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We often find Muslims who are quick to jump on the bandwagon to declare their American patriotism by posting pictures of July 4th fireworks and Thankstaking turkeys.* These Muslims are staunch on being so “American.” On the other extreme are those immigrant Muslims who deny their American identity and refuse to partake in American festivities. These immigrant Muslims are often afraid that accepting an American identity will automatically include assimilating and losing their religious and cultural values. Some Muslims feel the need to make up for those immigrant Muslims by exaggerating their American identity, hence the patriotic flag pins, bumper stickers, and declarations of loyalty.** This disagreement is given different names, but I call it the “identity epidemic.”
Then we come across a second dynamic, another interaction between two different mindsets of Muslims in the United States. For now, I’ll call this “the oppressed and stereotyped epidemic.” In this epidemic, Muslims from the U.S. and immigrant Muslims hold stereotypes about people of color, women, and the poor. In the case of immigrant Muslims, they often bring their own stereotypes from their origin countries and combine them with the stereotypes in the United States. At the same time, these immigrant Muslims recognize the oppression of Muslims, Arabs, and Southeast Asians, and they are affected by the stereotypes that the public and media hold about them.***
Now, there are two types of mindsets that these Muslims will incorporate.
they will realize the oppression that they face is similar to that faced by blacks, Latinos, women, and the poor; in this case they will have to drop their previously held stereotypes.
they will criticize the oppression of Muslims, yet still hold on tightly to stereotypes (and maybe even prejudices) of other minorities.
Sheikh Omar Suleiman eloquently described this paradox in his statement, “I think what makes some Immigrant Muslims insensitive to issues like police brutality, disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos, etc., is that they've bought into the narrative of mainstream media that these people are all rowdy and need to be handled this way. Amazing how these same people will complain about mainstream media's unfair coverage of the conflicts that take place ‘back home’ yet sing the same tune as them on issues relating to other minorities.”
Our goal should obviously be to condemn injustice and oppression everywhere. So why are some of us still denying it? Sheikh Omar Suleiman appropriately attributes some of this blame to the media. Of course, it is a bit more complex (and cannot be summarized in one article). Going back to the “identity epidemic,” some Muslims who staunchly declare their patriotism feel they must defend their country and its law enforcement, so they will not admit to a failed system. They often contrast the U.S. government to corrupt systems back home and therefore conclude that there is nothing to complain about.
A family that best illustrates this example is one that hangs a large American flag on their front porch – to avoid being discriminated against – but then feels nervous when a black family moves into their neighborhood.
And, as previously mentioned, there are those who fall on the other side of the “identity epidemic” yet still fail to realize the inequality among other groups in the United States.
Instead, we must recognize oppression of all people and condemn injustice of any kind, because as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must recognize the social injustices and oppression that our government’s policies inflict upon American citizens and others.
We must strive to achieve a balanced, and holistic view of the nation we live in and the role we serve. It is vital to acknowledge the reality we live in, including both the freedoms and injustices granted by our nation.
It is important to both appreciate our advantages and recognize our oppression – the oppression inflicted upon our communities and the oppression that exists within our communities. In order to end the injustices, we must expel prejudices and destroy stereotypes from our hearts and minds.
We must cleanse our minds and purify our souls in order to unite as a community and humanity.
Our goal is to go beyond the binary of identities that exists for immigrants. We must provide alternative approaches in order to both accept the United States as our home and constructively criticize its policies. Let us achieve this balance.
* Thankstaking is a more appropriate term used by some people, because it makes us socially aware of the millions of Native Indians who were killed in the building of our nation and “celebrated” in its holiday.
** These things are not necessarily bad. Keep reading to the end.
*** In addition, of course, Muslims are affected by discrimination, unlawful searches, airport interrogations, and in some cases, incarceration.
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