Farooq: Fifty Dead Muslims

A letter to America, from an American Muslim.

by Ukasha Farooq | 3/28/19 2:05am

People often don’t fully process deaths when they occur in wholesale numbers. Fifty Muslims killed. Men and women, young and old. Mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Someone will have to tell a mother that her son was killed. She will probably have spent a few hours frantically calling his cellphone after seeing the news coverage. 

In my time as a Muslim in Europe and United States, the best treatment I have received from the non-Muslim community, mostly white Americans and British people, has been passive sympathy. My explantations about Muslim and immigrant distress are listened to patiently. But I always feel like I am inconveniencing them with my complaints. They’d rather not hear me talk about 50 dead Muslims, up to one million Uighurs in detention or Rohigyan babies thrown into a fire ­— literally. I feel like my conversation is often ended for me; “I’m so sorry. It must be hard — being Muslim in America.” They stutter as they say the M-word. 

Here is my request: Keep the sympathy. As a matter of fact, keep the thoughts and prayers, too. And your social media posts. Some of those posts come from the same mouths that foster a fear of immigrants and Muslims and are written by the same hands that draft policies like the Patriot Act and the Muslim “travel ban.” Others come from people who stand by too quietly in the face of hate, and who also deserve condemnation.

One may argue that not all white Americans deserve condemnation. After all, are they really all Islamophobes? That question misses the point. No, they’re not all Islamophobes. No, not all of them are standing silently outside of mosques with semi-automatic weapons. But a large majority maintain the kind of pernicious silence that led to the Christchurch attack. They may not be “active Islamophobes,” but they are passive ones. I don’t know which group infuriates me more. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that it wasn’t the outright racist Americans who frustrated him the most, but the ones who said they supported the black community but did not approve of the noisy way in which they wished to gain their rights. Implicit in that position was a failure to fully condemn or understand racist treatment of black people by white supremacists. If apathetic Americans did that, they would have more strongly condemned white supremacy, and more effectively supported the civil rights movement.

The American public has acted similarly in relation to American Muslims. There has been no outreach to the Muslim community. No attempts to understand us in a human and intelligent way. There is simply a fear of our difference. Most white Americans have little to no contact with American Muslims. They are too put off by our beards, hijabs and our brownness. They think Islam is weird anyway. Of course, they say, Islam doesn’t have anything to do with misogyny and terrorism. But it must have something to do with it.

Almost half of the American public thinks that Islam is a religion of violence. Almost half believe that there is a “great deal” or “fair amount” of support of extremism amongst Muslims. According to a recent Pew poll, Muslims placed last, behind all other major religious groups in America, on the general public likeability scale. To put that into perspective, every time I walk out onto the street, many, even most of the people I meet dislike me because of my religion.

Muslims die every day — Palestinians, Kashmiris, Rohingyas, Uighurs, Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians. Our lives are expendable, and our deaths are politically inconsequential. According to researchers at the University of Alabama and Georgia State, terrorist attacks committed by Muslims get on average 357 percent more coverage than those carried out by non-Muslims. Yet there are millions of Muslims worldwide who are being persecuted every day, and there is not enough news coverage of their suffering. For instance, China holds a million Uighur Muslims in detention centers, where they face “re-education” by means of physical and psychological torture, imprisonment and murder. These are one million Muslims who have been imprisoned simply because they are Muslim. One million. Where are they in the American public conscience? Where are they presented in the media?

Someone reading this may start to feel some sense of sympathy well up inside of them for Muslims. Save it — just remember that Muslims do not need saving. People need to recognize their indifference to our deaths and their hypocrisy when it comes to a white person dying compared to a Muslim dying, and their hypocrisy when it comes to an attack on American soil compared to one on Middle Eastern or South Asian or African soil. 

I hope to God that not one more Muslim mother will have to hear of her son’s death through a white stranger. As she desperately searches for answers in his distant and professional gaze, averted as they face each other.

Ukasha Farooq is a graduate student at Dartmouth College

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