The Muslim-American millennial experience is shaping up how we discuss American politics. September 11th, 2001 proliferated a series of events that turned Islam into the enemy of the state. In an effort to counter the fear of Muslims, we wanted to prove our patriotism like every American. We bowed our heads low, smiled when we said hello, and kept quiet about what was going on in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. Skipped the stories on our timelines to not feel what was occurring with the Rohingya Genocide. Whistling these discussions only in our livings room. Speaking up for the suffering of our brothers and sisters across the globe would deem us as extremists, unpatriotic, and terrorists. Where was our place in America?
My family and I were called terrorists for the first time the morning after 9/11. I was not prepared to deal with a confrontation at the age of nine. Denying that I was anything else but an American, I retaliated with a right hook. I was angry and hurt. As I was served my one week suspension from school, both the principal and the police officer questioned me about the origin of my family and birth. I questioned my identity. I did not want to be an outcast. I did whatever I could to fit in. For a long time I stopped praying, did not fast, and did not pick up a Quran.
Taking a hiatus from practicing my faith did not stop police officers from profiling. I was deemed “suspicious” for no other reason than the color of my skin, my facial hair, and a backpack that always consisted of schoolbooks and gym gear. I was put into a box I never gave consent to be in. It was tiresome. Routine car stops became a routine for me.
I could not afford to go to college. Instead, I wanted to do something American and join the US Marine Corps. Yearning to prove my patriotism, I hoped I could be somebody. Superiors conducted multiple background checks, questioned my heritage, and monitored my social media. I took it at face value at first. There was not many Muslims who served in the US armed Forces. Those who did, took pride and honor in the belief that we were American-Muslims fighting the good fight against terrorism. We wanted to show that were one of the good guys.
However, after Trump criticized the family of Capt. Humayun Khan and called for a Muslim ban, I learned we still had a long way to go. His Islamophobic comments punctured a hole in the country. This was a moment where I felt like I finally needed to say something. In my heart, I knew I was more American than Trump could ever be. I’d take a bullet for my brothers and sisters in arms anytime. Honor, courage, and commitment is something money cannot buy. While there was overwhelming support, the displacement of Muslim sentiment was very well the ideal situation for so many others. It created a further divide for progress.
Rep. Ilhan Omar lassoed the division into a conversation. As a Somalian refugee, and being one of two first Muslim women to be in Congress, she stands strong with every ounce of courage and dignity. She echoes her pain for every Muslim around the world facing oppression. Omar exposed the truth regarding undignified treatment of Palestinians, and the influence AIPAC has on US government. Her own Democratic colleagues were quick to condemn her. Only a strong few stuck by Omar’s side after Islamophobic depictions of her circulated through the state government of West Virginia. They simply do not get it or do not want to get it because their hot pockets will be burnt.
I retold this story in front of friends a little more than a week ago. Telling them about my experience as Muslim-American was therapeutic. That same night, the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand occurred. I could not sleep for the rest of the night. A Friday morning that was meant for a time of solace, turned into a period of mourning.
I Took a few breaths and asked what else can we do? The only thing I could tell myself is that we have no other choice but to continue to fight. Our only other option is to continue to allow hatred to drive its discourse. Acceptance and equitable justice has not been America’s strong-suit. Bloodshed is what it takes to even have a conversation about human rights. In the face of hatred, we must continue to be loud and proud about who we are and where we are from. We have a place here and a history that is rooted in American tradition.
I am honored to be working with organizers from Muslims for Progress and thankful for the allies that show up for each other in this political climate. Changing hearts is only as easy as changing minds through education and conversations. Exchanging beliefs is healthy. Rallying around one another is a real revolution. We don’t have to be quiet anymore.