Ethnicity Human Rights Religion

I Am Muslim

By Barbara F. Walter

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Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011. By Gage Skidmore.

One of the disheartening after-effects of the Paris attacks has been how quick many Americans have been to condemn Muslims. Donald Trump called for the mandatory registration of all Muslims in the United States. Half of the nation’s governors said they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees. And hate crimes against Muslims in the United States have increased.

Listen carefully to what people are saying. People claim that the US needs to keep Muslims out of the country to protect their families, their values, and their lifestyle. But hiding behind these words are fear and hatred and distrust – all packaged in ways that are publicly acceptable yet deeply pernicious.

It reminds me of how Americans used to treat homosexuals. It used to be perfectly acceptable to talk about the gay community the way we currently talk about the Muslim community – in negative, offensive ways. Not anymore. Attitudes toward homosexuals changed when courageous men and women began coming out of the closet. Suddenly the gay community had a human face that included our brothers and sisters, best friends and teachers. It was only after the gay community became public about their identity that the stigma and hatred of “the other” began to fall.

What if Muslims did the same? Imagine if all 2.8 million Muslims in the United States began wearing buttons that read “I am Muslim”. Or better yet, imagine if they all publicly shared their identity, with pride. Americans would see that their favorite actor, teacher, doctor, and respected neighborhood leader was Muslim. What if they took the bold step of revealing just how much a part of the community of American citizens they are?

I understand that this is a radical idea, perhaps best left as a thought experiment. I understand that it is asking a beleaguered and vulnerable community to make itself even more vulnerable at a time when fear is high. I understand that it is easy for me – a white woman – to ask others to take risks when I pay none of the costs of doing so. I also understand that it puts the impetus for change on the victims of racism rather than on the perpetrators.

But counterfactuals are often worth thinking through. The gay community took the bold step in the 1970s to face homophobia head-on. It was only after millions of individuals came out and said “I am gay” that attitudes began to change and equal rights began to be offered. What if American Muslims did the same with Islamophobia? The Donald Trumps of the world can try to dehumanize an entire population and treat them as people to be feared. But once you put a face to name, that type of fearmongering is much harder to do. So during this time of Thanksgiving, let us stand together in gratitude and say: I am Muslim.

 

4 Comments

  • Also Italians, Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Africans, Indians, Native Americans, “Orientals”. In fact the bulk of the current US population, and this even includes the WASPiest among us, is descended from people who were feared and looked down on in exactly the same way at one time.

    Bigotry is commonplace in the human psyche, especially when cheered on by the rah-rah of nationalism. Where I want to go with this is that the concept, that the US is exceptional in its tolerance, is a bunk. No doubt the US is a little above average in this regard, but its seems we must constantly fight to keep it so. It is not some kind of automatic blessing by far.

    I sincerely hope political leaders (I won’t name any names) regret ever preaching that foolish idea of exceptionalism, which is the antithesis of tolerance and underlies so many of today’s greatest evils worldwide.

  • It sounds like a good idea, but Muslim women saying “I am Muslim” by wearing veils don’t appear to have taken them to a place of acceptance in mainstream society. It’s widely viewed instead as a statement that religious or cultural identity trumps identification as a mainstream American. It may be as naïve as many of us were in thinking in 2008 that having an African-American president would fundamentally alter and improve race relations in the United States.

  • People see radical acts all over the world as a product of the Muslim religion. They know that millions of Muslims are perfectly normal and harmless but they believe potential radicals are more likely to be nurtured in the Muslim community.
    This situation has been brought about by radical Muslim groups in particular Isis.

  • Incredibly interesting article Barbara. I personally feel (like kaptonok above) that Muslims already have methods of expressing their faith that have merely brought more danger, than acceptance to their community. Simply, I think it comes down to the fact that there is a severe lack of education regarding the Muslim faith. This was also the fundamental reason for past prejudice towards black people and homosexuals. I completely agree that the path of expressing support through things such as rallies go an incredibly long way towards helping defeat such short-minded discrimination. However, the main problem for Muslims, as it was for all those who have suffered discrimination throughout history – is a lack of education about their faith or anatomy. The sooner people understand the true values of Islam, the sooner the prejudice and hate crimes they face begin to subside. I have written an article on ‘Islamophobia’ and why the reasons given supporting it are obsolete on my blog. If you find a moment, please do take a look and let me know what you think – THWBlog

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