Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
I've had a lot of interviews over the last few days by different media outlets doing stories on being Muslim in America. One question that seemingly keeps coming up is "How do you feel about the islamophobic attitudes that have seemingly increased in the United States over the last few years?"
I feel it almost every day - it's presence and manifestation in my own life and the lives of many around me. It's there and it needs to be stopped. For those who don't believe that Islamophobia exists, you're wrong. There's really no other way of saying it.
The Center for American Progress, based out of Washington D.C., released a report earlier today entitled Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America. This report offers a great analysis of the Islamophobic movement, key players in it, and how it is supported and funded. I would encourage everyone to read it objectively and share it with your networks and friends.
Wahajat Ali, one of the authors of the report, writes
"Last July, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich warned a conservative audience at the American Enterprise Institute that the Islamic practice of Sharia was 'a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.' Gingrich went on to claim that 'Sharia in its natural form has principles and punishments totally abhorrent to the Western world.'"
Numerous politicians have been very irresponsible with their words when it comes to Islam. It's as if Muslims have a different set of rights that other citizens of the country for no reason other than we choose to practice Islam. The rhetoric, whether we choose to acknowledge or not, enables hate to exist. I regularly meet Muslims from all walks of life who have been harassed, bullied, robbed, beaten, because they practice Islam. Even people who aren't Muslim are victims of hate crimes because their ethnicity or cultural background isn't distinguishable by the one carrying out the crime. Islam is a religion - it's not a race. Muslims are from every country of the world including the United States.
I once did an interview that never aired, much to the dismay of the interviewer, in which my co-panelist told me that Muslims deserve the way they are being treated. That was probably the most foolish thing I've ever heard in my life. How is that a cab driver who is trying to make a decent living deserves to be stabbed because of his faith? How is that a young girl deserves to be abused for wearing a headscarf and it's justifiable for people to yank it off her head and tell her to go back home while everyone around her watches? How is okay for our children to grow up with limited sense of aspiration? Am I not entitled to the same comforts and securities you are because of my religion? Do I deserve to be scrutinized, singled out, profiled, and stereotyped because of my faith? No, I do not. It's not ok. It's wrong.
I travel a lot for speaking engagements and work and over the last year every time I have come into my country, the United States of America, from an international trip, I am detained. These days when it happens, an announcement is made after we land that passports are being randomly checked on the way out so have them ready. Two customs officers stand at the door and when my passport is found, the one who has it tells the other "I found him." Essentially I am the random check. I am then escorted to a small room that is filled mostly with minorities and immigrants and kept there from two to six hours. This happens regardless of my reason for traveling or where I am traveling to and in the last year or so has taken place about a dozen separate times. It happens even when I travel on behalf of the State Department in an official capacity. When my NYPD credentials are seen or letters from ambassadors from the State Department, the frustration by the Customs officers is apparent. First they ask who I am and then they ask, "Why are we stopping you?" I wonder the same thing. I asked one officer once what he thought after he had gone through the process with me multiple times and began to recognize me when I came in. He said "You are young, male, and Muslim. And right now those three things don't go well together." At the end of it though, I have to go through the process. Really what else can I do? My civil rights somehow become secondary because I practice Islam.
Islamophobia exists in much of the world today. It is an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless. Do your part in ensuring that is not empowered any further by understanding where it comes from and helping those around you understand it as well.