Islamophobia is an undeniable fact in the West, but Muslim Americans can’t jump the gun and label every act as hate crime
It is true that Islamophobia is a real phenomenon; Muslims have been and continue to be targeted because of their faith, principles and values. There are segments of societies in the western world that stereotype Muslims as gangsters, thugs and terrorists, want them barred from ever entering their countries, and it is highly unlikely that this hostile attitude towards Muslims will simmer down anytime soon.
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a racist bigot who hates Muslims (but not his rich Arab friends) and will continue to incite violence against law-abiding Muslims wherever and whenever he can.
Having said that, and in the light of recent developments and incidents of Islamophobia, it places Muslims in not just the United States of America but all over the western world in a rather peculiarly unique position – a position that demands a posture of extreme caution and responsibility.
This may sound strange but we all understand that it is easy to fall prey to emotions and rhetoric. It is even more convenient to move from a civil dialogue to aggression and outrage, especially when the odds are stacked against one’s integrity, existence and survival.
In these times of lack of clarity when the Islamic State (IS), Taliban, al Qaeda and the likes have abused the name of Islam and made a mockery of the Muslim image, Muslims must stay ever so vigilant and prior to raising any red flags and playing the victim card, utmost care must be exercised to ensure that the image of the followers of the faith should remain untainted and uncompromised. Muslims must not be seen as those who muddy the waters or cause fuss to attract negative attention.
I say all this for a reason – the reason being a recent incident that happened down in Florida at a high school. It appears that a bunch of teenage girls ruthlessly attacked a female schoolmate who happened to be a Muslim. As the story goes, the incident was caught on tape and the video was posted on social media by the victim’s father who branded it as a hate crime against Muslims.
This girl Manaal Munshi (9th grade student) was getting bullied by couple of school (West Boca High School, Boca Raton, FL) girls because she was Muslim. Yesterday she decided to get this over & talk to girls (wearing anti bullying t shirt) but beaten badly by gang of girls. pic.twitter.com/PisSN9hygN
— Raza Mehdi (@SyedRezaMehdi) December 22, 2017
The video clip, at the time of writing, had received almost 200,000 plus hits. Some social media personalities and Muslim organisations in the meantime jumped into the foray and worked their way into the chaos, asking law enforcement to investigate the matter as a hate crime. Meanwhile, the local police have charged the girls who attacked the victim with battery and believe that it is was not hate crime. They concluded that the fight was over a boy and not the religious background of the girl who ended up being bruised and battered.
I know a thing or two about life, teenager behavior and the current state of socio-political milieu. I hate to take sides, and just to be clear, I’m not taking any. However, the police’s conclusion sounds more plausible.
Cultural pressure and peer pressure on teenagers in this society is different compared to anywhere else in the world. The victim of brutality may have been Muslim by origin but she’s also a teenager who happens to be a functional high school kid with evolving hormones. She, therefore, should not be used by any individual or group to portray Muslim victimisation in an America that is undoubtedly leaning against Islam and its followers and taking an unfavourable view of matters when it comes to clear and evident hate crimes against the followers of this faith.
There comes a moment in time when one needs to draw a line in the sand; that painful moment of truth when one’s high emotions must give way to reason and smartly argue one’s case in the court of the public. The number of hate crimes against Muslims has gone up appreciably.
There’s no denying the fact that the time is right for activism but there’s already a lot of awareness and undercurrent discussion going on in academic circles about the direction of the country and Trump’s handling of affairs with religious minorities that includes Muslims and Jews. The edginess that he has created in the environment has spared no one and his confrontational attitude has raised tensions to unbelievable levels.
Without doubting anyone’s credibility, yes, there is still a rule of law that exists and works in the US. The political climate may be instigating an abrupt social transformation, but the truth of the matter is that the constitution and the laws still protect people’s liberties and ensures equality in every sphere of life.
In order to stop the political and social victimisation, Muslims must not alienate themselves or act in silos. In fact, this is a great opportunity to mingle and assimilate and to show Trump that Muslims are law-abiding, active members of the society who richly contribute to the culture and economy of this country.
Trump’s craziness may be a blessing in disguise for the US to correct its course and change for good. The challenges posed by his erratic demeanours are an eye-opener and an “excuse” for so many of us to realise that the pre-Trump US was, after all, not so bad. Trump’s psychopathic ways will unite people for the better. It’s a process that will initially take a heavy toll of our nerves and lives but there’s definitely hope in the long run.
People of different ethnicities, backgrounds, religions must refrain from crying foul and instead engage in peaceful ways of activism. A great way to counter Trump’s bigotry is to join the mainstream American public and political life. Muslims, along with other groups and minorities, can be the voice of reason and sanity; act in unison and hit back at Trump the moment he goes about condemning, for instance, the Nigerians or the Haitians.
A robust leadership role in the society will help the critics and detractors understand that Muslims are as much American as any Caucasian, Christian, church-going next door neighbour. Muslims can play an integral role in pinpointing the overall flaws in this society and work against guns and gun violence, for instance. They can fight for causes that impact all Americans and not just Muslim-Americans and be the reflection of the all-encompassing American value system.
I sympathise with Mr Shakeel Munshi and his family, but let’s not forget that there are bigger ideals due to which we all have come to call the United States of America as our home. Falling into the Trump trap and behaving the way he does will not help solve matters.
The message from the Boca Raton incident is that we, in Trump’s America, are turning into him by impulsively acting upon our emotions and not taking a moment to reflect and ponder on the situation. We can do better than this, for Trump is just like a multiple myeloma that inflicts pain on us via his tweets and rants every day, all day long. Those tweets and rants are like cancerous cells that are eating away this great country. We can eliminate those cancerous cells by working on our strengths and educating people around us who find themselves pathetically sold out to Trump’s ignorance.
In these unprecedented times, we all are hurting. If we opt to stay in our comfort zones, the bully will continue to squeeze us. For us immigrants, the United States is a thing of ‘collateral beauty’ – its spirit may have died temporarily but it continues to spread its affection by providing us the refuge that we so deeply cherish. We must, therefore, work as powerful antioxidants in this lethal, toxic atmosphere and save our home from a powerful aggressor, who has invaded our space and peace. We can do that by demonstrating resistance and not letting the bully and his followers mess up our jam! We can’t betray our adopted home and hence must fight this brute with our patience, spirituality and superior intellectualism.