As a Muslim, My Heart Freezes with Fear
Manal Omar Associate Vice-President, Middle East and Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
This is a defining moment for America.
It can't get much worse than this. Yet if anything has proven true for Muslims in America over the last decade it is that it can only get worse.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric is not new. But within the last month it has shifted to where hate speech is the norm, and angry action against Muslims is growing. As a Muslim-American woman, I am scared. I am scared when I travel overseas because I work in conflict zones where ISIS targets me as a peacebuilder working with the US government. Due to my work, I have received direct death threats.
I am scared here at home. I have been on the receiving end of hateful glares, shoving on the sidewalks, and hateful phrases yelled at me. The fear I face here at home has made me decide not to ride the metro since the Paris attacks. I find myself using my hostile environment training for Baghdad and Benghazi here at home.
The message to Muslims from media outlets to President Obamas speech is clear. The world expects us to accept collective punishment and do more to stop what the nation's leaders cannot -- the expansion of ISIS and other violent extremist groups. That is a burden we must, and our willing, to bear. We simply cannot do it alone.
To our friends around the world my message is that this is the time to put into action the lessons we all have learned about racism of any kind. German Jews have experienced hatred. African Americans have experienced hatred. American Muslims are not alone in this experience. Muslims have faced hatred since the very foundation of our country, starting with African Muslims brought through the slave trade. The new wave of immigrants fleeing conflict are the new kids on the block. It is all of our responsibility to support them.
And we have good experience in this country to draw upon. For decades we have invested in interfaith work, and people-to-people engagement to address deep rooted hatred of the "other." Many of us have worked to help the poor, the disabled, and the dispossessed to access the private sector and legal system. Now is the time to put American values to work, practice what we preach, and open up the lines of conversation even if the conversations are difficult.
Don't be a passive bystander to Islamophobia if you disagree with the fiery rhetoric. Take action.
Sofia Al-Khan, an American Muslim born and raised outlined some tangible action steps friends of the Muslim community can take. Here are a few ones I embraced and invite you to consider.
- If you see a Muslim or someone who might be identified as Muslim being harassed, stop, say something, intervene, and call for help. If you see people abusing authority, stand firm against profiling.
- If you ride public transportation, sit next to the hijabi (head scarf) woman and greet them. The fear of being in public for women in particular is increasing every day. A small act of kindness can have a transformative impact.
- Engage the Muslims in your life. Make sure you really feel comfortable standing for and with your Muslim friends, neighbors, coworkers. If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you're there for them. The concern and support I have received my colleagues is heart warming and reminds me of my place here in the US.
- If you have neighbors who are Muslim, keep an eye out for them. If you're walking your kids home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you.
- Talk to your kids. They're picking up on the anti-Muslim message. Make sure they know how you feel and talk to them about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school.
- Help fill the public space with positive messaging over the hate. · Write letters to the editors and be aware of your social media posts.
- Call your state and local representatives, let them know that you are concerned about hate speech against your Muslim friends and neighbors in politics and the media. Ask your representatives to be aware of new laws on visas and other issues that would create second class citizens.
- Out yourself as someone who rejects Islamophobia and discrimination of any kind.
Fear is paralyzing. Terror is fear-inspiring. Let's stand up, stand tall, stand strong
Follow Manal Omar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ManalOmar