This year I served as a UN Blogger Fellow for my second time.
When journalist and human rights activist Joumana Haddad advanced onto the 92Y stage during the 2017 United Nations Social Good Summit, I can confidently say that I had no idea how powerful her words would be.
Haddad, a Lebanese powerhouse, continually advocates for equality, women’s & LGBTQ+ rights and has been selected as one of the world’s most powerful Arab women for the past four years.
She used her panel “Veils of Different Textures” during the summit, to discuss Islamaphobia and its imminent effects on Muslim and Arab Americans in the United States.
“None of us has picked where to be born, yet we are constantly judged on it and we judge others based on it,” she said.
Her words deeply resided with me.
America used to be my safe space. Then 9/11 happened.
Growing up as a Muslim-American, or even Muslim looking-American, in a post 9/11 era encompassed it’s own battles. Microaggressions and getting called racial slurs such as “terrorist” were the norm.
According to an FBI report, following Sept.11, anti-Islamic incidents became the second highest reported hate crime with growth of 1600 percent. Muslims were not the only group who felt the repercussions of the attacks. Arab-Americans, South Asian-Americans and Sikh-Americans were among the other minority groups who felt that they faced adversity. That is why Islamaphobia is so dangerous. It targets everyone.
You heard stories of friends crying as their relatives were stabbed in school restrooms, cousins who had their houses tagged with the words terrorist, taxi drivers who were beaten to death on the job.
During this past year, it seems we are back to where we were post 9/11. Hate-crimes and Islamaphobia have skyrocketed against not just those who can be racially profiled as Muslim, but African-Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, Hispanics, women and anyone who belongs to marginally oppressed communities.
It feels as though I have spent over 20 years flourishing in a country that I’ve come to realize doesn’t want me here.
Haddad, who speaks seven different languages, shared that she has become nervous to talk in Arabic when she is out in public.
“Is there anything sadder than seeing your own language hijacked by radicals?” she asked the crowd.
Haddad reasons that it may be due to the fact that we do not all have the ability to question generalizations.
“I try to understand the western perspective,” she said. “That my beautiful language, of which I am utterly proud, has become linked to violence and recollective consciousness. That the words ‘Allah’ Akbar’ (literally translating into ‘God is the greatest’) have become sort of a trailer song to an ISIS horror movie.”
The truth is that media is a crucial educational tool, serving as a window to the world.
I believe that a critical issue in society today is a lack of accurate reporting and a concentration on cultural stereotypes. We can’t expect the average American to be inclusive towards different cultures if their only exposure to diversity is tainted by negative connotations and generalizations.
“Yes I am an Arab woman,” she said. “But it is with this strong, warrior Arab female identity that I have struggled to defend equality, secularism, women and gay rights, freedom of expression. And I am certainly not docile, meek, oppressed or repressed.”
Haddad strives for a world where who we are is not defined by the cards we were randomly dealt at birth. By 2030 she wants to live in a world where humaneness is the only nationality.
“Oh and I do not belly dance or ride camels for that matter.”