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 We desire not only safe spaces and healing, but also to see such discriminatory and racist policies repealed and condemned.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.