In the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, a society wavers on its acceptance and trust of Muslims living in America.
As the marching band stomped along the turf cheered on by the roar of fans in red and white filling the football stadium, a girl in a headscarf with a beaming smile walked out onto the field.
Summa Kanwal, a Residents Assistant, and president of the WKU Pakistani Student Association, was voted a top candidate for the 2014 Homecoming Queen at Western Kentucky University, she also happens to be a Muslim.
Kanwal was the sole representative for International, Muslim and Pakistani students in the race, and she made it to the top ten.
Post-college she hoped to call America home, planning to move to Baltimore, Maryland after graduation to live closer to her family, but does have concerns about the future security and freedoms of Muslim people in America.
Leading the GOP polls prior to the 2016 primary elections, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has clearly stated that he favors implementing a database of Muslims in America.
On January 8, 2016, a Muslim woman, Rose Hamid, was escorted out of a rally for Trump in Rock Hill, South Carolina after being booed by the crowd.
“When you hear about that stuff you feel like you are not welcomed here,” Kanwal said, “It needs to be changed.”
Kanwal said that to call all Muslims terrorists is the same as pinning the holocaust and the actions of Hitler on all Christians. She believes that it is important to not judge a person by their religion, and the things written about them on social media.
“What’s happening in Syria, what’s happening is that we Muslims are the ones who are most affected by all of this” Kanwal said.
As an RA at WKU, Kanwal happily answered questions that her residents had about her life in Pakistan and her experiences as a Muslim woman. She hoped that they would leave having a more positive perspective on Islamic culture.
Having graduated, Kanwal must go out and find her place in the world, and plans to continue that next chapter in America.
“I have to step into the real world. I’m scared too, but I’m also excited to be done with studies and start a new phase of my life and be with my family,” Kanwal said.
At an army run school in Peshawar, Pakistan, seven gunmen opened fire, killing over 140 people, most of whom were students. The attacks on December 16, 2014 were linked to the Taliban and sent a shockwave of horror through the country.
“Everybody knows about the Paris attacks,” Schahraze Hamood said, “but no one knows about the Peshawar attack.”
Hamood, a freshman at WKU from Pakistan, sees a divide between the societal treatment of the aftermath in Paris in 2015 and that of Peshawar in 2014.
“White people died and everybody’s like, showing their harmony, love and respect” Hamood said, even noting that there were signs and gestures of support for france throughout the middle east that were not resonated in the aftermath in Pakistan.
After the attacks in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino, California, concern over terrorism shot up in the US.
In November 2015 only three percent of Americans thought of terrorism as the most pressing issue in the US, but only one month later that number rose to 16% according to Gallup.
Hamood believes that there is biased profiling that often occurs in western violence.
He says that a person who commits an act of violence who is white is easily forgotten or brings up the conversation of mental illness, but if the person is Muslim or a person of color, they are labeled as a ‘terrorist’.
“If it’s a Muslim from any other country, he’s a terrorist,” Hamood said, “it’s always a Muslim, every-time a Muslim”
While walking to a friends house in Bowling Green, Kentucky one night Rafey Wahlah said that a passengers in a car shouted out to him calling him a terrorist.
“‘Run away or we’ll blow you up,’ that’s what I shouted because that’s the only thing I could do,” Wahlah said.
It is common among the Pakistani men at WKU to joke around the stereotype placed on them that they are somehow related to terrorism.
“You could say that people are used to it, that Muslims are used to it” Hamood said.
To the Pakistani students at WKU, making light of the idea that they could be considered terrorists by people in America, possibly even peers in their classrooms and dormitories, is a way to cope with a feeling that they are, in a sense; surrounded.
The attacks that happened in Paris and in San Bernardino follow in suit with an ever-extending list of killings that include Peshawar and the crisis in Syria.
Cigarette smoke and conversations of girls and politics float about the room as cards and poker chips shuffle across the floor. This is how most nights are spent for the male Pakistani students that attend Western Kentucky University.
Among this circle is a trust and freedom of communication that is not always felt with peers and professors in the classroom.
“People are very nice on a general basis, but you still have that feeling that there’s a gap between these people and you” Wahlah said.
43 percent of Americans harbor some degree of prejudice towards Muslims according to Gallup — a sentiment that has only strengthened in the aftermath of attacks in Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people and a shooting at a San Bernardino, California office holiday party that killed 14 people and left 22 injured.
In November, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump announced that he was in favor of identification materials for Muslims, that they be registered in a database.
“What if I say something wrong, and these people think something else of me?” Wahlah said.
There is a fear that their beliefs and language barrier can cause dangerous misunderstanding.
Wahlah referenced Ahmed Mohamed, 14, who was arrested in 2015 for bringing a homemade clock to school that was wrongfully suspected to be a bomb.
“These kinds of things then scare us not to be us anymore, openly,” Whalah said.
Wahlah moved from Pakistan to Kentucky in 2013 with childhood friend, Daniyal Monnoo to study at WKU.
“Before that, there were no Pakistani students here for 14 years,” Wahlah said of their presence on campus.
Since then, a Pakistani Student Association was formed and the population of Pakistani students attending WKU has grown exponentially.
“We’ve got, like a big Pakistani student community. It’s fun — we do have a lot of fun,” Rafey Wahlah said.
Hassan believes that through everyday interaction with Muslims will help Americans break down prejudices.