America still fears

The Boston Marathon bombings, in many ways, echoed the global throb of the September 11th attacks. Both tragedies claimed lives and maimed spirits at the core of great monuments—eleven years ago in the glinting heights of The World Trade Center, and just last week at the searing home stretch of a race run by the strongest-built and the strongest-willed.

Every tragedy has its unsung heroes. But just as tenacious, perhaps, are its unsung victims—not the ones who died as martyrs, but those who live on as scapegoats. These are the innocent convicted by the bitter, the living victims for whom there are no memorials. In the aftermath of both 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings, many Muslim Americans became such victims.

Soon after officials revealed the marathon bombers’ Islamic background last week, vandalism bruised mosques around Boston. Many mosques cancelled Friday prayer for the safety of practicing Muslims. And all across the country, the need to blame rippled through media and workplaces and schools. UC Davis was no exception.

Werdah Kaiser, a senior of Pakistani descent who wears the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, said that shortly after the bombings last week, passengers in a car cruised by her yelling, “Turbanator! Rug monster!” That was Kaiser’s first name-calling attack in Davis. But she’s not surprised, and recounts similar experiences on a previous trip to New York.

“If you smile at someone’s kid in the supermarket they’ll kind of pull their kid closer to them,” said Kaiser. “If you say good evening to someone they won’t really respond. They look at you with a kind of pitying gaze.”

Last week, several women wearing the hijab were harassed by a group of men at The Colleges as well, according to Muslim senior Guled Mohamed. Members of Davis’ Muslim Student Association braced themselves for intensified racial profiling by advising that Muslim students walk together, especially at night, to avoid individual targeting or harassment. But for many Muslims, it’s the unspoken terrorist branding that hurts more than the verbal taunts about their dress.

“I don’t try to ignore the scrutiny because it’s so prevalent,” said Kaiser. “But at the same time, I’m not taking responsibility for the terrorists’ actions. I can’t. Because that’s not what my religion preaches.”

Mohamed feels that the media has fostered an instinct in people to identify entire minority groups with terrorist acts when only a few individuals who by chance fall under that minority committed the act. Mohamed noted that one of the marathon bombers had re-tweeted many posts by celebrities such as Eminem, yet the press was quick to attribute Islam as the negative influence in his life that led him to plant the bombs.

“In our past, Jewish and Catholic immigrants were also feared in America and seen as possible enemies who had foreign allegiances,” said Mohamed. “Looking back, we can see that Muslims aren’t the only targets. Rather, there is a history of fear of foreign enemies in this country.”

Ultimately, the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings is another reminder that cultural ignorance can breed fear and hatred. In times like these, Kaiser noted, the lyrics from Mackelmore’s “Same Love” resonate deeply with the reality many Muslim Americans face: America the brave still fears what we don’t know.