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Are Western Muslims Suffering From PTSD?

Are Western Muslims Suffering From PTSD?

I sometimes worry that my entire generation of young Western Muslims suffer from PTSD — and I honestly do not take that affliction lightly.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops in a person after they’ve experienced a traumatic situation. It’s most commonly associated with soldiers returning home from long and dangerous tours abroad, but can also occur in more common situations, like abusive relationships.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it can cause difficulty sleeping, angry or violent outbursts, tension and anxiety, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, and distorted feelings like guilt or blame.
I believe we, the post 9/11 generation of Western Muslims, are collectively suffering from PTSD. Okay, I know, that sounds a little dramatic, but I’m genuinely concerned — we’re all pretty stressed out

I believe we, the post 9/11 generation of Western Muslims, are collectively suffering from PTSD. Okay, I know, that sounds a little dramatic, but I’m genuinely concerned — we’re all pretty stressed out.

I was nine years old the morning I watched the Twin Towers fall.
Obviously, as a child that age, I couldn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation, but I knew from the look on my mother’s face as she watched the looping footage that this was a day that wouldn’t be easily forgotten. And just like that, almost overnight, a population that had been barely visible was thrown under a microscope. For my generation, a generation of Muslim children growing up in Europe and North America, it was the beginning of a chain of incredibly traumatic experiences.

Just like that, almost overnight, a population that had been barely visible was thrown under a microscope.   For my generation, a generation of Muslim children growing up in Europe and North America, it was the beginning of a chain of incredibly traumatic experiences.

I was ten when I first heard of Abu Ghraib.
I was I was twelve when France banned the hijab and other religious garments in public schools and government institutions.
I was fifteen when I learned the name Maher Arar.
These are just big picture examples; I don’t need to recount how airport security became “randomly” interested in my family’s suitcases with every trip, or how I was put on the spot consistently throughout high school, how I could feel every eye on me when a classroom discussion about terrorism or Islam would arise.
These are experiences every Western Muslim my age has and can speak to. I don’t need to expand on this.
But it never stopped.
I was twenty-two, and still having to condemn the actions of groups like Boko Haram and the so-called “Islamic” State. I was still having to justify my hijab to my non-Muslim classmates, still having to calmly respond when told to “go home” by strangers on the street, still having to witness merciless attacks in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and be told it was for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “the good of the people.”
Folks, it is emotionally exhausting. It was emotionally exhausting just recalling it all now.
As I got older, with every politically charged headline came an equally charged reaction.
The first time I came home crying from school, I was seventeen; a classmate went on an Islamophobic rant, calling my religion “primitive,” “backwards,” and its followers “cavemen” and my teacher, unsure of how to handle the situation, refused to let me defend myself for fear of letting the situation escalate. I skipped the rest of my classes for the rest of the day, unable to focus, and spent the afternoon crying in my room.
After the Chapel Hill shootings, I tried to go to class, but when my classmates hadn’t heard of the incident, I left, needing the support of my Muslim friends. And after the Paris attacks in November, I deactivated my Facebook and removed myself from the unbearable headache that is our virtual reality.
It’s more than that; it’s the indescribable feeling of guilt I feel when watching the news, despite my unchallenged innocence. It’s how my throat tightens when I hear “radical Islam” being discussed by countless white commentators and reporters. It’s how I’ve had nightmares about my loved ones being taken in the night, disappearing in airports or being tortured in darkened prison cells.

It’s more than that; it’s the indescribable feeling of guilt I feel when watching the news, despite my unchallenged innocence. It’s how my throat tightens when I hear “radical Islam” being discussed by countless white commentators and reporters. It’s how I’ve had nightmares about my loved ones being taken in the night, disappearing in airports or being tortured in darkened prison cells.

This is only my version of events. With every new attack and headline, I can feel the tension amongst my peers rise. We’ve grown up with a sense of fear embedded in us; with the xenophobic rhetoric surrounding Brexit, and the rise of Donald Trump, it seems our subconscious fear that we’re not wanted has been confirmed.
And it’s stressful.
I’ve heard some of my friends say they feel triggered by everyday things; they never stand too close to the edge of the metro platform, for fear of being pushed. They have their phones ready to record any incident, if a passerby seems snippy or hostile. They feel they can’t play paintball, visit the mosque, or even grocery shop without being watched. Under this kind of stress, it’s easy to feel isolated, alienated, and incredibly angry at a society that allows for this kind of scapegoating with little to no understanding to our point of view.

 Under this kind of stress, it’s easy to feel isolated, alienated, and incredibly angry at a society that allows for this kind of scapegoating with little to no understanding to our point of view.

This is the cycle we find ourselves in today. Anti-Islamic sentiments rise, this causes anger in an already stressed out and traumatized individual, said individual has a violent outburst, making headlines and creating more anti-Islamic sentiments. It’s not rocket science and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon.
I wish I had a happy ending to this post, my dear reader. But I can’t help but feel that, like any problem, it needs to be addressed before a solution can be found. Right now, the wellbeing of the young Muslims in the West is the last thing on the mind of the mainstream, so we have to take it on ourselves.
My dear brothers and sisters, this is why self-love and self-care is so important. We need to take care of ourselves and we need to take care of each other.
It’s so important to create a network of people who can support you, listen to you, and love you when you feel the most unsupported, unheard, and unloved. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, turn to your family, your friends, an understanding coworker, anyone who you feel will help you get your footing back. Have a laugh, have a cry, do what it takes and then, when you’re needed, be sure to be the same support for those in need.

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We need to take care of ourselves and we need to take care of each other.  It’s so important to create a network of people who can support you, listen to you, and love you when you feel the most unsupported, unheard, and unloved.

It’s important to find an outlet for your stress, whether that’s sports, spoken word, or a good old-fashioned blog post. Be creative; there are so many ways you can devote your time, not only to your well-being, but to benefit your community as well. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, take up weekly hiking, or a book club. And while you’re at it, turn off your phone. Everyone needs a sanctuary.
And finally, it’s important to know yourself and know when you’ve had enough – to know when you need to get off Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet altogether, and take time for yourself to regroup, recenter, and remember who you are.

And finally, it’s important to know yourself and know when you’ve had enough – to know when you need to get off Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet altogether, and take time for yourself to regroup, recenter and remember who you are.

This doesn’t make you weak. If anything, it is a testament to just how strong you are. To be able to endure trauma after trauma and then pick up the pieces? It’s nothing short of amazing.
If you read through this and found yourself nodding along, relating to my experiences and feeling a little deflated and hopeless, I want you to remember this: You are not what they say you are. You are not responsible for the evils of the world, and most importantly, you are capable of so much love and goodness.
It’s not until we start having these kind of conversations that our generation can begin to heal.
 
Contributed by Sumayya Tobah
 

View Comment (1)
  • My heart aches for you while reading this. It feels suffocating just to imagine the frustration and the fury you would face everyday. How can I, a non-muslim & non-westerner, help? I know it’s not enough to ‘follow’ Al Jazeera and to ‘like’ the articles of MuslimGirl (however cool this medium is), but I honestly don’t know where to begin.
    Please remember there are people out there who love you already.

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