Battle against Islamophobia continues

March 27, 2015 — by Michelle Cen and Karissa Dong

After watching the January release “American Sniper,” media users shared their discriminatory views of Arabs and Muslims. Twitter user @harshnewyorker stated the conviction of many: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are — vermin scum intent on destroying us.”

The Academy Award-winning Iraq war movie, adapted from the autobiography of now-deceased Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, merely reinforced the American public’s bigoted perception of Muslims.

After watching the January release “American Sniper,” media users shared their discriminatory views of Arabs and Muslims. Twitter user @harshnewyorker stated the conviction of many: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are — vermin scum intent on destroying us.”

The Academy Award-winning Iraq war movie, adapted from the autobiography of now-deceased Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, merely reinforced the American public’s bigoted perception of Muslims.

It’s disgraceful that the movie adaptation of such a racially charged novel became an acclaimed sensation. It’s disgraceful but not shocking; Islamophobia has risen dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attack.

While racial prejudice has its roots in many societal structures, its eradication is no “lost cause.” To begin with, both unprivileged and privileged groups need to acknowledge racism’s lasting impact, which has nearly incapacitated many ethnic groups excluded by the Western Christendom.

Members of privileged groups — in Saratoga, mostly whites and Asians — often choose not to engage in discussions about culture and ethnicity. Whether people believe that ignoring race will solve racism, or that society has already achieved equality, this colorblind view is willful ignorance: Race has always played a crucial role in our nation.

Communities must be open to talk about race and religion. But such conversation should never degenerate into an “exchange of prejudices,” wherein discussion becomes a forum for racist generalities.

“Saratoga is a pretty well-to-do town, so if you come from a wealthy family you happen to be a lot more educated and more tolerant of people,” said senior Shahnoor Jafri, a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab, a scarf that covers her head and neck.

Despite her positive views of the community, Jafri also recalls an incident in this area wherein she feels that racist attitudes were involved. While pulling out of a parking lot at Target, Jafri almost collided with another driver. The driver, instead of letting the incident go, sped up right in front of Jafri and blocked her car. He got out, banged on the hood of Jafri’s car, swore and made obscene gestures at her.

“I got a little bit emotional because I didn’t know how to deal with [the incident],” Jafri said. “I didn’t cry because it was scary; I cried because I knew that if I didn’t wear the hijab and wasn’t Middle-Eastern brown, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Jafri thinks that if she were “blonde-haired and blue-eyed,” her aggressor would not have been nearly as belligerent.

Saratoga and its surrounding communities are extraordinarily privileged and unexposed to the realities faced by other cultural groups in America. Students here must recognize the opportunities and advantages granted by this privilege, and understand that there are a multitude of ethnicities who face discriminatory undertones daily.         

With this understanding should come work to close this gap created by age-old iniquities.

In addition, schools can do more to educate students about the world’s races and cultures. For example, world history curriculums should explore much more variety beyond Christian Europe; areas like the Middle East and Africa often receive much less coverage than they deserve. Western Europe’s revolutions influenced much of the world, but transformations in the continents of Asia and Africa affected a vast number of people and should not be treated as irrelevant.

In the wake of rampant Islamophobia, exacerbated by “American Sniper” and recently wielded in worldwide backlash to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we must educate ourselves and not blame the entire Muslim community for the extremist acts of a terrorist group, as many have.

The Saratoga community already embraces some non-Western cultures — students of all backgrounds participate in Bombay in the Bay, for example — and should extend this welcome even further.

It is of the greatest importance that people develop sympathetic worldviews. Only then will the privileged — who have, for centuries, enjoyed so many advantages — take a proactive role in securing equality for the excluded others.

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