Another victim of Islamophobia
December 3, 2016
Since the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, there have been numerous cases of discrimination and assault against people of color and those holding different religious beliefs. As a Muslim-Arab student visiting the United States on election day, I was a victim too.
Last month, I travelled to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the Harvard Arab Weekend on Nov. 10 as a student reporter. The conference included several panels and segment topics about the Middle East, ranging from political conflicts to arts and development. My sister, who recommended the conference to me, suggested that I should also experience the American elections first-hand and visit New York before landing in Boston. I jumped at the chance.
When I landed in New York City on the afternoon of the Nov. 8, I expected LaGuardia’s Airport to be crowded with people swarming from one area to another. However, to my surprise, the airport was eerily quiet, depressing and gloomy. Those who were arriving were constantly on their phones, updating themselves on the election. The airport’s TV screens only showcased news related to it. People of color working at the airport appeared anxious about the result and distracted from their work. It was intense. “Trump is ours, America’s, biggest nightmare,” I heard one person say before I exited the airport.
I got into a taxi and the election-talk continued. “The fate of my American-Muslim brothers and sisters is to be determined by the end of the night,” the taxi driver said. “The fate of many blacks, Hispanics and undocumented immigrants is also to be determined by the end of the night. All I can do is pray for our fates.”
I wasn’t surprised, as I was expecting such reactions from many people. For many in America, it was a dark night that promoted fear and concern. There was a possibility of expecting the unexpected: a businessman with little to no experience in politics, whose campaign was based on racial and sexist slurs was one step closer to being the president of the United States. I remained quiet throughout the entire ride.
After checking into my hotel, I took a trip down to Fifth Avenue. It was around 8 p.m., and I noticed that most of the areas on the street were heavily blocked by metal barriers. NYPD police officers were scattered all over the area and numerous media outlets were reporting on the events. But what really grabbed my attention were the trucks that completely blocked the Trump Tower, probably to protect it from vandalism.
As I continued scanning the area, I saw many Trump supporters holding banners and chanting phrases in support of Trump. Being the daring person I am, I decided to approach them so I could create a live-report through Periscope. Once I was close to them, I made eye-contact with one of Trump’s supporters. I smiled and that smile remained on my face for a long while. “F–k Islam! F–k Saudi Arabia! F–k you!” a supporter said. “You and your people caused 9/11.” My headscarf and appearance was an alarming call for the Trump supporters. I was a threat to them. Still I remained happy, because it wasn’t I who looked bad, but them.
I knew I was placing myself at the frontline and risking my own safety. However, the harassment wasn’t new to me. I was exposed to it several times before when I traveled abroad.
My headscarf clearly indicates my relation to the religion that many seem to fear and discriminate against. It creates a spark of attention, causing an uproar among certain groups of people. I am a target to many. Whether day or night, when I travel abroad, I am exposed to Islamophobic harassment. From being followed at night by men to being called a terrorist, I have experienced it all. A friend of mine once asked me whether I feared for my life abroad. My answer, “I was frightened the first few times, but now I am used to it.” The fact that I got used to being discriminated against based on my religion is sad, but at least I know how to take care of myself in such situations.
The Trump supporters continued cursing at me and at other people of color, and I continued reporting. However, things started to get out of hand when people started fighting physically with one another and the police got involved. I decided to leave for my own safety. As I walked down the street, I replayed the scene in my mind. It didn’t bother me much, but I did find it fascinating. Questions ran in my mind, “How have they developed such hatred?” “What have they been taught or exposed to, to have such mentalities?” I guess one answer might be their limited exposure to the outside world. In some states, diversification is low and local news outlets don’t necessarily report on global events, particularly on issues relating to the Middle East and Islam. If they do, many shed a negative light on it. Moreover, there’s a large sector within the American community that is uneducated, which leads them to being narrow-minded.
As I continued walking, I heard someone shout behind me: “Do you have a problem with me? If you do, say it straight to my face! I have a problem with you and I’m letting you know.”
I turned around, looking straight into the person’s eyes. He was clearly talking to me. I looked at him with a smile and replied, “I just have a problem with you having a problem with me.” Without another word, I walked away.
The United States of America is a home to many. There aren’t a specific set of qualities that identify what makes one an American and what makes America home. There isn’t a specific appearance or religion that is required to be seen as American. But because of white supremacists and other extremist conservative groups, the struggles of minority groups are endless. Donald Trump’s victory has only encouraged more discrimination. However, those discriminated against should see this as a step to fight back for their rights and positions. I sincerely hope that the harassment many minorities in America have experienced doesn’t prevent them from pushing forward.
Sara Al-Ansari is a journalism sophomore at Northwestern University in Qatar.
Opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Daily Q.