By Samra Adeni
Orange County, CA, February 13th, 2011 – protesters picketed an event held by the local Muslim community, chanting things such as, “Go back home!”, “Stupid terrorist!”, “Go beat up your wife!” “Take your Sharia and go home!” and other terrible things that I don’t even feel comfortable typing.
An “Anti-Sharia Rally” outside the White House on March 4th, 2011 – where people surrounded an unarmed Muslim man praying and chanted, “Get out, get out,” alternated with “Jesus loves you,” while casting small metal crosses on the ground near his feet. The entire spectacle was further peppered with even more hate speech and with t-shirts proclaiming, “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned from 9/11,” as well as statements by Florida Pastor Terry Jones (who earlier courted controversy by announcing his intent to burn the Quran for allegedly heretical verses) about a supposed plan to put the Quran “on trial” and then “sentenced.” This was a blatant abuse of the First Amendment, ironically coupled with chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
These are just two highlights of the past few months where anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise – in the workplace, in the media, and on the streets. Confusion, ignorance, and deliberate propaganda have led to more Americans lashing out at perceived radical Islam. We are now plagued (again) by invisible lines within a country and dissent between Americans. If you don’t see something wrong with the above statement, you need to go back to history class.
Why is there so little awareness? I don’t mean at Stanford. I mean America as a whole. It seems to be fear of the unknown that drives so many people to use such hateful rhetoric. Offense as a means of defence against the perceived threat American Muslims pose. Why, as one of the most developed countries in the world, with a high literacy rate and more-than-adequate access to technology, are so many of us still ignorant?
Everyone knows the black race is not morally inferior and naturally ignorant. Everyone knows the Jews are not out to destabilize society. The disgusting falsehoods propagated by certain members of societies, centuries before, have now thankfully been eradicated from the minds of most of the American and global public.
Why are Muslims left behind? When teenagers shoot people in Columbine, the entire population of adolescents is not put on trial. When Jared Loughner, an apparent atheist, shot people, all atheists are not branded with the scars of Loughner’s crime.
When a Christian commits a crime, hardly anyone looks to the Biblical verses of fire and brimstone to justify or tie his actions to the population of a global religion. Comparing Islamic extremists to the population of Muslims across the world is like comparing all white people, or all Christian people, or all men, to the Ku Klux Klan.
Some might say there’s a difference – that crimes committed by people who happen to be Christian are not done in the name of religion – and this is true. But even when abhorrent acts are committed in the name of religion, such as the Westboro Baptist Church picketing funerals, the entire religion does not take the rap. The Westboro Baptist Church causes emotional pain to homosexuals, all in the name of religion – but this does not mean that all Christians, or even all Baptists or Calvinists are anti-gay, hateful extremists.
How can it be that we Americans can see statements like “Anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise” as a newspaper headline and not wonder, “What has happened to our country?” If you replace the word “Muslim” with “Jew,” or “Black,” or even “Woman” – other groups which have been discriminated against for various reasons including religion, race, or gender – there would be a nationwide uproar and a demand for an immediate end to such bigotry. We would be actively trying to reduce the feelings of ill-will in the general public and the discrimination against fellow Americans who differed from you in creed. The problem of rising hatred and xenophobia against Muslims in America is huge, and yet we seem to accept it with an air of resignation. It is wrong at the very core. It does not belong in this country, which ought to be open, accepting, and tolerating; the country that has fought for equality and vowed to treat everyone the same regardless of caste or creed. It goes against everything we stand for as Americans. It goes against the First Amendment, against the ideals of the Constitution, and against the reason why settlers came to America in the first place. Land of the Free? When there can be Americans out there who are discriminated against or subject to emotional pain because of the religion they practice, America cannot be completely free. Recognizing the intensity and unfairness of the issue is the first step. Rectifying it will come later.
What’s the point of including a piece like this in a Stanford newspaper? Stanford students are more than aware of the importance of diversity, of treating people fairly, and of being wary of making gross generalizations about any race, country, or religion. It is because there are people in our country who are still badly misinformed and need to be educated about the dangers of bigotry. And while there is a sizable population that is negatively biased against a certain religion, the First Amendment of our revered Constitution is unfortunately not going to be a reality for some people. There are Americans out there who are oppressed, discriminated against, and undergo emotional pain that others are not subjected to because of their religion.
And while Stanford students may not need an article like this to inform themselves, we should use it as a means to remind ourselves – that though we may grow complacent, the problem itself will never diminish in its core erroneousness. And as brilliant college students with a hold on the future, I just ask one thing: that we keep our heads free of judgment, that we remain sceptical of subjective journalism, that we strive to help equal opportunities and rights reach every American, and ensure that every American feels free and safe in his country, no matter the color of his skin, the clothes he may wear, what is in his head, or what his religion is. Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in this world.” You rarely find anyone in the West who does not speak or think highly of Gandhi, the Indian freedom activist. You also rarely find anyone who knows the specifics of how he died – killed by a fellow Hindu because the assassin thought he was too sympathetic to the Muslim minority.
This is not a new problem, and this is not only America’s problem, just as the issue of discrimination has always been present and has always caused political, economic, and social differences. Man is the only creature that tears himself on the basis of invisible dotted lines – is it inevitable, given the nature of humankind and the fact that America has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Gulf for a while now, that some of the negative sentiment in people is directed towards the Muslims? The answer we ought to give is that it is not.