On Wednesday, Yasmin Seweid, an 18-year-old Muslim girl from New York who claimed that she was attacked by three drunk Trump supporters on a subway, was arrested and arraigned for falsifying a police report and obstructing government administration. She could serve up to two years in jail if indicted.
On Dec. 1, Seweid reported that she was attacked on the No. 6 uptown subway train near 23rd Street by three White males who tried to remove her hijab. Seweid was later reported missing and was subsequently located.
Police officers couldn’t find any eyewitness reports or surveillance videos to consolidate Seweid’s story and became increasingly suspicious of her account. In a Facebook post, Seweid’s sister wrote that NYPD officers tried to disapprove and discredit her sister’s story from the get-go.
According to PIX 11, Seweid confessed that she concocted the story to evade getting in trouble with her parents.
Since her confession, Seweid has been ruthlessly shamed and attacked by media personnel, police officers, non-Muslims and Muslims alike for various reasons, including garnering bad press toward the Muslim-American community.
The negative responses from within the Muslim community are most alarming. We’re always quick to criticize and condemn mainstream media coverage of Muslims, but when a teenage Muslim girl makes a public mistake, full blame is cast on her, in addition to tarnishing her reputation. Moreover, if a teenage Muslim boy committed a wrongful act with the same public attention and scrutiny, his actions would’ve been dismissed as “boys will be boys.”
Although her actions are unjustifiable, the outpouring of vitriol from those criticizing Seweid is repugnant and fails to identify the underlying issue: the difficult reality of being a Muslim female teenager living in America with mounting societal, religious, parental and cultural pressures.
For starters, all we know about what actually happened has come from sensationalized media reports that no doubt have seized this as an opportunity to erroneously reinforce a patriarchal oppressive narrative of Muslim women and to delegitimatize other, actual, hate crimes against Muslims. No official police report has been released to offer a more conclusive account.
Yasmin’s story, from her initial police report to going missing and finally to her confession, is incomplete, messy and replete with themes of strict parenting, police indifference, cultural assimilation, societal pressures, beauty standards and verbal abuse against women.
The reality is that Seweid’s story is not uncommon. Perhaps others’ are not to the same intensity or notoriety, but Seweid’s isn’t the first, and will certainly not be the last, teenager to lie to avoid any retribution from her parents or whomever.
Yes, her story was disproportionate, politically buzzed and affects many others, but let’s consider something. If we weren’t living in a Trump era with heightened Islamophobia and rampant anti-Muslim rhetoric, Seweid would’ve probably fabricated any other story with different details to gain sympathy from her parents, as early reports claimed.
To be clear, I’m not trying to psychoanalyze her intentions or to reduce her story to a simplistic, or even nuanced, explanation to justify her actions and heroize her.
But, the fact remains that conservative parents, immigrants or not, can be suffocatingly strict, almost exclusively to their daughters, because they think they’re molding them into their vision of “righteous” individuals. As a result, a culture of fear is fostered at home that leads to a relationship of dishonesty and habitual fabrication of stories to get away with actions that would otherwise break parental standards.
Honestly? It’s disappointing because the amount of shame and guilt that ensues is enormous and emotionally tolling. Many times all these girls want is to be brutally honest with their parents and to be able to do what they desire without feeling guilty and without feeling like they have to choose between what they want and what their parents want.
Add to that being visibly Muslim in America—as a hijabi you’re seen as the infallible ambassador for Islam—and the pressure increases tenfold. Every public, and sometimes private, action is not seen individually, but rather as a collective and monolithic representation of all Muslims. It’s immensely burdensome, especially if there are no adequate support systems.
Robina Niaz, founder of Turning Point for Women and Families, an organization founded to help Muslim women and girls, told Newsweek that the pressure on visibly Muslim women and girls in America is “enormous.”
She said, “I’m not condoning her [Seweid’s] behavior at all. It’s understandable that Muslims, including myself, are upset and worried, but I feel we need to pay even more attention to young women and the kind of support and help we can provide them, so that anyone else who is struggling with things at home or outside feels a little safer talking about them and getting help.”
Shaming Yasmin will not make the situation any better. It will only contribute to her distress. Instead, we should internally reflect on the conditions that led to her decisions and make changes to prevent its recurrence.