“No. I won’t blow you up,” is a response I had to give more times than I care to admit.
I spent my high school years in a small southern town with small southern town values, some good and some not so good. Many people were super nice, some super racist (which is probably the general blend of people in the U.S. to be fair).
I often faced questions of Satan worshipping, terrorism, oppression of Muslim women or condescending congratulations on being a rare example of Black excellence. However, let’s just address the “I won’t blow you up” issue.
As the only visible Muslim girl in my high school, I ran into curious students. Students who wanted to know me, but were afraid because I may blow them up or harm them in some way. Honestly, my intention isn’t to complain but rather to challenge the way we act out of fear. It’s often irrational and leads to real consequences based upon false or flimsy claims.
If you are reading this you probably see the humor and silliness in such an accusation. You probably understand that there are over a billion Muslims in the world and the odds of being in the presence of one that will cause you harm is very slim. That whatever terrorism you see perpetrated by a minority of Muslims has a plethora of factors and influences that cannot be boiled down to “Muslims blow people up.” This thought is a fallacy and an irresponsible generalization that often leads to more violence, often against Muslims.
Maybe you know all of this, but then again maybe you don’t.
Fear is so often coupled with ignorance. It follows the old adage of “misery loves company” and takes down all in its path. How many times have Sikhs been attacked or harassed because ignorant people can’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikhs (not that attacking a Muslim would be ok, either)? The irrational fear of all Brown people with cloth on their head. This isn’t a legitimate fear of Muslims or Sikhs but rather a fear of the “other,” a fear of what you do not know and invest no energy toward understanding.
Fear makes you disregard that, statistically, Muslim communities are less tolerant of violence than their fellow Americans. If your neighbors are Muslim, chances are they are peace-loving people with a drive for justice. So why the fear?
White terrorism is a reality in our society. A significant percentage of domestic terrorism is in fact committed by “alt-right extremists.” White terrorism, if referred to as terrorism at all, is called “alt-right terrorism” or more commonly an act from a “lone wolf.”
From September 12, 2001 to December 31, 2016, 47% of domestic terrorism resulted from “far-right extremists.” Yet the White population is not labeled as terrorism-loving, and shouldn’t be, because treating all White people like terrorists based on the acts of others is just crazy. Why can’t that same understanding and logic be offered to other groups? To people of color or to Muslims? Why is the root cause of individual terrorism or the factors that nurture violent acts only a concern when White people are violent? But when others are violent, there is a false assumption that it is inherent in their religious beliefs or them as people.
It is just as silly to treat all White people as terrorists as it is to treat all Muslims like terrorists.
Other than the statistical data on crime and who commits it and why (historically and present day), what about the human impact of it all? How does all this fear and ignorance actually impact lives of innocent and non-violent individuals?
I was the only Black Muslim girl at a school heavy on de facto discrimination and systemic racism. It was also high school, so being “normal” was a thing and anything outside of what the larger majority deemed normal wasn’t received well. In every group, even the ones I identified with, I was weird to say the least. Which was generally okay. I didn’t mind being weird, but I did mind being feared. I still do.
Yoda said it the best, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Fear led to people yelling at me in the halls or threatening me on my walk to class. It also led to isolation.
Don’t get me wrong, I had friends–some pretty awesome friends at that–but for every friend, there were the ones who kept their distance. The ones who looked at me and said that five-foot-tall girl with tiny feet is dangerous. The ones who assumed I carried bombs to school, that I spent my days planning and plotting ways to harm my peers. For every moment with a friend, there were moments without a friend that isolated me, events at which other kids kept their distance and I sat alone. I imagine it was something akin to having the cooties with the cooties, of course, being either my hijab or the color of my skin.
All the while, the only thing I planned and plotted on was how to turn B’s into A’s. How to get my teachers and guidance counselor to see that my intelligence was not diminished by the color of my skin. I bought a book bag full of textbooks (not bombs) to class every day because I refused to get a locker in fear of being late to class (I suck at combination locks).
I was always aware of my “otherness.” The fear and confusion I invoked in others and how that could lead (and sometimes did lead) to aggression towards me for simply existing.
On the flipside, that fear and confusion lead to some of the most meaningful conversations. Clarity often grows through sincere human exchanges, through talking to someone you don’t know, someone who you consider to be “other.”
I wasn’t so bothered by the people who said, “I always wanted to meet you but my friends told me you would blow me up.”
I was bothered by the ones who couldn’t find the courage to talk to me. The ones who let fear turn into ignorance and/or aggression. Why is it acceptable to disregard the humanity of others?
You think I worship Satan? I don’t.
You think I will blow you up? I won’t.
You think I’m dumb or lazy because I’m Black? I’m not.
Assumptions become dangerous when we rob ourselves of the gift of understanding. Clarity grows through human exchanges. Not everything can be mended with a conversation but many things can. It’s uncomfortable, but success lies outside of our comfort zone.
I admit I’m also bothered by the times I couldn’t find the courage to engage those who I knew has misconceptions about me (my faith or race). For the times, I focused on being hurt or uncomfortable instead of learning and healing.
As an adult (or rather someone trying to adult and passing it as adulthood), I try to be all about engagement and remedies. Yes, it’s hard. Especially when talking to people who hate without having any real understanding of what or who they are hating. But hard work pays off right? Isn’t humanity worth the effort?
Sometimes conversations lead to understanding and understanding leads to bonding. Other times, not so much. That’s no excuse not to try. It is our experiences that advance us as people. So I propose to myself and others: what if we turned fear into curiosity and curiosity into engagement and learning?
No. I won’t blow you up.