November 21, 2015

Courage of Conviction

by Tehmeena Luqman Amir, UK

For those saying Muslims aren’t condemning the Paris attacks, you aren’t looking in the right places. After all if you find Muslims condemning terrorism and actually talking sense, there is no easy, common enemy, is there? Piers Morgan and Bill O’Reilly say they want to see Muslims rally in the streets to show we condemn the attacks. Because dozens have lost their lives in a senseless attack in a city we love and somehow Muslims rallying against it will make things seem a little bit better. Because it is not good enough to be a law-abiding, loyal citizen anymore to prove I am not a terrorist.

After 9/11, I spent months making the rounds on TV, at schools, universities, etc. – anywhere that wanted to know what Islam was about. I got around so much that a local conservative radio host spent an entire show talking about the “burqa-clad woman brainwashing Portland’s children.” The thing is, back then, I felt like I was educating people about Islam. It was new…strange…and oddly linked to a horrific event. People wanted to know about it.

A lot has changed since then…and a lot hasn’t. These attacks keep happening and each time Islam and Muslims are dragged through the mud. But now, people don’t necessarily want to know about Islam – they want to know if you are “with us or with them?” I know, and really you all know deep down, that I am not one of “them”; but as long as I, and others like me, have to keep proving it, we really aren’t one of “us” either, are we?

30 years of American residency/citizenship, 10 years of British residency, an American college degree, a British Masters degree, 20 years of employment and paying taxes…. standing every morning in primary school to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, teaching my son to stand for “God Save the Queen”, fearing every report out of Afghanistan the year my brother served his tour of duty there…none of it is enough to prove anything to those who don’t want to listen.

I will not rally in the streets or pick fights with Islamaphobes on social media to prove my credentials as a “Non-terrorist.” I don’t want to change my profile photo to prove my support for France because I haven’t changed it in 6 years. I did not change it when terrorists burst into my community’s mosques in Lahore and killed dozens in 2010, or for any other violent attack for that matter.

After working in media and television news most of my life, I know how fickle the world is. The media will spend every day reporting violence around the world but people don’t listen because they can’t relate. But then, when a Western nation is attacked, the public blames the media for being biased. Muslims – like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – spend every day speaking out for peace and justice, helping the needy, taking in Syrian refugees…but no one is interested. And then an attack happens, and anyone with a few inches column space or primetime TV slot takes aim at Muslims for not speaking up.

We forget – the media forgets, the public forgets – that peace is achieved in the everyday details of living and dealing with one another – not in knee-jerk reactions after terrible loss. Peace is achieved by governments dealing with each other and their citizens with justice everyday – creating bonds of trust where no one feels cheated or undermined; it is achieved by people of all faiths or no faith giving each other the space and understanding to practice beliefs that harm no one; it is achieved by helping those in need every day; it is simple acts like my mom wanting to order a pizza for three anti-Muslim protesters that showed up at my hometown Mosque on Sunday or the countless neighbours that came and told the protestors to go away because they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Instead, what we are hearing adds more fuel to the fire – that our own governments are funding ISIS, that Syrian refugees fleeing this same extremism are to blame for it, and that Muslims just aren’t condemning these attacks enough.

I am no longer the bright-eyed, college debater, and Media Studies grad that I was when 9/11 happened…or even the MSc Human Rights student writing my dissertation just blocks away from Russell Square on 7/7, so I will leave government policies to the “experts.” But if anyone tells you Muslims are not condemning the attacks – that is a lie. I condemn such acts not because I want to be accepted in my community or get my “Not a Terrorist” badge – I condemn them because violence is wrong. I condemn them because innocent people have lost their lives. I condemn them because they must stop. Yes, simple humanity teaches me this, but my religion reinforces this.

This is my Khalifa and in the last few years, he has criss-crossed the globe addressing US Congressmen on Capital Hill, MPs at Westminster, EU MPs in Brussels, and many others. He warned them that unjust policies are fuelling extremism; he specifically called for funding lines to ISIS to be cut and for governments to be more aware of what Imams are preaching in their mosques. Every single one of his sermons, addresses, interviews are public. A Muslim leader of millions – offering not just prayers, but practical, real solutions. And he condemned these attacks, as he has condemned all other attacks.

Tehmeena Luqman Amir is a wife, a mother and a production manager at MTA International television. She holds an MSc in Human Rights from LSE and is a proud American navigating the British ways.