In the wake of the most recent act of violence….
I arrived to work at my legal internship at the CAIR-OK chapter the morning after the Orlando shooting with a feeling of anticipation. I figured CAIR would be facing a huge backlash from the community, and probably would be dealing with press and phone calls, all trying to let people know that yet another act of violence is not indicative of the Muslim society. What I found, however, was an office with all the lights off and the door locked. The tragic event definitely took a toll on CAIR’s staff, and the three paid staff members were out of the office trying to deal with things.
Working at CAIR has added another layer of grief to terror attacks inspired by “radical Islam.” Even though three of the most – possibly the most – publicized events deemed acts of “Islamic terrorism” on U.S. soil were committed by people that were not part of the mainstream Islamic culture in their area, that had documented mental health issues, and that had no evidence of communication with or association to ISIS, they have sparked the spread of unwarranted fear across the country. The events I am referencing are the beheading of a coworker by a man left disgruntled after an argument about race, the San Bernardino shootings, and the Orlando shooting.
While the whole country grieves the lives lost to these acts of terror, CAIR employees scramble to make sure the Muslim community is as safe as it can be. The Executive Director of CAIR-OK said that one of the saddest things about being an American Muslim after 9/11 is the new reaction to these acts of violence. American Muslims, especially the leaders in the Muslim communities, cannot afford to sit back and grieve. The backlash after these events is so dangerous and unpredictable that all of the focus turns to keeping friends and family safe. The best way to keep loved ones safe is to ensure that the community knows there was no kind of encouragement or involvement with the violent act. This phenomenon is a constant source of infuriation for me. Prisons are full of people from all races, religions, and backgrounds who have committed horrific, violent acts. However, when these acts were committed, the media was not full of propaganda condemning their heritage. It is not fair for an entire religion to be denounced just because there are some crazies that hang out the peripheral area of that religion. It is not right for an act of violence to be followed by discrimination and other acts of violence.
My internship at CAIR-OK has made me realize how uneducated I am about Islamic affairs. As someone who has had Muslim neighbors in Oklahoma and has lived for ten months in a Muslim country in West Africa, I thought I had a well-rounded knowledge. I did not. Islam is an incredible religion and teaches about peace and love. Despite being stereotyped as a male-dominated, sexist religion, Islam greatly decreased the gap between men and women in the seventh century Arab world where it was born.
As with all religions, Islam is largely opened to interpretation. The existence of a few mentally disturbed individuals who wrongly make attempts to justify violence and murder is not representative of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.
During my time at CAIR I have interacted with more Muslims than I have since I lived in Africa. I have never heard a hateful or violent word. That is especially telling right now! It is the month of Ramadan, so Muslims are not eating from sunrise until sunset. I sit at my desk and eat a delicious lunch every day! How can these hungry people that are still so nice while I eat right in front of them be anything like the “Islamic terrorists” that Donald Trump and Fox News talk about? The answer is simple – they’re not. As in any large group of people, there are bad people among them. We should not now, or ever, allow the misguided actions of a few to taint the beautiful image of the whole.