Muslim Students Still Under Attack
It has been more than 18 months since the tragedy of Sept. 11, yet the backlash against American Muslims continues with striking ferocity. As America finds its hands tied in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world, anger toward American Muslims has risen to unprecedented levels. Some leading conservatives are redoubling efforts to paint Islam as the new Evil Empire and to paint American Muslims as a nefarious fifth column that threatens the very existence of Western civilization.
The latest case in point is an opinion piece by Cal Thomas, a prominent conservative commentator. In his column, Thomas warns of the "dangers" Muslims pose by their increased participation in American society. He specifically criticizes Muslims for "organizing voter- registration drives and political consciousness-raising events."
Such speech has become commonplace in the post-Sept. 11 context, especially within the conservative establishment. But there have also been numerous reports of intimidation and harassment against Muslims at colleges and universities across the country.
At the University of California, San Diego, usually a place where open-mindedness and tolerance rule the day, a graphic 16-page publication entitled "Jizzlam: An Entertainment Magazine for the Islamic Man" was circulated throughout campus in early June. The publication featured crude images of Muslim men and women "naked, masturbating and having sex while facing Mecca," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "When hatred surfaces and you see that people hate and disrespect you, it's hard to feel safe on campus," said Fatima Aimaq, a freshman at U.C. San Diego.
In April, pig blood was poured into a drawer of Muslim prayer rugs at the UCLA Medical Center interfaith chapel.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has also made an ugly appearance in many elementary, middle and high schools. In Erie, Pa., a 14-year-old Iraqi- American girl was allegedly beaten up by a classmate while onlookers chanted racist slurs. According to the young girl, students were yelling, "Kill the Muslim girl. Get her, that's what she deserves."
In another shocking incident at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Maryland, a substitute teacher reportedly told a Muslim student that he should "volunteer for the Iraqi army." In an Ohio school district, the New York Times reported that a teacher said that she saw the large number of Muslim students as a "virtual mission field." She then went on to compare Islam to a disease, saying, "If I had the answer for cancer, what sort of a human would I be not to share it?"
Muslim students are also under attack from lawmakers and government officials. Massachusetts Republicans recently drafted a bill that would eject students from seven terrorist-sponsoring countries from all public colleges and universities in the state. The bill would have forced students from these countries to pack their bags and leave.
What is happening to our country? We seem to be losing sight of the ideals that have made this country great. The cultural diversity and open- mindedness that have defined our nation are now in jeopardy in the face of post-Sept. 11 war fever and hysteria. We are supposedly fighting the war on terrorism to defend the ideals that our country was founded upon. Yet at home, we are letting these very ideals fall by the wayside.
Muslim Americans feel under siege. Now more than ever, they feel like strangers in their own country. Schools and college campuses were supposed to be among the few places left where Muslims could feel safe. But it appears that this is all changing. The tentacles of hatred, it seems, extend everywhere.
Shadi Hamid is a writer in Washington, D.C. He is chair of the Political Action Task Force for the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA-National).