populations of people. Antagonizing these populations for the wrongs of a few has a demoralizing effect. Radicalization exists and it is a very serious problem, but we’ve created an environment for it to endure.

How exactly are the perfectly normal Americans — who happen to be Muslim — supposed to prove their humanity?

Ironically, after tragedies like the Orlando shooting last week the group whose safety is most jeopardized are Muslim Americans. Terrorizers and Islamphobes have a common denominator, they sabotage the lives of peaceable Muslims everywhere by coercing us to police ourselves. Despite it being the Holy Month of Ramadan, people have avoided going to mosques because such spaces become grounds for the ignorant to prey on the innocent. Yet, Muslims communities are not jaded and have launched several initiatives to raise funds for the Orlando victims.

Many people are often taught religion by doting parents who are none the wiser. By enlarge, Muslims in the West are taught to be kind, self-aware, and charitable. They hone on the five pillars of the Islam: the profession of faith, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and charity. These morals for the most part, are parsed for any Abrahamic faith. So the perverted and convoluted religion that radicals are mislabeling as Islam comes as a shock to Muslims, globally. Especially when they’re held accountable for a demented “Islam” they know nothing about because they simply share a name similar to an assassin.

Upon first look, I may not strike you as Muslim. I don’t wear hijab, my garb is about the same as the next girl’s and my accent is definitively Midwestern. What may differentiate me is the dark hair and olive skin. But some Muslims are blonde and blue-eyed. Many Muslims are black. I just fit the mold of what Islamophobes isolate as Muslims.

My job has taken me to small-town America and I’ve caught myself being hyper alert in these communities, especially when I extend my hand forward and introduce myself. I always sense some confusion on the receiving end which translates to a quicker handshake or a more rigid tone. The scale and frequency of these instances is damaging to one’s psyche because minorities are patronized for things they can’t and shouldn’t have to change. What do you want me to do?

If we’re going to make America great again, it has to start with empathy.

In my liberal bubble, there are people of all religions and orientations who are up in arms about the repulsive words gushing out of the mouths of people who look the same as them. Whether or not Trump makes it to office, his legacy will be one of divide, no fact-check, and a lack of synonyms – he needs words other than "good" and "great."

Americans are being held to a litmus test to prove their civilization by the same people who spout spectacles about equality, and “American values” but have never exhibited those ethics.

We need to give empathy more oxygen because lack of empathy is what created this climate of divide. A climate that sets low precedents for how we treat others, a climate bullies thrive in. If we’re going to make America great again, it has to start with empathy.

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