I went numb when I heard about the San Bernardino shooting. I started cleaning the house, as if it would clean the mess created by the killings. A wave of despair accompanied by the thought, “Oh, no, not again,” covered me from head to toe.
Questions flooded my mind: “Will I once again have to apologize because I am a Muslim?” “Will I be living with the shame that some of my family members, my Muslim friends and I feel when there is a bombing or killings that we didn’t do?” “How will I face my non-Muslim friends?”
As a Muslim, I am petrified when I see the way we are demonized in the media. The fear of the words Muslim, bombing and killings are so deeply entrenched in me that once I froze in my tracks as I was entering the staff room at the Office Depot where I worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I heard someone say “bomb.” My only thought was, “Oh God, there is a bomb, and I am a Muslim, so I will be held responsible.”
I stood immobilized until the woman who said “bomb” repeated, “I'll put a stink bomb, because I saw mosquitoes,” as another colleague entered the room. I started breathing again. The danger had passed. There was no real bomb, and it was okay to be a Muslim. Until the next time.
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Now, though, things have been even worse – thanks to Donald Trump, who is building more and more of his presidential campaign on demonizing us. Seeking support, two-faced Trump employs hateful rhetoric and fear-mongering tactics against Muslims in public, but in private, he cozies up with rich Muslims to expand his empire.
The fact that Trump’s followers cheered him when he vowed to ban Muslims from entering the United States alarms me. I shudder to think that this is how Hitler must have started moving against European Jews, and I pray that history won’t be repeated.
Any terrorist act upsets Muslims as much as it upsets others. After the horrific beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, I couldn’t sleep for days. My Muslim friends and family were just as shocked and disturbed as I was.
“How could these barbarians do something like this?” they said. Like everyone else, we worried about what terrorists might do next.
It’s unthinkable to me that a Muslim would kill others or commit suicide. When I was growing up in Abbottabad, Pakistan, my mother taught me: “Killing others or committing suicide is forbidden in Islam. Only Allah gives life, and only He takes life. No one else has the right to take their own or another person’s life.”
But the media paints a very selective picture of us. Even after the California massacre, we are seeing Americans voicing their shock and horror on the news, but I haven’t seen a single full-length interview with an average American Muslim. Instead, the only Muslims we are seeing or hearing about in the media are the murderers, people that everyone should be afraid of. Such blatant discrimination frustrates me deeply.
As a Muslim woman and an American citizen, I’m supposedly living in a free country, but how can I be free when my country is afraid of me? At the airport, I am always taken aside for questioning and a special body search. I feel humiliated and embarrassed, especially when I am traveling with white colleagues who pass through security without any extra scrutiny. I feel violated and insignificant, like a piece of furniture that needs to be inspected from all sides before shipping.
As a Muslim, I have been taught to respect my body and not put it on public display as I am forced to do during the body search. When I jokingly say that I was selected because of my looks or my name, I am invariably told, “Oh, no, it’s not you, it’s where you are flying from.” For domestic flights, the answer changes to, “Oh, the computer randomly picks passengers.”
My luggage is always checked by TSA whenever I travel within or to the United States. They always put a paper with golden circle on the form that informs me of the inspection. I hate that form, because it makes me feel powerless and guilty for something that I haven’t done. When I mentioned my frustration to a Jewish colleague once, she said, “Germans used yellow stickers to identify Jews.”
The young men in my family are spot-checked by security every time they fly, too, and they’re stopped on the road often by police. Some of my relatives have been put on the U.S. no-fly list, because, they are told, “You have the same name as another person on our list.”
I always worry for my adult son’s safety, and I’m afraid when I get a frustrated call from him after his latest encounter with the police or airport security - because he is at their mercy. But I calm him down and tell him that they are doing their duty, and I pray for his safety.
Painting all Muslims with the same brush has to stop. The media and others have to stop the propaganda against Muslims. Take some responsibility and care not to condemn all Muslims as terrorists - it is not the religion or Muslims that are violent, but the select few who wrongly interpret Islam to satisfy their demonic desires.
As long as this terrified reaction continues, the terrorists will continue killing. They know that after every brutal murder, the media and politicians start ranting about how to deal with average Muslims. The real culprits, meanwhile, get exactly what they want.
Born in Pakistan and now living in the United States, Rashid has recently completed her memoir.