November 8, 2016, the night of the election. Around 12 a.m., with the announcement of Donald Trump’s victory, I could hear the cheers, the excitement coming from my peers in college. However, I was still. I was unable to move, breathe or even fathom the thought of this. I closed my eyes, praying for it all to be a dream, but I was awake. This wasn’t some alternate reality; this was my reality.
What we (Muslims) perceived to be our modern-day Hitler, the man who wants to put us in a registry, who wanted to distinguish us with a pin of Islam, who wanted to utilize those Japanese internment camps, had just won the election. For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly didn’t belong in the country I called home. Family members began wearing hats instead of hijabs, communities in fear of going to Friday prayer, the flashbacks of post-9/11 societies suddenly became our present. We were afraid.
Islam has become synonymous with terrorism which has led to the toxic environment we live in today. As an eighteen-year-old Muslim-American living in a post-9/11 society, I have grown up in the era of Islamophobia, in an era of strong prejudice or dislike toward Muslims. The perception that all Muslims are terrorists has created a toxic environment that my family, my friends, and I are all becoming more cautious and scared of.
After constantly hearing the negative rhetoric that surrounded Islam, I found myself feeling distanced from my own identity, yet simultaneously feeling alienated my fellow Americans. The animosity that some people displayed toward us made me question who I was.
I wondered if being a Muslim and an American were mutually exclusive.
These were the questions young Muslims would ask themselves as they would be excluded from any activities and became the punchline of everyone’s favorite terrorist joke. The hatred, the fear, the ambiguity causes anger to build inside the best of us, but not because we’re Muslim, but because our identities already shape our personalities. Our stereotype becomes our definition. There is no room to be different.
Everyone remembers September 11, but no one remembers September 12. While grieving the loss of our Americans, Muslims around the country were being harassed and terrorized. Hate crimes against Muslims rose exponentially, hostility toward Muslims was more evident than ever, and it hasn't stopped. Sixteen years later, my family, my friends, myself, we all feel those repercussions. In fact, they have gotten worse. As a society, we have become more intolerant of each other. With the rise of populism, Brexit, and the 2016 election, the fear incited by our politicians, our media, and our own government has risen to rates as high as the days following 9/11.
We tend to forget that the targets and victims of the majority of terrorist attacks are on Muslims. On their homes, on their land. Their freedom is stripped from them while they’re left with rubble and dust. Cities are destroyed, families are torn apart, and these incidents are often forgotten.
Our humanity has become exclusive to ourselves, but we cast our eyes away when we see it happen anywhere else.
This is not a political issue. This is about our morality as human beings, our willingness to step up and lend a helping hand. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the land of the free, home of the brave. We pride ourselves on being a place that allows us to stand up to our leaders and make our voices heard.
We marched, we protested, we stood up when we felt like there was no hope.
Fear is understandable, but I encourage you to reach out to the Muslim community, talk to a Muslim about their views, and join the conversation, because I guarantee you they’re probably as scared as you are. Above all, I hope we, as human beings continue to stand up in the face of adversity and fight for what is right.