“Your prophet was a pedophile!” “Go back to your country!”
Hundreds of people were screaming from the sidewalks that day in the most intense display of hatred I’ve ever experienced in person.
Islamophobia has been around for decades, but if one were to pinpoint a time when they developed and became differentiated from general xenophobia, it would be after the 9/11 attacks.
I personally have a unique history with Islamophobia in America, as I moved away just months after the attacks and returned almost a decade later. Coming back to the States as a hijabi adult was jarring, as I’d never felt the kind of attention my covering brought upon me. The post-9/11 hysteria had calmed by that time, so the extra attention wasn’t as bad as it could be.
I learned that soon enough with Donald Trump running for the Presidential nomination, bringing up topics like Muslim bans and registries. Even as Islamophobia soared with Trump’s support, many claimed it didn’t exist.
Yet in places like the mall, the doctor’s office, Walmart and more, I saw my own hijabi mother being treated like she didn’t have a right to be there. My father was seen as uneducated, unable to speak English, and of course as hating America. My tall, large, bearded brother-in-law, of mixed Arab and White descent, was most often seen as a threat.
It wasn’t until the day I referenced, at a Muslim conference in Garland, that I realized the depth of the hatred. Some protesters attempted to assault a Muslim couple right in front of me.
Most of us in this class consider ourselves open-minded and progressive, and it’s difficult to recognize how we too condone and thereby enable Islamophobia. This can be as simple as letting a terrorist joke pass without comment, or assuming someone Muslim is not American. I’ve heard, “you’re Muslim? I thought you were Hispanic!” too many times to let it go. The Muslim world does not exist. Muslims can be those other than South Asian and Arab people. The list goes on.
My primary suggestion for all of us would be to go seek out the people we don’t interact with and know little about. This applies to many groups, including Muslims. Don’t just put the onus on a small minority to go out of their way to engage with you. Visit a mosque, there’s one a mile from UNT. Go to a Muslim Student Association meeting. They take place on campus.
All the opportunities to learn are at our fingertips. Not taking advantage of them now would be its own form of ignorance.