About: this article was voted by HCMSU as the best feature of the 2016 spring semester.
In the Beginning
In my short 19 years, I haven’t gotten many opportunities to travel outside of my homeland, but I have been able to connect with foreign exchange students and first-generation friends. My encounters with the “Other” have become so frequent that I began to believe that there was something about me that attracted non-Americans, until a wise friend gently guided me towards the realization that it is actually something about them that draws me in.
One of the closest bonds I have formed with the “Other” came during my freshman year of college, with an economics junior, Turkish Muslim, by the name of Ilayda Süslüer. Her culture was unlike any I had ever experienced before. The only commonality we shared was that we attended the same university. Everything about her was exotic — her clothes flowed loosely around her body in bright, patterned colors, the music she listened to was breathy and hypnotic, and the food she ate was always fresh. We were utterly inseparable until the beginning of this year, when the demands of our studies began to eat away at our free time.
Meanwhile, the rise and gaining power of the Islamic extremist group, ISIS, began directly correlating with growing Western Islamophobia, especially after the Paris attacks. I wondered if Ilayda thought there was going to be a third World War over the Islamic State. She replied with a firm “no” and proceeded to tell me that there was an attack, similar to the one in Paris, four months prior, in Istanbul. Over a dozen people died, and at least 100 others were injured in a peaceful protest at the hands of ISIS, but no one made a Turkish flag filter for Facebook profile pictures like they did for Paris. I was completely blown away.
“They are physically okay, but mentally broken,” Ilayda said.
With the constant flow of terror left behind, after the wake of ISIS’ destruction frequenting the media, it is understandable that people have begun to associate the entire religion of Islam as extremist. Jessica Marglin, Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of California reminds us that, “there is no single Islam, especially since Muslims recognize no central religious authority as do Catholics, but rather a shared Islamic textual tradition that is interpreted in myriad ways.”
The constant suffering and fear Ilayda and her family endure because of the frequent ISIS attacks has reached its breaking point.
“I worry about them everyday,” Ilayda said, her voice beginning to waver. “If they don’t answer, I just panic.”
I had no idea about any of the terror blazing through Turkey -- or any other Islam-dominated countries for that matter. The fact that such a tragic event get as big of, or hardly any, media coverage shamed me to the core.
“It makes me sad,” Ilayda said. “It’s like racism and not giving the same importance to all human beings.”
I was able to see myself clearly, by using Ilayda as a mirror: I was just another product of xenophobia. I realized I wasn’t as socially “woke” as I thought I was.
I’ve noticed the same effort to not only alienate Islam in the Middle East, but in the United States as well. Recently, I was at a birthday party for a childhood friend that I had not seen or spoken to for a while. As her relatives and I gathered around the table for cake and ice cream, conversation flowed through the air. Her mom said, “I don’t want to love them. They ruined my country, and they’re all the same.”
Light-hearted chuckles filled the room, as I felt my heart roll out of my chest cavity. Tears brimmed in my eyes, and I sat there dumbfounded. How could this be 2016? Two of my very best friends that I’ve made in college are Muslim -- the selfless hospitality and generosity they’ve given to not only me, but to everyone, has shone brighter than any of my American friends.
So many rebuttals swarmed my head, but refused to leave my lips. I sat uncomfortably in my chair, with a polite impatience, waiting for the first chance to leave. This cruel distaste Western nations have developed towards those who are affiliated with the religion creates the perfect recipe for self-hate and destruction for those who identify as Muslim.
Muslim advertising senior, Basar Erdogan, also from Turkey, speculates on the general Western hatred towards the Middle East.
“It happened after September 11, and it’s about what is going on in the Middle East right now. Generally, most Americans don’t know much about the Middle East and believe whatever the media says,” said Basar.
Hatred Does Not Cease by Hatred
As Western disgust towards the Middle East continues to rise with each widely reported ISIS attack (on just the affected Eurocentric countries), the subjection of hostility towards peaceful Muslims residing in the United States has begun to take its toll with each passing year, especially at the local level.
Creative advertising sophomore Selma Kijamet, who fled to the States with her family at three years old as a Bosnian refugee, reflected on the oppression she encountered from being a non-practicing Muslim growing up.
“As a child -- especially during junior high -- I was always afraid. I was afraid of my identity,” Selma said. “This wasn’t even when ISIS was formed, but kids in school still made fun of the Muslim kids. I remember telling people what religion I belonged to, and my face would just wash with red because I was afraid they didn’t want to be my friend anymore.”
These tragic experiences not only plague Selma, but her family as well.
“Most recently, my older brother was a substitute teacher at a school in Lapeer. The kids were out of control, and he had to send one girl to the office. My brother is naturally darker with darker hair. So as soon as the girl left the room, she said, ‘ISIS motherf***er’.”
Another individual attending Michigan State, who also identifies as Muslim, wished to remain anonymous during our interview. This was out of fear of what others, who do not know she is Muslim, might do.
“It makes me feel like I can’t fully be myself around people at times, but overall, I just feel bad and upset for the people overseas who are experiencing all of this, and for the Americans who ‘look more Muslim’ than I do -- because honestly, I’m from Europe -- I’m white. I’m not a ‘threat,’ typically. I am not profiled,” anonymous said.
Hatred Ceases by Love
I’m not perfect. I don’t know the answers to the big questions of life, and I’m not going to pretend I do. What I do know is that terrorism knows no race, gender or religion -- it only knows hate. I’m still learning, every single day.
“The rest of my family can hardly call themselves Muslim, but to other people, it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in it anymore -- if you’re Muslim, you’re disgusting,” said Selma.
Xenocentrism that has formed against Muslims today can be compared to the anti-semitism in the 1930-40’s when the Jewish were used as scapegoats and blamed for the problems of a nation. In other words, Adolf Hitler taught us that if you “make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
Today, Muslims are blamed for the actions of a small and extremist portion of their religion. The more the media and people in their daily lives perpetuate the idea that all Muslims are terrorists or terrible people, the more widespread this misconception becomes and the more people it hurts.
We can choose to blindly follow hate and preach that all Muslims are terrorists.
Or, we can choose to cease this hate with love. I’m choosing to love.
Articles I have written for the Her Campus website that focus on relevant social issues and influential students on MSU’s campus. I’ve been promoted twice in three years: from staff writer to artistic assistant to Logistics Director.