“I have been told at my job to hide the fact I am Muslim for my own personal safety by a manager.”
“I worry for my wife who wears a headscarf and my children when they are with her and I am not there to protect them.”
“I feel terrified for my two sons. Although all three of us were born and raised here I fear for our safety.”
“My dad recently asked my mother and sister to try and disguise their hijab with a hat.”
“I don’t feel safe. I fear that if some could shoot me and my family and get away with it, they would.”
Those are just a small sample of the alarming responses I received on Facebook when I asked my fellow Muslim Americans if they felt safe.
Our community’s fears have been elevated by the killing this month of three young Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And while there’s still a debate going on over whether this was, from a legal point of view, a hate crime, to the Muslim American community it seems hard to imagine the attack wasn’t motivated at least in part by the faith of the three young victims.
True, the suspect reportedly had disagreements with other residents in his apartment complex. But it seems telling that when he allegedly turned violent, it was only three Muslims who were shot in the head.
Regardless, the concern felt by many in our community — including myself — actually predates these killings. In fact, six days before the shooting, I was one of 14 Muslim Americans to meet Present Barack Obama at the White House, and I raised the very fears that many of us feel. I explained to the President my worry that if anti-Muslim bigotry continues to go unchallenged, we could see someone target Muslim Americans in a violent attack.
The President expressed his sincere concern, making it clear that there’s no place for bigotry in our nation. And during his speech Wednesday at the White House summit on countering violent extremism, he also acknowledged that “many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid.” To underscore the point, he then read a Valentine’s Day card sent to him by an 11-year-old Muslim American girl named Sabrina, who wrote: “I am worried about people hating Muslims. … If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do. Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.”
Her concerns are by no means misplaced, because the truth is that anti-Muslim bigotry has been building in recent years. We have seen acid thrown at an Islamic school in Illinois, and shots fired at a Southern California mosque.
And the list goes and on.
In the last week alone, an Islamic school in Rhode Island was vandalized with anti-Muslim graffiti and the words: “Now this is a hate crime.” And despicably, some on social media even cheered the burning down of an Islamic center in Houston. Last Thursday, meanwhile, a Muslim American man in Michigan was allegedly beaten up at a local grocery store by two white men yelling racial and religious slurs.
While these events don’t garner national headlines, they do make headlines within our community. And although statistically Muslims are second to Jews in terms of being victims of hate crimes, there were still five times more hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims in recent years than before 9/11, The Washington Post notes.
Sobering as these statistics are, though, they mean little to Muslim American parents who are more worried about their own children’s safety. Nor to the young Muslim American woman who fears she will be harassed for simply wearing a hijab. The perception for many in our community is that we are under siege, unsafe and alone.
Why this uptick in fear? Well, the primary cause is events we have zero involvement in, namely the actions of al Qaeda and ISIS. But these fears have been exacerbated by the professional anti-Muslim bigots, certain pundits (primarily on the right, but some on the left as well) and some Republican elected officials (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s baseless claims about Muslims setting up “no go” zones being one of the most talked about examples).
So, what can be done to reduce this climate of anti-Muslim bigotry? I wish I had a simple answer, but there isn’t one. It’s akin to trying to counter anti-Semitism, racism or homophobia — it will require a concerted effort over time, as well as constant vigilance to ensure these forms of hate remain on the fringes of society.
Meanwhile, my hope is that the “good people,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, will no longer be silent in the face of hate. If you believe that no American should have to fear for his or her safety or be harassed simply because of his or her religious beliefs, then speak out. It could be through as simple an act as countering a hateful posting on social media or not sitting silently as someone spews ignorant comments.
But whatever role you choose to play, you will be doing a real service to America by making one thing clear: There’s no place for this type of bigotry in our great nation.