“Welcome to America! I just want you to know that not everyone is against you, and that there’s many like me who are on your side! I support you!”
The Polish immigrant’s smile was endless while he talked affectionately to my mother and me. Feelings of déjà vu swept over me as I remembered three-year-old Fatima at an international arrival terminal at JFK. What he didn’t realize is that we received our American welcome over a decade ago. As the years went by, my other three siblings changed the immigrant to nonimmigrant ratio in our family to fifty-fifty.
But, if your mother wears hijab people can assume anything.
The phrase that stands out the most to me is “on your side.” Why should I be on a different side than him, or Christians, or Jews, or anybody? It’s wrong that Muslims are viewed as terrorists who follow a “violent” religion. Ironic, since the definition of the word “Islam,” is “World of Peace.” Unfortunately, this knowledge reaches those who choose to be exposed to it, but the problem is — why do people have to put in an effort to know? Just as everyone has heard the negative stereotypes associated with my religion, why haven’t they heard about the fundamental values and truths about it? Why are 1.6 billion Muslims becoming victims for the actions of a few?
Answer: Five-letter word. Media.
Media is the only way people get their news, and often people are swayed without understanding both sides of the story. For at least three days on national television, you’ll hear about the Arab-Muslim-Man-With-A-Beard who is a suspect. But only for a day on national television, you’ll hear about the White-Non-Muslim-Man-Without-A-Beard who set an Ohio mosque on fire because he was “mentally ill.” When the White-Non-Muslim-Man-Without-A-Beard was asked whether he knew any Muslims or what Islam is, he replied, “No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio.” The President publicly expressed lamentation for the Paris attack performed by the Arab-Muslim-Man-With-A-Beard, but the President never did the same for the Muslims in Quebec who lost their lives due to the White-Non-Muslim-Man-Without-A-Beard. Despite that, the epitome of media bias is when the media chose to highlight the Muslim suicide bomber in Stade de France but not the Muslim security officer who blocked the bomber from entering the stadium. The Muslim security officer became a hero when he lost his life, for the sake of saving hundreds of others, but he wasn’t the Muslim the media wanted. This is a problem.
In the beginning of my middle school chorus concerts, my classmates and I sang lines about younger America: “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The structural values of liberty, equality and unity that were implemented at America’s birth now seem paradoxical. Building a wall, banning a religion, discriminating against genders and cultures are not what the Founding Fathers of this country would have liked to see. The people who will have to suffer from unconstitutional orders aren’t “free,” and segregation isn’t “brave;” if anything, it’s cowardly. Why must people resort to discrimination, hate, or violence to solve problems instead of unity, logic, and ethics? The saddening options that are used today violate the definition of being American. We claim to be the best nation in the world, so let’s prove that through every action.
But just as racial discrimination is spreading, so is racial progress. We all have been taught to not believe everything we hear and to educate ourselves before drawing a conclusion. People that researched Islam only found room for love and empathy in my religion, which is the opposite of what most media outlets portray. People are beginning to question the media and realize that Islamophobia is actually just a phobia about understanding the truth. Once someone learns the facts, they’ll get over his/her fear of a certain race. When Muslims banned from travel were praying in airports, their fellow non-Muslims citizens protected them. This is the definition of hope. We are all human beings first, then religion plays a part of how one defines him or herself; but a religion doesn’t define the person nor does a person define the religion. Every cloud has a silver lining and this cloud that is storming and fogging up America right now is the same one that is uniting millions of diverse people together.
Knowing that my brother won’t be segregated because his name is Muhammad, or my mother because she wears hijab is a dream I believe to see in my lifetime because I have hope in my fellow immigrants, just like my Polish Friend, who built this nation. With more unity and support not only between every immigrant to immigrant, but between every person to every person, we will show this teenage America what it means to be American.
Let’s make empathy great again.