Time to move past racial bias

Of all the major events that have occurred in the past decade, including Y2K, Hurricane Katrina, and the recession, the single most notable event is undoubtedly 9/11. People of all ages remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the catastrophic crash. Understandably, it became the number one news item, and much political and media havoc ensued.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing more on the actual lunatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers, we started hearing a lot about “Islamists,” “jihadists” and “radical Islam.” Muslims in the U.S., immigrants and American-born alike, were now brought under the radar and became the popular target for accusations, insults and suspicion.

Former President George W. Bush famously said, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” which, in words is fine, but in reality ended up singling out a whole group of people- 1.5 billion of them worldwide. From the Patriot Act, and being “randomly selected” at airports, to the more recent debate on the Ground Zero Mosque, and people screaming, “Go back to your f-ing country!” at me, there’s a lot of fear, suspicion and hatred going around.

It’s not only the common citizen who is wary of Muslims. The FBI’s failure in California was reported in the Washington Post on Dec. 5th. It placed an informant at a mosque in Irvine in an attempt to find and weed out potential terrorists, even after former head of the Los Angeles FBI office, Stephen Tidwell, promised the Muslim community that they would alert the mosque of their presence because “We don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.”

The FBI’s informant’s mission backfired. The Muslims were so horrified by his views they placed a restraining order against him. Hussam Ayloush, executive director of L.A.’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, actually “reported the FBI’s own informant to the FBI,” after receiving a phone call from two men who were “‘convinced that this man [the informant] was a terrorist’…but the agency took no action against [him].”

There have been a variety of movies, short clips, comedians and comic strips that have emerged in the current hostile climate in an effort to dispel the misperceptions of Muslims and Islam. Movies like “My Name is Khan,” “Mooz-Lum” and “Bilal’s Stand,” as well as short YouTube clips like “A Land Called Paradise” and “Bassem is Trying” show Muslims in a positive light, as normal people with normal struggles, while highlighting the stress of being regarded with mistrust. Comedians laugh about being MWF (Muslim While Flying), joking, “My name causes national security alerts! What does yours do?”

And while it’s great that comedians try to dispel stereotypes through laughter, it’s also sad that billions of people have been lumped into the same category as a handful of psychologically disturbed individuals.

While marking the end of this decade and the beginning of a new one, let’s also mark off our fears and suspicions of people who are different from
us. Let’s make it our New Year’s resolution to come out of our comfort zones to meet someone new, someone different from us. Let’s get rid of this climate of fear and these misperceptions of others. Make the effort to learn about different people, places, traditions and cultures, and celebrate our differences! The world would be a better place if feelings of distrust and hatred were replaced with amiability and friendliness.

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