Reflections on being treated with suspicion

How Muslims should be reacting – is reflected by two leaders in the present issue. We would welcome more reflections by other thinkers in future issues. – Editor

Response: M. Akhtar

None of us likes to be treated as suspicious – it is disgraceful and painful. Some of us feel anger and vent about this indignity by blaming the authorities and faulting the system. We dismiss the whole issue by crying foul and say we Muslims are victims of the discrimination.

This complete dismissal is a similar reaction to the denial of any connection between Muslims and terrorism, as those it is some kind of conspiracy. These reactions help absolve ourselves of any responsibility to do anything. These reactions naturally lead us to conclude it is futile to do anything to address these realities, find agency to create new avenues for engagement and narratives, and contribute to mistrust across communities and general malaise. We badly need a reality check with regard to our role in addressing and confronting the suspicions and aspersions cast upon our community. To remind ourselves, let us ask a few questions:

Were some Muslims not involved in acts of terrorism? If so, it is not a conspiracy that Muslims have been involved in terrorism. Why were Muslims not discriminated nor mistreated en masse prior to 2001? Having lived since 1960s, 70s, 80s and so on, my memories are clear to the effect that Muslims were not treated with suspicion. We were at times considered different, but the widespread suspicion of criminal activity was never the norm. What changed? The explanation of it has to include 9/11.

Regardless how one formulates this in one’s mind, there is no escaping the fact that Islam has been implicated in this and subsequent acts of terror, and Muslims need to come forward and engage the dialogue around Islam’s place, illegitimate as it may be, in these acts of violence and intimidation. We need to do something effective if they want to change the present reality of both terrorism and negative stereotypes in our community.

Response: Omar Slater

We Muslims living in America cannot continue to isolate ourselves into Muslim only enclaves as though this isolation will somehow render us immune to the realities of the social and political upheavals (the War on Terror) swirling around us. As a matter of fact, that isolation, alienation, and lack of political and social interaction in the public square confirms our ”otherness” to those who distrust and are suspicious of our motives. One result of our isolation and alienation, as viewed through the lens of our social and political absence and visibility in the public square, can be clearly discerned from the ruling the judge handed down in this case.

A constructive approach would be for us to begin playing highly visible constructive roles in the social and political life of the communities in which we live. This means we should engage non-Muslims socially and politically by putting highly visible Muslim faces in the public square interacting at all levels, not just religiously.

Our absence breeds distrust and alienation in anything Muslim or Islamic. Calls for monitoring our community resonates with a public that does not know us nor feels comfortable with us in all our diversity. To them we are “others” – people to be shunned and watched closely! This is not so much about religion as it is about being good neighbors, friends, and citizens sharing and participating in all aspects of the life of the American public square. It is about building bridges to those who would be our most ardent advocates and defenders, not just appealing to those who within or may join our community.

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