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Guest Columnists

The reduction of Muslim Americans

On Aug. 31, Nazma Khanam, a 60-year-old Muslim woman, was stabbed to death while walking near her home in Queens.

The culprit was charged with second degree murder and robbery. But Khanam’s family believes the killing was a hate crime, noting that no personal possessions were stolen.

Just a few weeks earlier, also in Queens, an imam Alauddin Akonjeeand his assistant Thara Miah, were shot in the back of the head on their way home from afternoon prayer. They, like Khanam, were dressed in Muslim garb, and their community also believes they were victims of a hate crime.

These aren’t the only instances of violent attacks on Muslims. In fact, a recent report by Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative noted a spike in these hate crimes and their correlation to the 2016 presidential election.

At the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I witnessed our leading politicians broadcast the kind of Islamophobic messages that can motivate the murder of innocent Muslims.

Millions of Americans who followed the DNC heard former President Bill Clinton speak these words about American Muslims: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win.”

I was there watching the speech live. The crowd cheered, but I didn’t.

First of all, Islam has deep roots in American history. It was brought to the United States in the hearts of many of the Africans who were forced here on slave ships. So Islam is not some foreign entity to the U.S. that can choose to “stay here.” It has been here for centuries.

But even if Muslims just landed on the shores of this country more recently, they shouldn’t be subjected to additional tests that gauge how much they love America in order to earn the right to live here.

As a Muslim-American myself, I’m appalled by the suggestion that unless I prove I love freedom and hate terror, I may not be afforded the right to “stay.” I don’t see any other groups faced with this prerequisite.

Clinton’s statement was even more painful to hear than the overtly anti-Muslim rhetoric spewed in Cleveland at the RNC. The types of Islamophobic messages perpetuated by the former president are arguably more insidious, because they’re coated in the liberalism and progressivism assumed by the Democratic party.

Their meaning may be harder to detect, but those words can be just as deadly.

This reductionism of Muslims was shown again on the final night of the DNC, when the Khan family, grieving the loss of their fallen son, were invited to speak. The Khans were used as props to perpetuate a narrative that reduces the Muslim community to the single issue of terrorism – either those committing it or those fighting it.

For Muslims, politicians at the RNC and DNC had the same message: you’re either with us or you’re against us. You’re either violent or you’re fighting violence. And either way, you’re defined by it.

But I refuse to be reduced to either a threat or a tool of national security.

My rights as a citizen of the United States shouldn’t be restricted by my religion. And I certainly won’t be a pawn in the so-called “War on Terror” politics that have targeted, surveilled, occupied, detained, incarcerated, and led to the killing of communities of color and innocent Muslims like Nazma Khanam, Alauudin Akonjee, and Thara Miah.

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