Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dear American Public...

Note: When I first set out to write this letter, I was going to address it to those xenophobic, ignorant losers who caused so much hurt and heartbreak. But then I changed my mind and decided to address it to a more...broader audience. Enjoy.

Dear American Public,

Hello. I should like to quickly introduce myself before we begin. My name is Baraa and I am nineteen years old. I like to kill my many brain-cells by watching The Real Housewives franchise, and by perusing countless pop culture websites every day. I love the smell of Crayola crayons, and I can do a killer British accent. I am also an Arab-American, Muslim-American, white female immigrant. I have been a part of this country since I was three, and I'll be a part of it until the day I die.

And as a proud, blue-passport-touting American, I was disgusted and horrified when I opened up Yahoo! on August fifth to see that one of the headlines was about a shooting at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Six people who were in what is supposed to be a safe haven and a house of worship, were shot and killed without any rhyme nor reason. Six Americans dead. Wade Michael Page, a white-supremacist who was once upon a time in the military, is the man responsible for all of this. Many angrily called this a hate crime. But I don’t think that word correctly classifies what his actions were; so I will go a step further and call this terrorism.

The next day in Joplin, Missouri, a mosque was deliberately set on fire for the second time in the time span of a month. Thankfully, no one was physically harmed. But emotionally, this was a blow. This was the only mosque that served the Muslim-American community in Joplin, and was needed more than ever due to this being the holy month of Ramadan. The idiot who decided to play arsonist was caught on a surveillance tape, but has yet to be caught by the authorities. Again, this could be classified as a hate crime, but is better classified as terrorism.

According to, the definition of terrorism is as follows: (noun) The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce.

It is quite clear that both of these examples fall in line with the definition of terrorism; as does the Dark Knight shooting in Colorado. But why, then, are the perpetrators of these crimes not labeled as terrorists? Is it because they lack beards? Or a funny sounding name? Is it because they're not Muslim? Or is it because they're white Christian males, and therefore cannot be at all capable of terrorism?

When I told my mother about the Dark Knight shooting the day after it happened, the first thing out of her mouth was “Was he Muslim?” I was annoyed that she would even ask that, as if religion was something that mattered when it came to situations like this. Silly me, I had for a few seconds forgotten that I lived in post-9/11 America, where everything Muslims did classified as terrorism.

Why is it that we are all so quick to shout the word "terrorist" whenever an American Muslim gets in trouble with the law (whether it be a parking ticket or an underwear bomb), but whenever a white, Anglo-Saxon American goes ape, we all click our tongues and deem mental illness as the probable cause, instead of their religion. And then the news paints a nice picture of them, and remorsefully states all the problems these individuals faced in their lives that could’ve caused their irrational, and oh-so sad, behavior.

So why do we do that?

Maybe we do so because, subconsciously we think that these “foreign” and “ethnic” type people do not really belong to America, and therefore, aren't "one of us".  So with that in mind, it becomes perfectly acceptable to shun them and burn them at the stake, because we all know deep down that no one who is truly American would ever commit a heinous crime such as terrorism.

My dear Americans, terrorism isn't just flying planes, blowing up buildings while yelling out battle-cries; it's attacking innocent people, making them fear leaving their homes and flipping their world upside down. And no one does terrorism better than America. Sorry Al-Qaeda.

I remember one day in eleventh grade English class, our teacher showed us a picture of a hoodie design some high school kids made over winter break. It had an 11 on the back with their school mascot, a thunderbird, flying towards it. On the bottom was the tagline "You can't bring us down." In response to the designs resemblance of the Twin Towers, at first, all my classmates, in typical teenage fashion, were like "Oh yeah, that's clever. Oh wow...yeah." And then our teacher mentioned that these students were Arab; in a flash, almost everyone retracted their statement and started in with the whole patriotic shtick we all know so very well. “That’s so wrong!” and “How could they?” and let’s not forget, “It’s an insult to us!!”

And then one of my classmates put it most eloquently when she pointed out to the entire class that they all thought it was clever not two seconds ago, but now that those hoodies belonged to Arab kids, it was a whole other story? It was now a crime instead of clever? 

But that's one of the things that concerns me the most: when it comes to justice, right and wrong, you cannot have a double standard. You cannot hold one people accountable for something that you wouldn't for others.

There are suspicions that the Sikh temple was targeted because they were mistaken for Muslims (how surprising), which brings me to what I’d like to call the “How to Spot a Muslim Guide”:

1-      If they’re brown, they are a Muslim.
2-      If they’re black, they are a Muslim.
3-      If they’re white, they are a Muslim.
4-      If they’re yellow, they are a Muslim.

Very helpful, I know. You’re welcome.

 My darling fellow countrymen, Islam is a religion; which means that any and all people can be Muslim, regardless of skin color, facial hair, ethnic group or nationality. Another thing that people must remember is that not all Muslims are Arab, and that not all Arabs are Muslim. In fact, Arab Muslims don’t even make up that much of the total Muslim population; the Asians got us beat.

Another thing that upsets me is that even after everything we do, after all the heart and soul we pour into this country, we- minorities, if you will- still aren’t seen as real Americans. When bad things happen to us at the hands of our neighbors or other Americans, we still do not get the same type of coverage in the media, or the same type of help. We end up having to fight for what should already be ours. It’s terrorism if it happens to someone else, but if you’re a minority then that’s just life. But we shouldn’t be viewed by others or by ourselves as minorities, because our beliefs and ideals are majority. We all want to succeed; we all want the best for ourselves, families, communities and kids. Sure, our food may taste better than yours, and I may cover my hair in the company of certain people, but that doesn’t mean that we are not all on the same level.

But I wonder, if we, Americans who follow non-Christian religions, or speak different languages at home aren’t allowed to stake claim in this country, then why are you? What most Americans fail to remember is that at the end of the day-we are all immigrants, whether you or your ancestors came by a plane, hopped a fence or rode on a disease riddled boat through Ellis Island. And if you want to get technical, then the only true Americans, the only people who have any right to these lands are the Native Americans, but since we shut them up in reservations out West, we’ll worry about them later. But otherwise, that’s it. Everyone else is an outsider.

When waves of people first came to America, everyone wanted to assimilate, to lose their culture and languages in favor of the stars and stripes. But America today is changing in the sense that people who come over now retain their old identities and sprinkle in a little bit of that good old Amurican gold dust. And those whose families have been here since God knows how long, are able to look around at their neighbors and borrow from their cultures to include in their own. This is America today. This is a land built by immigrants and slaves, by people of different religions, colors, ethnicities and nationalities. America is the biggest, most wonderful hot mess of a country that exists today; and it is our duty to protect it from those who try to exclude the very people who make it fabulous.

This is also what separates us from other countries around the world. Say you’re a Moroccan who lives in the Netherlands. Even if you were born and live there till you die at age 104, you still won’t be fully accepted by that society. Because there still exists the idea of being pure, 100 percent Dutch while you and yours are seen as outsider immigrants. Therefore, you’ll always been seen as the Moroccan-Dutch kid, instead of just one of the regular Dutch kids.

But no one has more right than another to live in America and hold the all-powerful moniker of “American”. We all live here and we all contribute. And when someone tries to come in and hurt others through terroristic acts, it is imperative that we spread awareness, stop those people in their tracks and slap them down. When people want to dabble in terrorism, then they should forever be known as terrorists. No matter who they are and no matter whether they attack religious places, movie theaters, office buildings, or schools.

Like Wade Michael Page, the Joplin arsonist (we’ll get you, a**hole), James Holmes, Timothy McVeigh, and any other white guy who was deemed mentally unstable after killing sprees. 

So, my fellow Americans, ask questions and get answers. Don't let a turban, hijab, yarmulke or a nun's habit scare you away.