Monday, December 14, 2015

AmNY Express (12/14/15): This Muslim American life

A poll released last week found that Americans' fears about terrorism are at a level not seen since Sept. 11, 2001. But for Muslim-Americans, living in fear is nothing new.
When Moustafa Bayoumi heard Donald Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the United States last week, he was on his way to class.
"I felt the energy for me to teach the class had just been deflated," says Bayoumi, a professor at Brooklyn College. "You're paralyzed."
Worse, for Bayoumi, was the fact that it was not a new feeling. Laying the current wave of Islamophobia "on the doorstep of Trump is almost too easy," Bayoumi says.
 

Déjà vu all over again

Before Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were more likely to identify Muslim-Americans with African-Americans — Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.
The number of Muslims in America — around 3 million — is small, and the number of acts of terrorism associated with their faith is "minuscule," Bayoumi says. It has become a commonplace to note that the vast majority of Muslims and Muslim-Americans are peaceful and just as committed as anyone else to stopping the violent fringe.
"My life really has nothing to do with terrorism," Bayoumi says. But when Muslims are assumed to be radical extremists, the idea of a "clash of civilizations" becomes "a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Bayoumi recently published "This Muslim American Life," a collection of essays that came out in September, before the Paris attacks, the shootings in San Bernardino, or the latest reaction from Trump.
Some of the essays were written as many as 15 years ago. Still, the policies he writes about have been much-discussed of late — from Muslim registration programs to increased surveillance of Muslim communities. This shouldn't be surprising, Bayoumi says, because they are based on concerns that have been around since at least 9/11.
There was the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System, which required immigrant men from certain Muslim countries to register with Homeland Security — suspended in 2011.
And the NYPD operated its so-called "Demographics Unit," which conducted suspicionless surveillance of mosques, restaurants, bookstores and colleges — including Bayoumi's. The program was suspended in 2014, though some of its mandate lives on.
 

Can we change the status quo?

There have been a number of alleged assaults on Muslims in New York over the past weeks, from an attack on the owner of a food mart in Astoria to a middle-schooler in the Bronx.
While these are isolated incidents, they have contributed to a sensation in the Muslim-American community of being under attack in response to violence that they themselves condemn.
To combat this, some are speaking up.
Jamila Hammami was one of the organizers of protests last week in Manhattan combatting Trump's negativity and expressing support for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In Columbus Circle, amid signs proclaiming "Human rights trump oppression," Hammami was standing in front of a crowd when she saw a tweet directed at her organization saying its members deserved to be shot.
Zakaria Kronemer, another organizer, feels that anti-Islamic sentiment is worse now than after 9/11, in part because the movement has a legitimating voice in Trump, a presidential candidate, and also an outlet on social media. On Facebook, groupthink and the perception of anonymity can quickly turn fear into prejudice, says Kronemer.
Bayoumi says that when he leaves New York to lecture, in small towns around the country, many Americans have never met a Muslim. They often assume Arab and Muslim are synonymous.
"People don't know a lot," he says.
But they are often earnest to learn, he says, and he believes that therein lies hope beyond inflammatory rhetoric and kneejerk reaction fear.
 
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers. Subscribe at amny.com/amexpress.
Brought to you by @amNYOpinion

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