Please Invest in a Pair of Glasses

I am no longer officially part of the Muslim Students Association and I don’t know how you officially send out press releases, but if I could and did, with more polish and less sarcasm, this would be one.

I as Muslim Students Association president received several requests and emails from different campus-based initiatives that had names and purposes like “countering violent extremism, countering the recruiting success of violent extremism, preventing radicalization through social media”, and other such titles. When individuals with such initiatives would meet with me to propose some kind of partnership with the Muslim Students Association, I would recoil.

Look, I know (well, I assume and think kindly¬†of other human beings) you have good intentions. To take a generous view of things, in real life, you made the effort to come and speak with a Muslim. I’m grateful that you realize how even more silly and repulsive this would be if there were no Muslims involved in a project entirely ABOUT MUSLIMS. I know you have been raised in a society that is brainwashed entirely by your own media and your half your fellow citizens can’t find New York on a map, let alone a place outside of America.¬†But please. Consider for a moment how frankly offensive you are.

Your first thought of Muslims has an association with violence. You have a set of images that you are recalling when you think of the words Islam and Muslim. You have reduced my entire community of human beings and people into a problem. Muslims are something worthy of a school project: to be studied and analyzed for potential harm like a vaguely revolting bacterial strain that we (the civilized and innocent) human beings just have to live with because it’s so common on the earth. You have clearly bought into and believed the entire false and disgusting narrative about Muslims that your own media and upbringing has fed you and now you expect me to be thrilled that you’re interested in solving a problem that you’ve created in your own mind. This may surprise you, but YOUR PERCEPTION OF A PROBLEM DOESN’T MAKE IT A REAL PROBLEM. Just because media and cultural history and your sense of superiority as a civilization depends on this myth that YOU created about Muslims being a problem, please do not expect us to buy into it. I don’t associate myself or my community with images of violence. This is your own stereotype that you are projecting on to me. I would look at you like you were a little crazy if you were trying to tie shoelaces on your own bare feet, but I am going to be more than a little annoyed if you’re insisting on tying the shoelaces on MY bare feet.

Benevolent white guy – “I thought you might want some help tying your shoelaces.”

Me – “Wait a sec I don’t even HAVE anything on my feet-”

BWG – “Don’t you even worry, I’m willing to spend $$$ on tying your shoes for you and I’ve got a team of experts studying how best to tie your shoelaces. I KNOW YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THOSE SHOELACES! I’VE SEEN IT ON TV OVER AND OVER!!”

Me – “Look, maybe you should be using your resources on buying yourself a pair of eyeglasses because you clearly aren’t able to see that I’m not even wearing any shoes.”

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How would you feel, white-guy-doing-school-project, if I put together a school project and tried to partner with you on an initiative to train you to stop white people from going on murderous rampages and school shootings. The purpose of this project is “to promote goodwill and friendship towards white men and all other people.” I don’t know any white men personally, but I can clearly see from the media that they have a serious, serious problem when they see children studying in schools. I don’t see any programs put in place to promote the end of this kind of systemic and intrinsically white male violence. My entire view on white people has been formed by the images of school shooters I have seen on the news. I have become convinced this is parter of a larger trend and attack on education in general, and I don’t want white men to feel uncomfortable in my neighborhood – they should KNOW how scary they look to us – I’ve seen a few walking around while my family shook in fear. All I’ve ever seen white men do is hold guns or leer from their mug shot on TV, and I’m not really sure they perform other normal life functions. I myself was quite terrified to see that pale and unusually light-toned flesh in the area recently at the grocery store – I mean, since when do white men go to the grocery store and buy donuts, I’ve never seen them do that kind of thing on television – but I have now become culturally sensitive enough to know it’s not ALL white men who can be school shooters. (But the rest should work on getting rid of the ones that are. I mean, come on, can’t they see the media reports nearly every other week showing us that white men + school = shooting. There’s some serious connection here that I don’t know how they’re missing.) I really have the most noble and lofty aims to end this cycle of violence in the world and I don’t want my family members to fear you, dear white men. I will come to you after discussing this with my several other non-white classmates, and decide to be generous enough to even share this idea with the other white people in the area, because they weren’t smart enough to come up with this on their own. Really, we’re so benevolent – we have the solutions to solve the clearly urgent problems of their community that I’m not sure they’re able to spot.

And what’s more, I’m sure they’ll be grateful for our help.

Look, my advice to well-intentioned fellow students who want to promote goodwill between Muslims and others, please concentrate your energies on investing in your eyesight. You can’t see clearly.

I know you can’t believe this, but maybe American Muslims already have goodwill. Maybe there is no vast, systemic problem of so-called “radicalization” amongst our community. Maybe you should try promoting goodwill on your end by ending racism and your foolish prejudices in your community. Maybe you should meet a Muslim or read a book. Maybe Muslims are not irrational people who suddenly inexplicably want to murder people. Maybe they just want to live and eat ice-cream and go to med school and write poetry and drink coffee and tell stories. Maybe you should read a map and travel outside WENA (hat-tip to Karl ReMarks). Maybe colonization caused problems that your history books wanted to forget and so they discuss the inherent backwardness of the Muslim world – don’t even get me started on this one. Maybe the problem is that you have believed the lies your media, your history books, and your uncle tells about people who look like me.

Get a pair of glasses and stop expecting me to be thrilled you’re tying my nonexistent shoelaces.

PS

There’s a great quote I can’t remember who said or what book or article it came from, but the gist of it was that actually the discourse about Islam and Muslims in the West has nothing to do with Islam at all. It is an internal discourse that the West is having with itself.