“My voice has been distorted.”

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A Response to A Letter to the Editor: Are Legitimate Concerns to be Dismissed as “Islamophobia?”

My voice has been distorted, ignored, and crushed— not only by the likes of terrorists who claim to die in the name of Islam, but also by Mr. Victor Hanson, who ruthlessly brushstrokes the discrimination I have encountered throughout my life as a “strep throat” that does not warrant any complaining.

A normalized aspect woven into our everyday lives, I have met many Muslim-Americans who simply do not mention the everyday discrimination they face because of its seeming irrelevance. The dearth of discourse condemning Islamophobia until recent days seems to project the illusive idea that it is not that widespread or problematic an issue. However, such stereotyping and targeting of students ought not be taken lightly.

As a freshman at Townsend Harris High School, I recall being asked by a teacher a variety of questions regarding my religion, from the Shia-Sunni rift to the myriad rules and regulations in Islam. I took his questions as a genuine expression of curiosity, and I would eagerly reply with carefully thought-out responses. However, there was one question that he posed to me which left me at a loss for words: “Do your parents treat your brother better than they treat you?” Despite my reply in the negative, my teacher answered with a smile, “They will.” That was freshman year; yet, it was an encounter that has indelibly marked me since.

Aside from the utterly baffling nature of a history teacher relying on the musings and insight of a high school student to educate him on the vast history of Islam, it hurt me to think that my outspoken, enthusiastic attitude could never override the preconceived notion he had of me playing the role of an inferior.   To some, my identity as a Muslim woman is synonymous to a form of self-enslavement, my headscarf reminiscent of a Persepolis-esque backwater where women must bury their laughter under a dark veil.

From being called “Bin Laden’s fifth wife” as a middle schooler to having my future prospects dictated for me by own teacher at Townsend Harris, I have long forced myself to swallow the intolerance and fear exhibited by others as understandable. And yet, I find time and time again, my swelling throat refusing to succumb to my repressed tears.

You described this fear that some may possess of my religion as “legitimate.” The anger, sadness, and sense of alienation that I share with so many other Muslim-American students ought to pose to you, as a teacher, a very legitimate concern.

Hanson describes how Muslims must respect the liberties granted by the United States if they likewise expect to be treated with respect. Not only do I “put up” with the all-encompassing freedom that America bestows; I cherish it. And yet, the scarf that decorates my head warrants that I be punished, that my fears and perspectives be ignored, that I be treated as an outsider.

The desire to distance oneself from the stagnant, homophobic depictions of Muslims has instilled in many a sense of self-loathing for their religion, culture, and ethnic heritage. Far from such gross distortions, Islam is intertwined with my identity as a free-wheeling, freethinking Muslim-American woman; it overwhelms me as to why so many feel the need to convince me of otherwise.

For Muslim-Americans, we live in the pursuit, not of terrorizing others, but of being embraced as equals. Our voices enrich the American spirit, and yet our anger is undermined as overreacting. We refuse to be treated as second-rate citizens for the sake of appeasing the “legitimate concerns” so many often use as just reason to stigmatize us. Whether or not you care enough to listen, the nonchalance of others will not discourage us from granting ourselves a voice. We refuse to succumb to the expectations of others. We refuse to allow our talents to be cast under the curtains of a domestic life. We will grow up to be teachers, doctors, ballerinas, social rights activists, politicians, Nobel laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners, and we are determined to give voice to our once-shuttered perspectives all the while doing so.