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“They’re terrorists,” he declared with a nonchalant wave of his hand. What began as a well-intentioned class discussion on the tragic terrorist attacks at Paris took a sharp turn as a student began using the calamitous events to justify a need to place restrictions on the immigration of Syrian refugees. Still, it wasn’t my classmate’s xenophobic attitude which struck me most, but rather the oppressive silence that hovered over the room as he spoke. My own reluctance to speak came from an utter fear of being marked an anomaly.
I spent the remainder of the week feeling disheartened and ashamed. It was a sentiment that I shared with many of my Muslim classmates; like me, they were at a loss for words as to how to react to the terrorist attacks. I recall my friend describing to me how his “heart dropped” when his friend’s mother indignantly declared that the attackers were Muslim. Silent but stunned, there was a festering thought in the back of his mind that he ought to share in the guilt.
Many wonder why Muslim-Americans remain quiet during the aftermath of terrorist attacks, as if we could speak on a terrorist’s behalf. What words could we say to prove our allegiance? By applauding the terrorist drones striking the backwaters of the East? By giving way for the forceful, booming voices of others to eclipse our own perspectives?
I have long been told by others to maintain a gracious, placid demeanor for the sake of appeasing my fellow classmates and ultimately upholding the values that Islam places on peace. Choosing to give voice to one’s opinions is an understandably burdensome task, but to maintain silence for the sake of being polite is not justified. In fact, taking a passive route to political rhetoric is self-serving to its core, ultimately protecting oneself for fear of distancing one’s friends. Why must I sacrifice my own convictions for the sake of mollifying my classmates?
It is alarming to find people restraining their sense of compassion for the sake of “security.” As for me, my sense of security is threatened as the neck of a woman who refuses to subdue herself to ISIS is slit.
My sense of optimism is trampled upon as the immaculate spirits of innocents like Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, his body resting against the callous gravel of a Turkish beach, are mired under the abhorrent labels a student chooses to impose upon them—“terrorist.”
But I do not speak up in class. Here are a selection of opinions of the Syrian refugee crisis which present themselves in the rhetoric of many of my classmates, and below them are the things I should be saying in response:
Most refugees choose to move to “Western” nations with the intent of attaining greater economic opportunities. For Syrian and Iraqi war refugees, receiving asylum is far from the classic immigrant experience of entering the gates of opportunity. Fleeing the violence and bloodshed that has overcome their respective homelands, refugees have saturated neighboring countries like Turkey and Jordan which has led to declining conditions for refugees and a depletion of essential resources such as food, shelter, and medical aid. To describe the plight of refugees as stemming from anything but a simple desire to live in a safe, secure environment would be a grievous understatement.
We ought to instead focus on providing greater support for the homeless and war veterans rather than helping refugees. This is certainly a noble cause. However, the fact that governments would choose to recall the plights of veterans and the underprivileged when they themselves have up to this point done so little to support them deems this point superficial in its intent, to simply add weight to a self-serving political agenda.
From the creeping prejudices that plague some in THHS to this oppressive policy of silence that many students uphold, I can firmly attest: we could only dream of having the courage that many have paid a dear price for under ISIS rule. The likes of female journalist Ruqia Hassan died as martyrs, but they did not die as suicide bombers. They “dared to swim in a sea of dreams” by simply giving voice to an up and coming generation not much different from our own.
We are more than mere extensions of Islamic and American values; though we may never reach such heights of courage, we can do far better than simply holding steadfast to our perspectives and silencing ourselves in the face of ignorance; we must give voice to those perspectives.