The Tragedies Continue

Venessa Theonia, Reporter

Since the 9/11 tragedy, Islamophobia has reigned over the United States. The situation is made worse with the constant violence portrayed in the news. For instance, the most recent one, the Sri Lanka church bombing that drew international attention. After this event, Muslims around the world have been blamed for this terrorist act, as angry backlash increases. This is terrifying for Muslims who live in Oregon. Based on the PEW Research Center, they only make up 1% of the Oregonian population, causing them to be extremely vulnerable.


Ban Alamin, a Muslim freshman in college, says that she feels an increase of fear and unsafety with every terrorist attack that happens and the name of Islam used in a negative light. “It is no mystery that the media portrays Muslims in a certain way and for people who have never met a Muslim, or talked to them, this spreads ignorance and fear into them as well. So I guess it goes both ways if that makes sense. When something horrible like the Sri Lankan bombing happens, I think there is an increase in fear for everyone both Muslims and not.”


Alamin has been in several uncomfortable situations due to her religion. “I was in track when I was in high school, and I would wear hijab and long sleeve shirts and long pants, which is different from what my friends would wear since they wear shorts and stuff. But in the competition, everybody from the same team needs to wear the same outfit, and a lot of people were annoyed with me because they need to take care of additional forms,” said Ban. “I also often get stares in public. People would look at me weirdly when I wear my hijab.” She also expressed her concern in wearing her religious attire. “… Especially with having Trump as our president which increases Islamophobia, seeing things like the New Zealand bombing, I do feel unsafe wearing them in public.”


“I think I speak for all Muslims in the US when I say that we would rather have people come up to me and ask me about my religion than making assumptions,” Alamin said.


Life in the US is different from home for Maulana Sidiq, a Muslim exchange student from Indonesia. During his exchange year, he faces discriminations based on his religion, which is something that has never happened where he came from. “One time I was in my gym class and a group of people started approaching me shouting Allahu Akbar. I was so surprised and I asked them if they knew what it meant. They said it’s a phrase terrorists use before killing others. I told them that it means God is great and it has nothing to do with violence, but they ignored me and kept making fun of me.”


“Somebody also came up to me as I was praying, starting a conversation by saying that he hates Muslim. I offered to sit down with him and talk about it. He explained that Muslims hate Christians and his friend told him that it is written in the Quran. I tried my best to explain that it’s untrue. I mean Quran is a holy book and there is no way the holy book would teach people to commit sin,” said Maul.


Apart from Muslims who have experienced it themselves, there were numerous students who witnessed discriminations against Muslim. Gabby Lund, a junior from Milwaukie High School, recounted, “Most, if not all of the family on my dad’s side are white Republicans. I have them on Facebook to see what is going on in their lives and they often post propaganda inferring that Muslims are different than anyone else. Going to holiday parties and overhearing what they say about them is disheartening as well.”


Valerie Fries, a junior from Rex Putnam High School, claimed that she has “experienced others talking about them (Muslims) and referencing their stereotypes of bombing and killing, and how it’s part of their culture.” Others, like Elisa Ezell, has seen “many women get made fun of for their modest clothing and hijabs.”


These events are the by-products of the tragedies that have happened, the media’s portrayal of Islam, as well as the basic nature of human being. Allison Driscoll, a junior from Clackamas High School, emphasized the influence of the media over this issue, “I think it exists because of the over-publicity of radical Muslims. Many terrorist attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims are very publicized, 9/11 and Al Qaeda, for instance, which causes people to be afraid of Muslims because they are the same religion as these terrorists. People get scared, and think that correlation equals causation.”


Caleb Hattori, a freshman, believes in human’s fear of unfamiliarity. “I think that Islamophobia exists simply because of the mystery and unknown that surrounds the whole religion. Unless you are Islamic it is unlikely that you know the ins and outs of being Islamic, as well as the extremists of Islam, have been more active in recent years than that of other religions.”


On the other hand, Ryan Kline, a teacher from Clackamas High School, “… disagree with the term Islamophobia. I’d prefer the terms “uninformed” or “ignorant”. To be afraid of a religion – any religion – is counterproductive to learning and understanding and dialogue. Instead, I’d say that it is common to associate Islam with terrorism as the major terror groups in the world that we hear about define themselves as Jihadists fighting for Islam and against either opposing religions or secularism. Where the ignorance is harmful is in its proactive ability to castigate all Muslims as Jihadists, terrorists, or enemies of the west. This is just blatantly lazy and flies in the face of the facts of the millions of peaceful Muslims living in America, Oregon, and the rest of the world. It is almost impossible to argue against phobias, but it is very possible to inform ignorance. “


In the midst of these controversies, hope seems to be present as a lot of the response show a high level of tolerance and open-mindedness. A lot of people do not believe that Islam is a radical religion, and they are able to react to differences in a respectful manner.


“I think that just like any religion, Islam has many levels of members. Sure, there are those who will commit terrible acts of terrorism for their beliefs, but overall, I feel that Islam has a majority of normal people. Any religion you point out has committed crimes at some point in history, but you will also notice that it is the extremists who do these things,” said Caleb.


AJ Sugg, a freshman, showed her high level of tolerance as she said, “While there are some beliefs in that religion I don’t particularly agree with, I think it should be respected like any other religions.”


As humans who are constantly influenced by their surrounding, it is extremely easy to develop subconscious resentment towards certain groups that were labeled dangerous. Some, like Caleb, acknowledges his subconscious bias and constantly battles it. “Mostly I just feel bad for them because I know what discrimination that they must go through. There is always a part of my subconscious however that keeps my guard up a little bit. I also always feel bad that I don’t see them as I would a Christian, and that in my mind I feel that I must be a bit more cautious.”


Others, like Gabby, claims that she “definitely doesn’t resent them or subconsciously feel unsafe. Never have I felt worried being around them.”


With the increase of ignorance towards the Muslim community, there is a need for education on what Islam is truly about. Clackamas High School has been doing a great job in providing access to that information. It offers a class called Modern Middle East where students can learn about Islam and the events taking place in that location.


Ryan Kline, the teacher in charge of that class, explains the importance of it. “The Middle East does not exist in a vacuum and never has – instead, much of how the western world views the Middle East needs to be informed by the perspectives of the Arab and Jewish experience as a relationship defined at its very beginnings by conflict and disagreement with Western powers that sought to achieve their own goals in the region. Being that the US, its allies in Europe, its antagonists in Russia, and terroristic groups all convene at frequent points of conflict throughout the region, we can’t even process current events accurately without an informed history of why those conflicts began in the first place.”


“I would say that this class overwhelmingly seems to inform my students about what Islam is in an objective way and give them the resources they need to process current events with nuance and historical thinking. The course is an elective and all students chose to take the class, which is an open minded starting point from day one. All that we’ve had to do in the class then is to continue to educate ourselves about what Islam is as its stated in the Quran and practiced throughout the world – and then apply that understanding to how conflict between the Arab world and Israel – and between the U.S. and particular Middle Eastern countries –  has played out over time. I think what my students see is that the conflict’s foundation is one over space, autonomy, and imperialism more than it is a religious conflict defined by ideology and irreconcilable differences,” said Kline.