It is critically important for us to recognize that the dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric that is being forcibly interjected into social discourse by Donald Trump and other far-right wing conservatives has extremely disturbing consequences and represents a virulent threat to public safety – specifically, to the safety of Muslim-Americans and other groups often mistaken for Muslims, like Sikhs. It leads to suspicion and fosters prejudice, turning our greatest assets into enemies.
Take, for instance, the racial profiling of a doctor, Bilal Rana, who was detained by the FBI after other passengers on the flight “thought he looked scary.” After hours of interrogation, the feds were embarrassed to discover that he is the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a group with 70 chapters and over 5,000 members that counsels at-risk Muslim teenagers and steers them away from radicalization. They received the Presidential Service Award in 2009 for their work. Dr. Rana penned a moving response to the incident for TIME magazine that all Americans need to read.
“To those who saw me as a threat, I hope you never know what it feels like to have a group of police officers single you out. I hope you never know what it is like to be frisked while standing in front of a plane full of passengers. I hope you never suffer the embarrassment of watching mothers hold their children tightly as you walk by them.
I hope you never feel the humiliation of having your belongings confiscated out of your hands, or being surrounded by cops who refer to you as ‘the subject’ on their walkie talkies. I hope you never have to, for the first time in your life, sit in the back of a police car.
I hope you get a chance to explain who you are before you are judged. I’m not your enemy. I’m your biggest ally.
I’m a 36-years-old doctor, husband for 13 years, and father of five. I was raised in Texas, and I’ve lived here nearly my entire life. I’m a volunteer with the Houston Police Academy, where I’ve spoken to cadets about diversity, and I’ve lectured at the Department of Homeland Security’s TSA courses, which are taught at Houston-area airports. I’m a U.S. citizen.”
Dr. Rana is a member of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, which was founded in India by Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad towards the end of the 19th century. They believe the sect’s founder was the Messiah prophesied by Muhammed (عليه السلام), and for this, they are considered heretics by Wahhabi Muslim groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. For this reason, Rana says, “our mosques are demolished, our books banned, our men are jailed, and our women and children burned to death—all actions that are driven by the same extremism behind the Paris attacks. For this reason, many of us have safely made it to the U.S.”
American ignorance never makes itself clearer than when Islam is discussed in the media. Most Americans and media outlets are entirely unaware that there is a huge diversity in interpretations and customs of Islam, and that the other sects are hunted down and persecuted by terrorist groups with an even greater fury than they unleash on Western targets. We cannot allow suspicion and fear to drive our society apart and turn us against productive American citizens.
Colin Taylor is the managing editor of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.