As an American, I am Terrified of Muslims

As an American, I am terrified of Muslims. And you should be, too.

That’s certainly what the media conveys. Every news source we encounter is debating whether we should trust or distrust “those” Muslims, as if over 2 billion people can be painted by a single brush.

Tonight, I confirmed the belief that we should remain terrified – though not in the way you may think. I visited a local Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. for an open discussion led by American-Muslims. The meeting’s topic was “self-care while dealing with trauma.” Interesting, I thought, as the entire nation is also discussing the trauma that ensued from the recent shootings in San Bernardino.

But why were the two discussions of dealing with trauma distinguished and not combined into a single narrative? Simple. First, the media perpetuates the harmful idea that the Muslim community in the United States are distinctively separate from everyone else – as if they don’t exist in “common” space and must be dealt with on a different footing. Second, their problems as a community are not seen as the rest of our problems, even though their community is part of our overall community: we are all Americans.

Being at the Center made the struggles faced by the American-Muslim community painfully evident. As the night’s discussion continued, members were reminded that they are not defined by what is seen in the media. As in, the belief in their identity – their own self-image and self-worth – should not become compromised.

It was voiced that regardless of a good or bad day, whether they are happy, sad, or mad, that they must put on a cheerful face. This was necessary, since they will likely be judged as an ambassador for all Muslims through every encounter they make. So, while the media dehumanizes this entire population by generalizing the hateful acts of a few, the community must also dehumanize themselves by suppressing all emotions in order to be the ideal representation of what it looks to be “Muslim” in the public eye.

Prayers were also exchanged for those who have family members overseas and are potential victims of terrorism every day. The community grieved about how they, too, are equally subjected to terrorism in the U.S. – something that is not only unique to non-Muslims. A new mother wept as she clutched her two-month old baby and prayed she finds strength to raise her child in today’s fear-mongering America.

Ideas of how to help other communities in the U.S., whether Muslim or not, were additionally discussed. An example of this type of work is evident by the American-Muslim community raising nearly $100K for victims of the San Bernardino shooting. History repeats itself to show that those who experience hatred and loss empathize most with others who have experienced the same.

What I saw tonight was a live view of an American-Muslim community – one that is silenced in today’s media. The perspectives of Muslims, both female and male, young and old, did not differ from everyone else in this nation who may be worried about the safety of themselves and their families. The only difference is, American-Muslims are facing a form of marginalization that most other American communities are not.

After visiting the Islamic Center, it was confirmed:

I am terrified of Muslims… internalizing the hateful political rhetoric in today’s media
I am terrified of Muslims… facing psychological trauma from encountering bigotry
I am terrified of Muslims… being dehumanized and marginalized in this country.

I am terrified of Muslims… experiencing these things, because they are Human. As fellow Humans, we must be loud for those whose voices the masses do not hear.

Parisa Pirooz is a human rights advocate and feminist. Read other articles by Parisa.