There Already is a Database For People Like Me

Back in November, Donald Trump said he’d support a database to register all Muslim Americans, horrifically similar to the one in place in the 1940s by Nazi Germany. Immediately, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and countless Muslim Americans condemned Trump on social media using #MuslimID. This got me thinking, however. Why would someone even support such a cause? Surely people would see the connection, right? Or maybe because databases targeting people like me already exist.

I’ve already referred to “people like me” 2 (now 3) times in the article, so might as well explain who I am, so you understand who I’m talking about. Hello reader, my name is Luqmaan Bokhary and I’m about to be a senior in high school come this fall. I was born in the Windy City, I like pizza (no, I haven’t tried deep dish, yes I know I’m a disgrace to Chicagoans), I’m a Pakistani-American Muslim, hmm…. what other labels do I go by? Oh yeah, unlike 73% of young Americans, I’m a pro-Palestinian and BDS activist. Now, which label of mine would someone want to target? The fact that I haven’t eaten a deep dish pizza? My religion? My Pakistani heritage? Well, actually I and countless others are being targeted and blacklisted because of our solidarity and activism to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine by a website called Canary Mission.

On its website, Canary Mission states that its mission is to, “document people and groups that are promoting hatred of the USA, Israel, and the Jewish people, particularly on college campuses in North America.” Yet going down the organizations list, I found that they grouped Muslim Students Associations (MSA), Students for Justice in Palestine, and even the Jewish Voice for Peace with groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. This really concerned me as I happen to be the President of the MSA chapter at my high school, and all of a sudden we’re branded as Jew-haters by this website? Wanting to learn more, I watched the video on the front page, in which it states that it wants to make sure that employers (and indirectly college admission officers) are aware of members of “radical organizations” seeking jobs/admission from them. At this point, I just had to take a step back and just process for a minute what is happening. I had to make some decisions, do I continue with my activism and risk not getting into the college I’d like to attend or stay silent and let people stomp all over my freedom of speech and denunciation of apartheid and genocide by means of intimidation.

It’s pretty obvious which direction I chose because why should I give in to Canary Mission? How could I not join my pro-Palestinian sisters and brothers already blacklisted on the page in the fight against Zionist lobbying? And more importantly, how could I turn my back on the millions of Palestinians that face the brutality of Israeli apartheid and occupation every single day? I couldn’t morally do it even if it means me being blacklisted. Although I made this decision on my own will, I still wasn’t satisfied. Why should I have to risk my future to denounce a brutal occupation and violation of human rights?

The solution to that is by getting more people to understand what pro-Palestinian activists and BDS actually stand for. Activists for Palestine oppose the inhumane occupation committed by the Israeli government and movements like BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, aim to put economic pressure on Israel to lift the occupation and end the apartheid. We aren’t Jew-haters, radicals, or oppressors, we simply value the sanctity of all human lives and seek justice for the Palestinians, who have been forcefully removed off their lands, harassed, and humiliated for the past 60+ years. But McCarthyist-style websites like Canary Mission won’t let you see that. They effectively seek us out, criminalize us, lump us with radical terrorist groups, and try to prevent us from getting jobs/admissions. This is detrimental to our society as not only are we letting an apartheid government stay in power but also legitimizing the idea that we need databases like these to blacklist people that think differently from our government’s interests.

Now hold up. Our government’s interests? In Israel? Why? Israel has no oil or natural resources to offer us. And in fact, it’s well known that Israel has been breaking international law through its horrendous occupation and apartheid, which should go against American values, correct? I mean that’s the reason why we put sanctions on South Africa until their apartheid was removed. Well, here’s the thing. Pro-Israel lobbyist groups, such as AIPAC, have tons of power and fund many politicians and campaigns for their benefit. Because of their immense power and lobbying in our legislative bodies, nearly $3.15 billion of our taxpayer money gets sent off to Israel’s military and Israel continues on its long apartheid, occupation, and genocide without fear of U.N. indictment.

This is the world we live in. In this op-ed, I’ve talked about racism, xenophobia, money in politics, and constitutional rights being taken away, all just to describe the effect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has. We have a moral responsibility to denounce the senseless acts of violence on Palestinians without fear of being blacklisted on a website. Silencing us is what websites and groups like these want. Now, we can speak and denounce all we want but in order to achieve the solution we need to address the root of the problem, which is that there’s a lack of understanding and way too much money going into our political system. We need to research where our representatives are receiving donations from, and advocate if we aren’t for it. People are quick to denounce legislators if they’ve been receiving donations from the NRA, why not groups that are paying our representatives to not speak up against APARTHEID, OCCUPATION, and GENOCIDE? We also need to stand against websites like Canary Mission for spreading lies about individuals and peaceful organizations (like the MSA and Jewish Voice for Peace), legitimizing the need for databases targeting minorities, and creating an “us vs. them” mentality in the minds of many.

This op-ed might put me on Canary Mission, but so what. I am not a radical because I advocate for the lives and land of innocent Palestinians, that just makes me a human being. On the same note, I’m not a Jew-hater and I’m 100% against any act of violence, hatred, or racism committed against my Jewish sisters and brothers. I attend interfaith events, where I only see the many similarities we share, and not that we’re polar opposites. The one thing I am against are the politicians and soldiers who keep this apartheid and occupation going, not Jews. It’s completely wrong for me or anyone to generalize a whole group of people for the actions of a few (hmm sound familiar?).

In the end, Canary Mission may prevent me from getting into the school I want or the job I desire, but that’s okay. If colleges/employers want to overlook my talents because I’m blacklisted on a page that deems me a “radical” because I advocate for human rights, I don’t think I really want that job or to attend that school in the first place. They won’t prevent me from using my constitutional right to speak out against the Israeli occupation and the politicians that willingly allow it to happen. The fruits of my and countless allies of Palestine’s labor will come when we unite against those who allow this systemic racism and apartheid to continue. Pro-Palestinian sentiment is rising amongst my generation, and we’re forming a force and voice that won’t stand down until we see the end of this terrible occupation.

Salaam. Shalom. Peace. That’s what I advocate for.