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Arab Americans are marginalized by untrue stereotypes

Brooke Lake

Twelve years have passed since one of our darkest days in American history, and undeniably the ripple effects caused by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 are still being felt by our community. We must honor the voices of all who were victims that day, and maybe 12 years after the fact America can start recognizing a voice that has since been marginalized and overwhelmed with untrue stereotypes.

I am talking about Arab Americans living in the United States post-9/11 and how their rights as American citizens have been perceived and changed over the past decade. I am fortunate enough to have a long list of friends and colleagues from the Middle East who live and study in the United States long term.

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I opened the topic up with friends from a broad range of countries in the Arab world including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Kuwait and even Jordan. I asked each of them the same questions. Do you experience racism being an Arab living in America? Do you think life for Arabs in America is moving in a positive or negative direction since 9/11?

None of the answers were flagrantly outlandish in thought or reason, nor were they exclusive to the voice of the marginalized Arab living in America. No, the answers were effortlessly compassionate, dignified and thought provoking.

Ahmad from Saudi Arabia reminded me that Sept. 11 was perceived to be an attack on America by a whole race and religion as if everyone who identified as an Arab and as a Muslim supports terrorism.

When American media is able to convince the majority of its viewers that terms like ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ are interchangeable and synonymous with violence, anti-American sentiment and obtusely different than America values this is when the red flag needs to be raised.

Even Ahmad, a respected member of the Fort Collins community who obtained his baccalaureate degree from CSU while actively participating in Greek life and ASCSU said he is proud to call America his second home, although he still experiences racism for being Arab.

I think this bears repeating — Arab does not mean Muslim and Muslim does not mean Arab. Even more we as a conscious and respectful community need to recognize that Arab Americans hold just as much value and right as any other American citizen.

My colleague, Habiba, now a CSU senior graduating this semester from Sudan with dual citizenship, has been studying in Colorado since high school and explained to me her experience as a Muslim in America pre and post-9/11. Expected things like traveling and airports have become a point of frustration for her since 2001, however even 12 years after the fact she confesses that the majority of her classmates still assume she is unable to speak English, and they fear even sitting next to her because she chooses to wear hijab.

Ali, my Palestinian friend who owns a thriving construction company in Texas, had a more optimistic take on the matter. He said that even though he still deals with racism daily, he thinks that his situation is improving. He has hope that Americans are kind and thoughtful enough to can see past the slanted stereotypes the media pushes on Arabs.

I was somewhat surprised after asking a close friend of mine who happens to be a Jordanian Bedouin to relay how he and his country handled that fateful day back in 2001.

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“I remember everyone in the village was deeply saddened by the events, and were in utter shock of the horror the American people were experiencing. We mourned for our brothers and sisters in America. What the terrorists did was wrong. Simple as that.”

Evil has the particular knack for breeding more evil, fear and bitterness. Evil has the ability to make a terrible situation worse. What happened on Sept. 11, 2001 was undeniable evil, but we as American citizens have the option of ending that darkness.

Why is sweet Habiba labeled a terrorist and hated by complete strangers simply because she wears hijab? How could anyone think Ahmad, my gentle and always smiling friend, to be a dangerous individual simply because he is Arab?

Let history be our teacher when it comes to equal rights in America. If anything, we learned that hindsight is 20-20. As we move forward, let us end stereotyping and subjecting our fellow Americans to racism because of the color of their skin. We could instead choose to treat each other in a way that future generations will look on with pride and patriotism knowing that our country learned from its horrible history of racism and chose to not repeat the cycle.

Brooke Lake relishes her traveling and studying abroad experiences. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

In Brief:

Untrue stereotypes have marginalized those of middle-eastern descent for too long now

9/11 was not an attack performed by an entire race or religion, and we need to remember that

Let history be our teacher, so that we can put an end to unjust stereotyping

 

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