Dear Mr. Johnson:
My name is Anna. I currently live in OKC, but before that I lived in Stillwater for seven years. While I still occasionally browse the pages of the New Press, your op-ed came across my desk because I am currently the Events Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK).
Mr. Johnson, I’m worried about what you had to say. I’m worried that your article derides the “let’s all be buddies” attitude at a time when our world desperately needs more friendship and peace. We do agree on one thing – I hope that CAIR-OK’s Islamophobia workshop at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum accomplished something positive.
I want you to know that I understand where you are coming from. Terrorism is scary. My family is from New York City. I am old enough to remember the events of 9/11 and the fear of whether my family members who worked in Lower Manhattan were safe on that day. I, like you, watch in horror when violent extremism claims the lives of innocent people around the world. But when I accepted my job at CAIR-OK, it was not Muslim terrorists my parents were worried about, it was the possibility of threats from white supremacists.
In November 2015, we walked in the Tulsa Veterans Day Parade, with several active duty and retired Muslim military service people. As we walked, we were greeted by protestors who share sentiments similar to yours. They shouted down the veterans marching with us, calling Muslim U.S. military veterans traitors. One person on social media suggested that someone should pick a spot atop a building and fire on the people walking in the parade. These men fought for the freedoms we all hold dear; does their faith make them unworthy of your respect?
In our office, we hear difficult stories from Americans who are victimized by their fellow Americans. Islamophobia is not just a negative attitude towards Muslims – it is a multi-million dollar industry that has contributed to a significant rise in hate crimes against a group of Americans who wish only to practice their faith in a country where they were promised freedom. In 2014, the FBI reported that 16 percent of anti-religious hate crimes were motivated by anti-Muslim bias, making these crimes up to nine times more common today than they were before 9/11. The past years have seen hundreds of violent crimes against Muslims, including arson, assault, and murder.
Calling out Islamophobia is important, Mr. Johnson. It is not about making a good impression “in an effort to make friends and prevent further killings.” It is about asking to be safe in our homes, our schools, and our workplaces. Targeting and persecution of Muslims in America causes people to experience long-term mental health issues, anxiety, depression, humiliation, sadness, and isolation. Some Muslims even report being afraid to leave their homes. Can you imagine going to work, providing for your family, and sending your children to school with that kind of fear in your heart?
On dozens of different occasions in the last year, I have stood by my boss, Adam Soltani, our executive director, as he took an active role in condemning and criticizing the killings of innocent people across the world. You can find all of these statements on our website. If you’re really interested, you can do a simple search to uncover a number of other organizations and prominent Muslim leaders engaging in the same.
I would like to invite you to visit the newly built Islamic Society of Stillwater on Washington Avenue and meet some Okie Muslims. I am happy to travel to Stillwater to go with you. I just hope that you will take a moment to open your mind and your heart to see: we are not the enemy.
Anna Facci graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Master’s of Science in Sociology in 2015. She currently is Operations and Events Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma Chapter.