Letters to Congress from Community Members

From Atif Akhter

The tragedy of 9/11 and the fol­low­ing War on Ter­ror has deeply affect­ed South Asian, Arab, and Mus­lim Com­mu­ni­ties across the globe. Recent­ly, through explor­ing the work done by orga­ni­za­tions such as the Jus­tice for Mus­lims Col­lec­tive (JMC) as well as South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), I can bet­ter vocal­ize the pain I have felt as a mem­ber of both of these com­mu­ni­ties. Their work encour­ages us, as young peo­ple who do not remem­ber a world before Mus­lims were con­sid­ered a per­ma­nent ene­my. State-spon­sored vio­lence has tak­en a toll on my peo­ple as we have been bru­tal­ized and vil­lainized over the course of 20 years due to poli­cies which sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and explic­it­ly tar­get us. These decades have not slowed the onslaught of sur­veil­lance that is almost tan­gi­ble and this con­cur­rent demand that we prove that we are patri­ot­ic, even if we were born here and after the attack on the Twin Tow­ers. We desire not only safe spaces and heal­ing, but also to see such dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and racist poli­cies repealed and con­demned.

Islam­o­pho­bia is deeply ingrained into our cul­ture now. Even today on the streets of the most diverse city in the world, women who wear the hijab fear retal­i­a­tion from Islam­o­phobes. But beyond this vil­fi­ca­tion of our cus­toms and tra­di­tions has been an effort to spy on our fam­i­lies in an effort to val­i­date law enforce­ments’ pre-exist­ing igno­rant assump­tions. In the years imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing 9/11, with­out cause, author­i­ties came fre­quent­ly to our mosques and New York City uni­ver­si­ties’ Mus­lim Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tions. We real­ized intu­itive­ly that ally­ship could often be super­fi­cial, or more dan­ger­ous­ly, covert mon­i­tor­ing.

As a South Asian and Mus­lim stu­dent at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, it also became quick­ly clear that if there was any pos­i­tive out­come from these years of cen­sure, it has been that our sense of com­mu­ni­ty had expand­ed to oth­ers who are not Mus­lim or not South Asian, but have shared expe­ri­ences because of how Islam­o­pho­bia often affects peo­ple because of how they are per­ceived. In many ways, there is new sol­i­dar­i­ty amongst Sikh, Hin­du, and Jain youth as well as with Black and Arab Mus­lims.

We have lost too many peo­ple to sense­less attacks, endured too much scruti­ny and harass­ment, and had to tell our par­ents that in spite of their Amer­i­can Dreams, we still face chal­lenges that they nev­er could have imag­ined would affect us still. Not a sin­gle suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tion should have to live under the War on Ter­ror.

From Has­san Javed

I am a Mus­lim Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. To present myself in this iden­ti­ty is a tes­ta­ment to the strength I’ve build over the years. Ever since I was a child, my peers tried to teach me the hard way that this soci­ety war­rants your Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty to be a com­plete recluse from your iden­ti­ties. Mus­lim-Amer­i­can, Pak­istani-Amer­i­can, or what­ev­er else was on the left side of your hyphen­at­ed iden­ti­ty, my peers told me that it was only the Amer­i­can that mat­tered and was wor­thy of their respect. I grew up hear­ing Amer­i­ca was a melt­ing pot — but what good was this melt­ing pot if a few ingre­di­ents dom­i­nat­ed all oth­ers?

Per­haps, it wasn’t even just the “Amer­i­can” that was wor­thy of their respect — it was the only iden­ti­ty safe from their hatred. Every oth­er iden­ti­ty was cause for my teacher to ask me incon­sid­er­ate ques­tions about my identities…my par­ents’ work­place to get its win­dows smashed in an act the police was adamant not to call a hate crime…the unhinged man with a knife on the sub­way to loop around me yelling slurs. Amer­i­ca had accept­ed that my oth­er iden­ti­ties could triv­i­al­ize my sur­vival. I had accept­ed that it could not have been any oth­er way.

And, who was pulling the strings if none oth­er than the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments, both at the fed­er­al and state lev­els. From just 2010–2016, 194 anti-sharia bills were intro­duced in leg­is­la­tion, and they are a tes­ta­ment to how the gov­ern­ment views and por­trays Islam. As Pro­fes­sor Tisa Wenger of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty has said best, these leg­is­la­tions “rep­re­sent a demo­niza­tion of Islam” and invent “a spec­trum of dam­age that doesn’t actu­al­ly exist.” And this faux “spec­trum of dam­age” is all the gov­ern­ment needs to make Islam­o­pho­bic main­stream.

What my peers said to me at school and what I faced out­side of my home was just a micro­cosm of the racial pro­fil­ing the gov­ern­ment made com­mon­place. My peo­ple were sub­ject to sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, and depor­ta­tion sole­ly on the basis of their reli­gious iden­ti­ty. The Mus­lim Stu­dents Asso­ci­a­tion I am involved in here at Colum­bia was sur­veilled exten­sive­ly; what was it about us pray­ing and open­ing our fasts togeth­er that threat­ened Amer­i­ca… that caused Amer­i­ca to look at us under a micro­scope? How do I, along with every Mus­lim-Amer­i­can youth, reel from our gov­ern­ment treat­ing us as if we’re bac­te­ria in their pond­wa­ter?

You stereo­typed me. Your media mis­portrayed me. You taught against me in your schools. You jailed me over unjus­ti­fied sus­pi­cion. You treat­ed me as a less­er. So, the teenage me replied with faux patri­o­tism. If what it took for you to stop treat­ing me like an out­sider was to be patri­ot­ic, or rather, accept your Amer­i­can igno­rance and hatred with­out a word,teenage me did it. But I am no longer my teenage self. I am no longer afraid of your hatred. I am no longer faux patri­ot­ic.

If all you ever want­ed was to make me feel like an out­sider, then let me reclaim being an Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Mus­lim-Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. Let me col­or Amer­i­ca with the iden­ti­ties you can’t stand the exis­tence of. I am reflec­tive of the pow­er in my com­mu­ni­ties. I am reflec­tive of the strength of my peo­ple. Use sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, or what­ev­er you can to make us feel like we do not belong, we will orga­nize and rise against your de fac­to and de jure injus­tice. My ances­tors over­came your impe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism; now, their child will over­come your Islam­o­pho­bia and racism.

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