Islamophobia has characterized my upbringing. 9/11 happened almost right as my childhood memories begin. From that moment on, despite being the daughter of a white mother, being the daughter and sister of Sikh men who proudly wear turbans would never be the same.
“I’m scared Asha. There is almost no difference between the appearance of those three students in Chapel Hill and you and your brother,” my mother said in panic over the phone.
This wasn’t the first time and deep down, I know it won’t be the last.
Islamophobia: A Community Struggling to Heal
As each year passes and America is given more time to heal, those of us with brown skin and/or religious head coverings are robbed of our own healing process. New headlines of violence overwhelm us from every direction — may it be a Hindu temple graffitied with hateful words in Washington, a Sikh man being run down by a car in New York, an Indian man partially paralyzed by a police attack in Alabama, a Mexican man gunned down by police in Washington, or Muslim students being shot to death in North Carolina. With each new headline, a part of us becomes more fearful. And as if that isn’t enough, the media swiftly responds by taking away our voice and re-writing our stories in a way that denies the existence of systematic oppression of anyone who looks like or is Muslim.
According to a Lifeway Research study that polled 1,000 Americans, 27 percent of Americans believe the terrorist group ISIL reflects the true nature of Islam, while only 43 percent believe Islam can create a peaceful society. Unlike the violent and horrific cases of Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Aurora, violence against those who are or appear to be Muslim do not shock the nation. It is as though we, as a nation, have become immune to Muslims and anyone who looks Muslim to be harassed, beaten, shot, and/or killed. The lack of media coverage given to such cases is proof. A majority of Americans will remember the name “Sandy Hook” for years, but almost none will remember “Oak Creek”.
This does not mean there is no hope. The government and a large percentage of its citizens may not start a movement, but that just means we need to take a grassroots approach. Here is how you can help.
Fighting Islamophobia as an Individual
There are many ways people respond to discrimination. South-Asians are not alone when they have different reactions to the oppression of their own religion versus the oppression of others. Here are three tips to help you to break the cycle of xenophobia.
Tip 1: Simply Saying “I’m not Muslim” is NOT the Answer
This call applies to the broader “brown” community, a community that is paradoxically victim to Islamophobic violence while still being rife with Islamophobia itself. If we respond to discrimination by defending solely our own identity at the expense of others, we are only fueling hate in this world. As a Kaur, I have seen how American Sikhs (just like other “brown” communities) often distance themselves from Muslims because of the post-9/11 prejudices. Stop it. Don’t isolate yourself and only associate with people you identify as “your people.” Befriend individuals from all walks of life and become a global citizen.
Tip 2: Educate Yourself and Others
Become well versed in not only the beliefs you identify with, but also the beliefs and value systems of the communities around you. Learn about other cultures and religions. By doing so, you are not only going to be able to defend yourself in confrontational situations, but also be able to stand up for the communities being threatened.
Tip 3: Assume Best Intentions
The bottom line is if we are truly following the religious paths we identify with, we should know our Muslim brothers and sisters deserve to be safe from violence as much as we do. The best way to truly counter hate is to educate people on the peaceful tenets of all of our faiths, the meaning of our religious symbols, answer any questions they may have, trying to assume best intentions as often as possible.
Fighting Islamophobia as a Global Community
When Islamophobic violence occurs, reach out to your grieving neighbors and lend a comforting hand. If you see a young boy or girl being harassed, stand up for them. Go to your local mosque, gurdwara, church, mandar, etc. to learn more about faith and to show support within your local community. And lastly, regardless of whether you are Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or otherwise, remember that the systems that rob us of our safety and stories are completely interconnected to the various other systems of oppression. We can only solve them if we remember to keep intersectionality in mind.