“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved ones honorable and faithful service.”
These were the words spoken to us just over a week ago as our family sat, tears falling, amid the backdrop of endless white headstones at Long Island National Cemetery. In that moment of sadness, our thoughts turned to our children. In the midst of the loss of their great-grandfather who served in WWII, we’ve been compelled to think about their place in the future of this nation. Our nation.
As an American Muslim couple, both of us born and raised in New York, we’ve been watching this presidential election process unfold with rising concern. Although questions have been asked at the debates about the surge in hatred and violence towards innocent, law abiding American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, we find ourselves holding our breath in anticipation, eager for a moment in which the many victims of this anti-Islam hate will be recognized with more than just an off-hand, superficial condemnation.
The discussion of this topic – often labeled “Islamophobia” – the “othering” of Muslim citizens and the dangers posed to these American families – is often shifted – almost unnoticeably, to the topic of fighting terrorism.
All Americans are subject to the same terrorism threat – including Muslims. In addition to the terror threat, American Muslims are made to endure misplaced hatred, violence and suspicion ranging from micro aggressions and discrimination – to cold blooded murder.
The evil of terrorism is not a justification for the violence toward innocent Muslims – both are unacceptable. So why do the responses to this issue in the debates repeatedly shift attention away from recognizing the victims of anti-Islam hate?
By shifting the topic from Islamophobia to terrorism, the virulent anti-Islam hate directed at innocent Americans is implicitly justified – as if the existence of terrorism is the natural, obvious explanation for it. This allows for the conflation of Islam with terrorism. But terrorism is not actually the cause of Islamophobia.
We’ve heard that anti-Islam hate towards American Muslims is wrong because “we need them” to be part of our “eyes and ears” as if American Muslims are merely tools in defeating an enemy. But we are citizens with the same inalienable rights as anyone else – and conflating Islam with terrorism isn’t just a matter of insult.
In fact, the term “Islamic terrorism” isn’t wrong because it’s insulting. It’s not wrong because American Muslims are needed to be “on our front lines.” It’s wrong because the overwhelming majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims believe that terrorism can in no way, shape, or form be “Islamic” – terrorism is un-Islamic. This is evidenced by the open letter signed by 120 Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world, or the fatwa against terrorism which 70,000 Muslim scholars came together to pass in 2008. Or the Orlando statement that we signed along with hundreds of other American Muslim leaders in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. It’s wrong to use the term “Islamic terrorism” because it does not conform with reality.
American Muslims are an integral part of the fabric of this country and have been a part of the US since the time of George Washington, as Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out.
American Muslims are entrepreneurs, doctors and nurses, police officers, firefighters, members of our military, neighbors and friends. Muslims are one of the most diverse faith groups in this country. Muslims are black, white and everything in between. Thousands of Americans choose to become Muslim every year.
Our children will grow up knowing their great-grandfather was a naval sergeant in WWII. They know their grandfather worked for the NY Fire Patrol and continued to drive into downtown Manhattan during the stressful aftermath of 9/11, he died in the following weeks, before they were born. Will they know that they have a future in this country, the only home any of us have ever known?
Their history is rooted in the United States – but we can’t help but wonder if their future here is safe. Will they be free to practice their faith in an environment devoid of anti-Islam hate? They deserve to know.
In these last weeks before the presidential election, our family, and the millions of American Muslims around the country will be waiting for a real answer.