BY AMAL BUMBIA (staff writer article)
The Uyghur Muslims in China are in the midst of a mass genocide—an annihilation and mutilation of their culture and religion as the government forces them into concentration camps in the Xinjiang province. Uyghur women are torn from their children, abused, and experimented on. Hundreds of thousands are sterilized without consent. Hundreds of thousands are forced to consume drugs and pills knowing only that they ravage their bodies from the inside out via instigating sicknesses—fever, hemorrhage, amenorrhea—weakening them to the brink of death. Hundreds of thousands are victims of gang rape, physical torture, and neglect. The aim of the Chinese government is to decimate Uyghur populations—a group they see as a threat simply because they are a Muslim minority—and what better way to control them than by hurting women until they can no longer reproduce? By simultaneously trying to “re-educate them” to accept the government’s dogmas, to renounce their faith and culture?
At the root of this unjust treatment is hate—hate in the form of islamophobia. Islamophobia is not exclusive to the Chinese government in regards to the Uyghur genocide. It is present everywhere. Particularly in the U.S., islamophobia was exacerbated via 9/11. Because terrorism was extrapolated to the whole of Muslim society rather than to the specific groups who attacked the towers, innocents suffered. Mosques were burned, individuals were harassed—discriminated against by old friends and neighbors, classmates, and employers. My own mother heard nothing but “go back to your country”. After letting his dog chase her, a man approached her only to say, “I hate you Muslims.” While she walked in Houston, two men stalked my mother on the streets, trailing behind her until my father glanced back at the figures and hurriedly rushed her away in an attempt to lose them. To this day, my parents worry about what may have happened had they caught up. Muslim women, like my mother, were forced to take off their hijabs out of fear of further marginalization, of being demeaned or violated while in public. For merely wearing a headscarf, they were openly called “terrorists” in grocery stores, their hijabs pulled off by passersby, already limited opportunities stripped away. Women of South Asian or Middle Eastern origins stopped wearing cultural clothing that could be mistaken as a marker of their religious background. Stereotypes spread, portraying Muslim women as both complicit in terrorism as well as victims of the media’s narrative of an “oppressive” Islam. The trials faced by Muslim women in the aftermath of 9/11 cannot be equated to the severity of the Uyghur Genocide, yet both groups lost abundantly more in freedoms, health, and expression than they could ever be speculated to gain in ability and stronger character.
This is the reality of islamophobia. The extent to how a Muslim experiences it varies based on governmental and societal tolerance in their area as well as factors like their race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or ability. It can come in the form of ignorant comments such as “why is there a towel on your head” or “is there a bomb in that bag” to physical violence and discriminatory legislation. For instance, France has banned the burkini (a form of modest swimwear) and is restricting the hijab and niqab while cracking down on halal meat. The EU recently established that they would allow employers to fire workers on the basis of hijab. For years, the U.S. had imposed a travel ban on Muslim majority countries. Recently, an entire Muslim family in Canada was intentionally run over by a driver for presenting as people of their faith. Two niqabis were publicly stabbed under the Eiffel Tower.
I could fill pages with examples of anti-Muslim sentiment and hate. The media does not cover the majority of them. There is not enough public outrage. I believe that the vast majority of us understand that stereotypes are dangerous, however, it is entirely possible to forget just how harmful they can be. We need to educate ourselves about the difficulties Muslims face worldwide and spread awareness. We need to uplift Muslim voices and listen as they share their lived experiences. We need to unlearn the negative stigmas surrounding Islam. In taking steps to both proactively and retroactively eliminate misinformation, we can foster a society rooted in truth and acceptance. Muslims are not terrorists. The hijab is not inherently oppressive. Our religion does not condone hate or misogyny. Islam means ‘peace’—it is meant to be a religion of kindness and sincerity, yet the narrative has been twisted to convey the opposite.
Islamophobia is deadly. By taking even a few minutes to understand its prevalence, we can ensure that we don’t perpetuate it.