Islamophobia and my fear for my Muslim siblings

The last few years have been a series of horrors visited upon the world, with atrocious acts of violence and torment visited upon communities large and small, distant and close. One common thread has run through the way we talk about these incidents, though: A growing and explicit hatred of Muslims, courtesy of a false linkage between ‘Islam’ and a vague spectre of violence. Whether it’s France attempting to effectively control religion within its borders or mainstream US politicians insisting that Islam is evil, it’s become effectively entire acceptable to attack Islam and Muslims, who were already marginalised before. I am beginning to have a deep, visceral fear for my Muslim siblings.

Muslims sometimes comment that in the wake of any act of mass brutality committed by a brown person, let alone a Muslim, they must act swiftly to condemn it, and even then, they won’t be as swift or as contrite enough to satisfy demagogues that dominate the air waves and whip up hatred at rallies. There’s always been fear, distrust, and hatred of Muslims in the United States, but now, Muslims say it’s even worse than it was in the immediate wake of the 11 September attacks, creating a climate of constant danger. What they’re witnessing is readily apparent to outside observers, too, at least those who care to look.

What’s happening to Muslims in this country is wrong. No one should be subject to violent political rhetoric that incites terrible things. No one should be profiled and attacked on the basis of religion. No one should be excluded from community, cultural, and other events simply for being Muslim. Yet, all of these things are happening, on a daily basis, with a deep, fundamental overtone of vicious hatred that goes deep into racism, religious supremacism, and more.

I fear for my Muslim siblings because I see firsthand what is happening all around me. I see the political rallies, the threats, the assaults, the disrespect, the sheer, unadulterated hatred. I see Muslims spat at, mocked, turned into marginal members of society despite their constant push to educate the community around them. I see them pushed into conformity and punished when they fail to perform to the satisfaction of white, Christian observers.

To be Muslim in many parts of the West is to be in danger. And it must stop, though it’s too late for so many who have become victims and targets of hate — it is Islamophobia that is driving some of the worst parts of the refugee crisis, draconian laws in France, ludicrous behaviours in the United States, and more people are going to start being seriously hurt very, very soon. Without some kind of check, this behaviour is going to continue apace and start permanently reshaping political landscapes, creating not just an opening but active permission for acts of brutality, both physical and metaphorical, perpetrated on the Muslim community.

Muslims have offered shelter to those in need, have fed those who are hungry, have supported those who are in trouble, and this is how they are repaid, with systemic violence so widespread that they are afraid to practice their faith openly. In a nation that claims to value freedom of religion as an urgent national priority. People fear that if they are easy to profile as Muslim, they’ll become targets — that they shouldn’t wear hijab, ask for halal food, observe other acts of their faith, for fear of being singled out.

This must stop. In the wake of the Sydney attacks, citizens started up a spontaneous campaign offering to ride public transit with Muslims, acting as escorts to make sure they got around safely. And it was an act of important solidarity, hands reached out across social barriers to challenge Islamophobic attitudes, but the fact that it was needed at all was chilling. So is the notion that Muslims should be escorted everywhere, like children holding their fathers’ hands at the crosswalk, looking both ways to ask permission, hanging back when they see a car coming, infantalised by a society that thinks they have no value.

My Muslim siblings have a right to unapologetically fully engage with society in any way they see fit, practicing their faith in any way they please. To say otherwise is a tremendous violation of human rights and civil rights, and it opens dangerous doors that should stay firmly closed. As people profile and track Muslims, I am reminded over and over again that we must protect those who are most in need of our compassion — and that marginalised groups must fight continual battles for centuries to be recognised as human beings worthy of dignity and respect.

My Muslim siblings — whoever they are, wherever they are — always have a place in my home and at my table, a seat on the plane next to me, a place yielded on public transit when they are in need, a friendly greeting as we pass each other on the street or attend an event. They always have a right to the full protections of the law that I enjoy, a right to pursue the opportunities they dream of, to live free of fear, to be able to live their lives in freedom and with dignity. My Muslim siblings deserve all this and more, and the fact that society continues to treat them as unworthy is a grim testimony to the level of disdain and hatred the United States retains for that which it views as ‘other.’

I fear for my Muslim siblings, and I plan to fight that fear with fire.

Image: Muslim, Frank Boston, Flickr