Every time I take to Facebook or Twitter lately, I see one thing – Muslim Ban.
As a human being, my heart breaks every time I see families being ripped apart by any external force.
As a Muslim though, it hurts even more. I know that 15 years of alienation, dehumanisation and collective vilification of Muslims has let this happen.
Here in tiny New Zealand, we like to think we’re sheltered from the rubbish that gets thrown at Muslims in other parts of the world. We are to an extent, but we still get it.
I was 8 when 9/11 happened. My family were in Christchurch for my father’s work conference. I remember watching TV that morning with my family and not knowing what was happening.
I had 3 thoughts:
- Why is every channel showing the same movie? (I literally thought that footage was a movie)
- What are the twin towers?
- Why does Abba (dad) look so scared?
I wasn’t to know at that young age that this would be such a huge event until I saw the cathedral overflowing with people paying their respects.
Before this, the hardest part about being Muslim in a western country was trying to explain to my non-Muslim friends why there’s a water bottle next to my toilet at home. Now I had to downplay my faith so no one would think my family was dangerous.
I felt I had to distance myself somehow from the crazy ‘Muzlums’ we saw on TV every night. So over the years when my family rang me while I was in public, I avoided saying salaam. I kept quiet when I heard my friends say that Muslim women shouldn’t dress ‘like that’ because ‘they’re in New Zealand now’.
No one explicitly told me to do that, but children and teenagers pick up on things quicker than we think. Somehow I knew things were different now. My initial paranoia became second nature.
It wasn’t until I started university, 10 years after 9/11, when I started to ask myself why I was so afraid. I would see these amazing Muslim women own it and wonder why I couldn’t do that. Basically, giving up my voice in order to fit in made me a weak sell out.
But there’s a reason for this identity crisis.
The only thing I was seeing on TV about my global Muslim family was violence and hate. I saw nothing of the beautiful work the majority of us do to benefit the communities we are a part of. I was only exposed to these positive works with the rise of social media and by actively surrounding myself – online and offline – with informed and socially active Muslims.
We see nothing but negatives about Muslims by governments and major media outlets. Is it any surprise that the world’s most powerful country elected a president who wants to ban Muslims? Islamophobia entered my psyche – a born and bred Muslim who was raised with love and respect. Why would someone with little exposure to Muslims and Islam be immune from it?
As Linda Sarsour said in her speech at the Women’s March, the oppression we’re seeing has been the Muslim reality for the past 15 years. Muslims globally – including in New Zealand – were already being spied on before Trump mentioned ‘Muslim registry’. I know the registry takes it a dangerous step further, but I wonder who would be president right now if we had fair representation in the global spotlight.
What happens in America affects us all, whether we like it or not. It has to if an 8-year-old girl from Auckland was silenced for 10 years because of an international event. We can’t say that this is an American problem and we shouldn’t get involved. There are Kiwis from the banned countries who are genuinely fearful for their families in America.
We can’t play it down by saying this is a simple security issue rather than a race issue for fear of severing trade ties with America. That gives excuses for pure racism.
I have to acknowledge my privilege here. Being New Zealand born and of Indian descent protects me somewhat from what could happen if Trump gets his way. But I’m still scared.
It concerns me that we got this far before the non-Muslim world started to take our side. I’m worried that the alt-right fascist movements of Europe and USA will enter our shores. It scares me that the Australian government, our closest neighbour, supports the ban.
No one quite knows what will happen over the next four years, but 15 years since 9/11 and things for us are not much better. We’re only united at this point in time because Trump attacked every minority, so every minority is angry. We can only hope that this unity strengthens and the power structures that allowed it to get this bad are held to account.