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.