Support a platform for Minnesotan Muslims
By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
“When we view ourselves as the protagonist of a story in which we are always right, we collect grievances about other people by noticing everything we do and noting the ‘injustices’ that are done to us. All of this builds resentment within us and instigates conflict.” –Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah
A Somali MPR reporter is stopped at the courthouse where he’s been going every day.
A 6th grade Muslim schoolgirl in New York is called “ISIS,” put in headlock, and punched as middle-school boys tried to pull off her headscarf.
A fourteen-year-old boy who wants to show his clock to a teacher is treated as a terrorist.
My daughter is called a “terrorist” in school.
These are not isolated incidents, but part of an increasingly powerful narrative about Muslims. I get up early to read the news. When I do, I find Muslims all over the world, mainly in a negative light, often framed as a stereotype of violence and hatred.
In the last year, the voices of ISIS and their supporters have been saturating the internet—both because of their shocking acts and because of how well they fit with stereotypes of the “eternally violent” Muslim. One would think they are the majority of Muslims rather than a fringe minority.
All around the world, Muslims are working as journalists, attending school, inventing things—but extremists get the coverage and the mic. The picture is overwhelmed by them, and they seem like the majority.
Here in Minnesota, we’ve watched the trial of Somali youth unfold. Many of us felt a sadness about how these youth were misled and who failed them. But meanwhile, Mukhtar Ibrahim, a Somali MPR reporter, was stopped at the courthouse while covering the case.
“They know who I am, they see me every day,” Ibrahim said. “I’m not a stranger coming to cover this case from the East Coast. I’ve been covering this case since day one. They know I’m a reporter.”
What happened to make security see Ibrahim not as a reporter, but as a threat?
The problem is the imbalance of the platform. Even though there are a few “positive” stories about Muslims here and there, there isn’t a platform where people are able to respond to false accusations, clarify misunderstandings of Islamic teachings, and reach the masses.
When someone is allowed to speak on behalf of Muslims, it’s often not the people who are targeted, but someone whose story fits with the violent narrative.
Currently, Presidential candidate Donald Trump has made Muslims a scapegoat. Even though most mass shootings in the US are by non-Muslims, he waits for an opportunity for fringe Muslims to engage in violent acts like other Americans and calls it out as though it is an act of “Islamic Radicalism.”
Back in 2005, Thomas Friedman had an essay titled “Brave, Young and Muslim” where he praised Irshad Manji’s book, The Trouble With Islam Today. Manji is a self-claimed Muslim refusenik who, in her book, magnifies every social ill present in Muslim societies portraying Muslims as morally bankrupt people for mainly non-Muslim audiences.
Certainly, Muslims should not be above criticism! But through scapegoating and humiliation, Muslims are shamed into seeing themselves as flawed and defective, just by being Muslim, which creates feelings of worthlessness, pushing them into emotional rage or isolation instead of dialogue and peacemaking.
But there is another way.
In April, my daughter turned sixteen. Part of me was happy that she’d grown up, but part of me still felt that she’s my little baby. I get many compliments from her teachers on her kindness and her loving nature, especially in comforting children who are depressed or lonely. She is full of empathy and compassion.
She attends public school. In 6th grade, I took her out of Al Amal, a Muslim school in Fridley, feeling that she should be okay now in the broader community. Sometimes, I’ve been alarmed by her coming home asking me about ISIS, or feeling angry that she was called a terrorist, or having all eyes look at her when the teacher discusses 9/11.
When I was her age, I used to get into physical fights with people who would try to bully me or my siblings because we were “foreigners,” Muslims, or Palestinians. I lacked the tools to do anything else, but I don’t want my daughter to use that approach. I want my daughter to be able to speak up for herself. To do that, she also needs a platform.
In April, my daughter was called a “terrorist” in school. Right away, she reported the person to the Dean. The boy was found and brought to the office and my daughter got a platform to tell him how his words made her feel.
Face to face.
The boy was compelled to listen. After that, he apologized and told her he didn’t mean it.
She felt better—she was able to face the boy openly and transparently and to express how his words had impacted her. This was both because she knew how to respond to discrimination, but also because the school principal gave her a small platform, a place to speak.
On the national level, this has been much harder. “Clock Boy” became instantly famous when he brought an invention to school and was treated as a terrorist. The 14-year-old was detained, questioned, and hauled off in handcuffs.
It wasn’t resolved at the local level, so the story made headline news and people gave the boy moral support. Yet, sadly, the platform quickly became skewed toward people like Richard Dawkins, who could not help attacking the boy on social media. “Don’t call him ‘clock boy’ since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!” Dawkins tweeted.
We need to have more empathy and compassion for young children being abused and bullied in school. We need to give those children a platform to speak, just as Muslims across the United States need to have a place to speak, to respond, to share their stories.
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Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She was the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota. She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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