I have been told countless times to “go home.”
It is a phrase that has always perplexed me. I am American. I was born and bred in Texas. I call this state my home and have never known any other.
I also happen to be Muslim and South Asian. I always knew I was a little different from my friends growing up in my small East Texas hometown. While my third-grade friends happily ate the pepperoni pizza on Pizza Fridays, my mom would call ahead to make sure there was a vegetarian option since we didn’t eat pork. We prayed differently than their families did. I attended Sunday school at a mosque instead of a church. But, at the end of the day we seemed to learn the same things – be kind to your neighbors, give alms to the poor and respect your elders. At its core, my life didn’t seem all that different from my peers.
Then came 9/11. For me, that was the day my faith became a scarlet letter of some sort, a failing others could openly ridicule. No matter how many American flags I put on my lawn, how consistently I obey the law, or how vehemently I voice my hatred of Islamic extremists, I can’t win over the critics. It seems I am the perennial “other” – that I have to constantly prove my allegiance to my country.
Whenever I flip on the TV, peruse Facebook or switch on the radio I find someone declaring that because I am Muslim, I condone horrible atrocities committed by criminals halfway across the world. That because of the way I choose to worship, I am automatically suspect.
So, when I hear Texas House Representative Molly White say that “Muslims cannot be trusted no matter how peaceful they appear,” I am, yet again, disheartened. When I read that she instructed her staff to demand that Muslim visitors to the Texas Capitol building “publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws” and “renounce Islamic terrorist groups” – I am angry and I am frightened.
Unfortunately, Rep. White’s paranoia isn’t particularly shocking. Because of the color of my skin and my name, my patriotism is often questioned. Whether it’s mentors politely suggesting that I downplay my religion on my resume, or well-meaning strangers at dinner parties pointedly asking me to explain what terrorists are thinking, or political pundits demanding to know why I’m not doing more to stop Muslim extremists – I am well aware that my being Muslim creates a host of assumptions, stereotypes and suspicions.
However, what concerns me is Rep. White making such an offensive, Islamophobic declaration as a Texas legislator. She’s instructing Texans to treat Muslims as second class citizens when they visit our Capitol building to learn about the democratic process. Essentially, she is saying we are a threat unless we swear otherwise.
Why stop with Rep. White’s instructions? Why not ask all Caucasian visitors to denounce the KKK? Why not ask every child of immigrant ancestry (which, unless you are Native American, would be all of us) to pledge their allegiance to our country and our laws? Well – because that would be ludicrous. Then why single out Muslims? As one of my dear, non-Muslim friends pointed out, “There are zealots and fundamentalists in every faith, but we do not demonize the entire faith because of it, with the exception of Islam. Why?”
Social media is rife with people defending White’s comments: “Well, if the Muslims don’t have a problem with these terrorists, why don’t they just renounce them? What’s the big deal?” Well, it is a big deal because beneath Rep. White’s statements lurks a worrisome reasoning—that you are either “with us or against us.”
Does anyone remember how quickly Japanese Americans went from law abiding citizens to the “enemy” to internment camp prisoners? So, when I say that I am frightened by Rep. White’s openly hateful rhetoric about Muslims, make no mistake – we have something to be scared about.
This isn’t the first time Texas House Representatives have used religion to demonize or discredit others. In 2010, conservative Republican activists working to unseat Texas House Speaker Joe Straus circulated e-mails that emphasized his Judaism, his rabbi and the Christian faith of his critics in the House. It seems that unless you are the same kind of Christian as Rep. White and her ilk, you are subject to scrutiny and suspicion.
House Speaker Straus’ responses both to that incident and Rep. White’s statements are a fitting reminder: “At its core, America believes in the freedom of every individual to worship as his or her conscience dictates” and “legislators have a responsibility to treat all visitors [to the Texas Capital Building] just as we expect to be treated — with dignity and respect.” Amen.
So, to Rep. White and the anti-Muslim protestors at last week’s Texas Muslim Capitol Day, I say: “I am home. Deal with it. I denounce terrorism. I hate ‘Muslim’ extremists more than you ever will, because they are stealing my faith from me and the peaceful life I once enjoyed as an American citizen. But, I don’t have to prove how proud I am to be American to you or to anyone else –especially not when I want to visit the Capitol building of the state in which I live.”
Sakina Rasheed was born and raised in East Texas and currently resides in Dallas, where she is a practicing corporate finance attorney. She earned her J.D. from The University of Texas and her B.B.A. from Southern Methodist University.
(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay)