The past year has seen many different attacks carried out by radical affiliates. Many people will remember the attacks on Paris at the Bataclan stadium and elsewhere, or perhaps the recent attacks in Brussels will ring a bell to others.
However, many may not have heard about the terrorist attacks in Kenya, in Pakistan or in Turkey, which happened more recently than the attacks in Europe. On Facebook, almost immediately after the events in France, the developers released a filter that could be placed over users’ profile pictures in an effort to show solidarity. While this is a compassionate response to a national tragedy, it is interesting that this simply does not happen for countries like Pakistan or Palestine.
Framed with the overexposure of a certain very rich demagogue that is running for president, this issue is important to look at because it is evident that the media can be polarizing and even propagandistic. To shine a light on how Muslim Americans see this issue, the Carolinian reached out to a representative of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Yasmin Ali.
In response to the initial question about the media’s portrayal of attacks, Ali noted that there are indeed differences in coverage about attacks like the one at Charlie Hebdo. “There wasn’t major coverage in countries that weren’t considered western…ones considered as third world. Paris and Belgium get so much sympathy from the American media, though all countries are important and we should be compassionate to every country that faces such tragedies. All people should be valued equally, so why is it that countries that are deemed “violent anyway” aren’t getting the same type of empathy and attention that France and Belgium have been?”
The conversation turned to general attitudes towards people of the Islamic faith and whether she notices any significant shift in the way that Muslim individuals are treated.
“Towards Muslim people, yes I have noticed a shift…it’s sad to say that it’s nothing new, but with Trump running, it highlights exactly who in this nation specifically dislikes the Muslim-American community and why. On top of that it has created an environment where being Muslim is a negative thing and it is allowing hatred towards Muslims to become the norm,” said Ali.
According to the Pew Research Center, there were an estimated 3.3 million Muslim Americans documented, and that number is set to double by 2015. It is of dire importance that the general public respects individuals of every faith, especially considering the fact that one of the main goals for the Founding Fathers was to build a society of religious freedom.
Going further, the Pew Research Center found that Muslims number about 1.6 billion, or 23 percent of the world’s population. Out of all of those people, only around 106,000 are associated with organizations considered extremist.
That’s about 0.00006625 percent of the overall Muslim population. In fact, as is evidenced by the so-called Bundy takeover in Oregon, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting, the attack on the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina and even down to the violence that occurs at Trump rallies, the reality of terrorism and violence is that non-Muslims are more likely to commit large-scale acts of violence.
According to a study published in February of 2013 by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 were committed by Muslim-Americans.”
To combat Islamophobia, the Carolinian asked Ali what here association implements: “Education…educating people to realize that we are just people with specific religious views. Nothing in our faith condones violence and hatred, and like many misrepresented people, we cannot allow a destructive organization like ISIS to represent a whole belief group. So we at the MSA organization try to teach people on campus as well as people of our own faith how we should handle negative media, as well as correcting them and teaching others how we really feel and how we are like everyone else.”
The next question that was asked was what specifically she would say to the UNCG public in regards to increasing empathy and awareness and about whether or not she believes Islamophobia fuels extremism, Ali had this to answered frankly:
“As for the UNCG public, I would like to tell them to not be afraid of the Muslims that they are surrounded by, but rather to get to know them and learn about what is happening in the world for themselves. There’s only so much that the media can accurately tell you. Also, education is the best way that we can combat these kinds of organizations, to understand what is happening, who it is affecting and who is being victimized.
“Think about Malala and how driven she was to get an education, to the point that she put her life on the line. As humans, we put whatever we are afraid of in a box and carry it to extreme measures, and we look at something foreign and different as something bad and scary. Although I am against terrorist groups and what they are doing, I also am afraid for the groups of people that are being discriminated against because of the deeds of evil individuals. People don’t blame all Christians for the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church, so Americans can’t lump all Muslims together with ISIS, Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. It’s a false overgeneralization.”
The last issue to be discussed was that of the perceived difference between “Allah” and God. Some people think that these two beings are different, but Ali clarified that: “Allah is just the Arabic word for God, so Christianity in the Arabic speaking countries also say Allah and Allahu Akbar, in the meaning of God and “God is great” respectively. The Abrahamic religions are so similar; they are mostly just different by a few stories and a few different interpretations, more of the “big picture.”
However, the details are extremely similar, such as praying facing a certain direction, or dietary restrictions, or how we are not supposed to put any name of God on the floor out of respect. It shows a similar path of roots but the reason that we are all so different today is merely because of different interpretations of events.”