Problematic Stereotypes: "An Open Letter to Everyone Who Thinks I'm a Terrorist"
by Mahnoor Imran
This article (originally published by Affinity Magazine) is a part of a new column series called Problematic Stereotypes, which offers new insights on the effects of predisposed opinions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other social categories.
Dear suspecting friends,
I respect you. I truly do. I understand your devout concerns for your nation and your unwavering desire for the safety of your family and yourself. Here’s the thing. I have to worry about myself and my family as well as a result of bigots’ intolerance towards Muslims like me. Oh I understand, hijabs, unpronounceable names, and the fear of seeing someone who’s not white in an airport must be absolutely terrifying for you. But what about our fears and the things that fill us with dread? We experience adversity too, our fears include trying to find a job in which we don’t face discrimination, comforting our sisters and brothers after senseless bullies attack us, and trying to keep our family alive despite our economic inequalities. Why must American Muslims have to live in fear when our U.S. Constitution guarantees us the freedom to practice our own religion? Why should any Muslim in any part of the world have to deal with this? You can argue that calling me a “terrorist” is free speech, another right guaranteed by the first amendment, but are your hateful remarks really doing anything to advance society?
We’ve all heard the term “islamophobia” before–some denounce its existence entirely, claiming we are trying to victimize ourselves and some fight against it. Now, I could slam you with countless statistics about hate crimes, opinion polls towards Islam, and I could even direct you towards Ann Coulter’s or Katie Hopkins’s twitter pages. But would that really make a difference? Numbers and facts don’t seem to have any influence on you so let’s talk morality. The quintessence of being human. There are repercussions and social implications that microaggressions and opinions of avidly anti-Muslim people can have on us all. You are killing us while we are still alive, you mistake the positive light we tried to spread in response to islamophobia as a destructive fire and you are trying to put us out.
Please stop saying “the good ones” are voiceless, we have voices but we are simply ignored and deemed irrelevant. Corporate media will not give us the platform we need to spread awareness, but what they can do is spread malicious propaganda, bias, and create negative depictions of Muslims. We have the bare minimum of representation in television and film and when we are included as characters, we are illustrated as inherently violent or we are given the part of the villainous terrorist.
Please stop saying that islamophobia doesn’t exist and is a made up concept. Pig heads and firebombs were thrown into a mosque, innocent students were murdered at Chapel Hill because of an islamophobic individual, and public harassment along with online abuse have led to emotional trauma for many Muslims. This is why we are filled with so much trepidation and apprehension when we leave our homes or a conversation with a friend turns towards religion.
Please stop using Quran verses to spread more intolerance. Many of the Twitter or Instagram posts people view contain incorrect translations and words taken completely out of context which can be negatively perceived without background knowledge. It’s also important to not blindly believe every single thing that is read on the Internet, especially on social media. While it is a great source for knowledge, developing your political education based off of a parody account or a Trump supporter with 32 followers is not a viable way to become more knowledgeable about the world. There are other practicable sources available to learn more.
I recognize that by my personal decision to not wear a hijab or any other head covering, I have not personally experienced the maximum level of prejudice for a Muslim woman. The purpose of this letter is to explain how the anti-Muslim rhetoric is creating a climate of hostility all around the world. If you truly believe that I’m a terrorist simply because I follow a religion that extremists use as a shield to carry out their political agendas, then I pity your lack of morality. I am simply a teenage girl who picked up a pen and discovered the power of words. I have dreams too, I want to travel the world, I want health and happiness, and I want nothing more than for my family to be proud of me. In that way, I am just like the people who spew hate towards me. I am just like you.