#IStandWithAhmed: Why the Fight Against Islamophobia and Anti-Blackness Belongs to All of Us

By Anna Gibson

I think everyone remembered where they were when 9/11 happened. I was in 6th grade in a classroom watching the look on my teacher’s face as she looked at the tube TV hanging from the ceiling. Then, all of a sudden, the cars came. The school was supposed to be on lockdown, but children were being pulled out of class left and right. No one could believe what was happening. Eventually, that fear turned into anger.

Nationally, America describes itself as a melting pot, but in many ways, we still struggle with backward thinking and ignorance of that causes us to act in ways that perpetuate Islamophobia. According to a study from Gallop, fear of Muslims in America before 9/11 was a staggering 40 percent. However, after 9/11, racism against Muslims skyrocketed to 52 percent. It was so bad that at one point that Muslims were detained across the country.

Islamophobia isn’t slowing down. For years after 9/11, we continue to carry negative perceptions of Muslims. Recently, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his school after presenting a clock he’d handcrafted to his teacher. The clock was created from a pencil case and yet the police still arrested and interrogated him. Police even maintained that it appeared to be a ‘hoax bomb’ even though Mohammed continued to say otherwise. Though he’s been recently released, and all charges dropped, it’s clear that Islamophobia is still on the rise. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident.

There are many reports of Muslim men and women being subjected to hate crimes all across the country. From the Chapel Hill shootings to shootings in grocery stores, Muslim people of color seem to have a hard time being secure in the U.S. Whether our society suffers from willful ignorance or irrational fear, it’s distorted views aren’t without consequences.

Islamophobia against Muslim people dehumanizes who they are and diminishes their contributions to society. The fact that Ahmed, a member of the robotics teams of his school, vowed (at first) to never create anything else for the school he attended says a lot about the level of psychological damage discrimination does to our children.

In the midst of the news surrounding this story, Ahmed said something that I felt reflected a deep the sense of inferiority that’s been ingrained in him and other children of color across the world. He said: “Thank you. I really didn’t think that anybody would care about a Muslim boy like me.” How many of black people wander around with the belief that we don't deserve to be loved? Society has failed us, and by perpetuating a system of white supremacy we are often left with the expectation of neglect. This implication can be found in Ahmed's 'surprise' that people actually cared about him in a society where he should feel valued solely because he exists.

This is why all people of color need to stand with him. We need to remind him that he does have value, and he didn’t deserve to be hurt, violated, and discriminated against because of his spiritual path and ethnicity.

Our fight against injustice is the same. The structural oppression of a Sudanese Muslim boy being arrested for making a clock is the same as a Teenage girl getting manhandled at a pool party. In “The Challenge of Being Muslim in America post 9/11,” Mona Eltahawy makes a few astute observations about the subtle process of criminalizing Muslim Americans. She states:
“Despite an appearance by Bush at a mosque after 9/11 to show he didn't hold all Muslims responsible, his administration proceeded to do exactly that: military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge, the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees and the invasions of two Muslim-majority countries.”
These large-scale scare tactics had powerful effects on her personal life as well. Eltahawy discusses the fear and tension she felt even while doing something as simple as leaving the house:
“He [her husband] took the day off work and we didn't leave the apartment for two days, worried that my sister-in-law would be attacked for her headscarf. A drunk unsuccessfully tried to set our local mosque on fire; the neighborhood stood guard outside the mosque for weeks afterwards holding signs that read "Muslims are Americans."
Like Muslim Americans who deal with Islamophobia, Black people also have a history of being 'othered.' We often have to defend our spaces and ourselves. Like the Muslims above, we too often struggle to reaffirm our humanity in the face of racism.

I’ve known Black boys that are afraid to leave the house because they witnessed their friend get shot by the police. Black boys are often given “The Talk,” a sit down with parents not to discuss the "birds and the bees"' but how to conduct oneself around the police to prevent being shot. Black people are also subject to sweeping socio-political movements designed to distort perceptions about who we are from misconceptions of us being ‘thugs’ to myths about us being lazy (even though we built this country), much like how Muslims are criticized for joining a religion many feel promotes violence.

In short, we need to stand with Ahmed because we ARE Ahmed. All Black struggles are interconnected. We can’t stand idly by while a young Muslim man questions his self-worth. Our reaction to what happened to Ahmed reflects the noblest of virtues: empathy and justice. We must remember that we have to close ranks around all our people, young and old. No one should have to live in fear or feel that they lack self-worth. Instead, they should feel supported by a society that loves them.

Photo: LM Otero/AP

Anna Gibson is a student of Wayne State University and a freelance writer in Detroit MI. She seeks to help the marginalized tell their stories. If you would like to reach her, you can catch up with her @TheRealSankofa on Twitter, or on Facebook where she’s absolutely not hiding under the name Anna Gibson.

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