Content warning: This article mentions and references graphic imagery from the ongoing war in Palestine.
I’ve often felt like I’m being stared at by vultures waiting to feed.
Since September 11, 2001, Muslims like me—who veil, are usually multilingual, and come from an immigrant family—were expected to open our mouths as a parrot would, regurgitating the same words, “I condemn the terrorists. I love my country and would never harm it. I promise that I’m one of the good ones.”
After October 7th, 2023, those vulture-like people descended once again. When asked to condemn, I did so—voicing my horror at the attacks of the Israeli army on hospitals, schools, and neighbourhoods. I marched twice alongside our Jewish cousins in faith and brothers and sisters in humanity, who now say what I said years ago, “Not in my name.”
The past few weeks have been agonising for Muslims. At protests, we watched American children hold a list of Palestinian children killed in the siege. On our screens, we read articles about ice cream trucks becoming morgues. And among the many gruesome videos, our memories replay the one of a man carrying his dead children’s body parts in plastic bags meant for groceries.
Rather than being in a democracy, many Muslims like myself feel that we are in a dystopia. One that requires us to affirm our humanity in order to achieve solidarity—if we end up getting it at all.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) reports that discrimination has remained unchanged for the past six years. In October 2023 alone, there has been a 216% increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents. One staff member at the Counsel of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) mentioned that complaints have only been this severe after 9/11 and the Muslim Ban announcement in December 2015.
And the consequences are communal. Dr. Rania Awaad recently wrote in TIME, “the rise of Islamophobia [has] extensive, negative mental health impacts on Muslim communities in the U.S. and around the world.” Just in the U.S., more than any other faith group, Muslims are twice as likely to attempt suicide. Religious and racial discrimination are significant contributors to mental health disorders in the Muslim community.
Muslims are being challenged on emotional, physical, professional, spiritual, and personal levels. Our compasses now have to be calibrated to accommodate, rather than navigate, our interactions with others—whilst living under the false promise of countries that say they welcome everyone.
We are suppressing ourselves instead of expressing ourselves
A hijab automatically identifies you as a Muslim—and to those who hold bigoted views about Muslims, that description expands to “target.” Women who wear hijab have been victims of recent hate crimes, and even without wearing a hijab, have been murdered in broad daylight. Men who wear a kufiya have also been shot. For mothers with children, they may not veil for fear of leaving their child behind—and on the opposite side, may feel relief when their daughters abstain from hijab out of concern for their safety.
As parents, we have also had to turn to guides to help us navigate our children being bullied at school because of their faith. Many male Muslims have faced discrimination or even expulsion for growing out their beards. Not just in school, but in their workplaces as well, for looking “unkempt” or for “sanitary” concerns. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in the United States, yet it remains a privilege bestowed upon only a select few, contingent on factors such as skin colour and faith.
In addition to public spaces, our homes don’t feel safe, either. Wadea al-Fayoume, a young child, ran into his landlord’s open arms because he expected a hug. He received, instead, 26 stab wounds. His mother was also attacked as the landlord said, “You Muslims must die.” We pay taxes and bills for our security, why must we also pay the ultimate price because of our religion?
If Muslims don’t choose to wear a hijab, or grow out a beard, we alter our names so that we aren’t othered. A name like Abdelrahman, “the servant of the Most Merciful,” is shortened to “A.R.” Mohyideen, “the revival of the religion,” becomes “Mo.” “Sara,” with its beautiful trill, becomes “Sarah.”
This is all reminiscent of what happened after 9/11, when we sought to distance ourselves from those who committed a terrible crime. Today, it seems we are once again diluting ourselves in a sea of people so that we don’t drown.
My own last name, “Alkadi” (the Judge), was butchered to “Al-Qaeda” in public school. I’ll never forget that day in the auditorium, an honour roll ceremony with teachers and other students present. I was the only Arab who had made that prestigious list—but it almost seemed to forebode a future on watch lists instead. From then on, I always prayed that any non-Arabic speaker would just say, “Hannah A,” even when I was eventually hired.
Having an occupation during an occupation
What’s in a name? That which we call a resume… is pretty biased. In Australia, a person with a “Middle Eastern-sounding” name must submit more applications than their Anglo counterparts—to the tune of 64%. And if you wear a hijab, your chances of getting hired are even slimmer.
Speaking for myself, despite my numerous qualifications and years of experience, I was initially hired as a “full-time intern.” Even my non-Muslim colleague admitted that I was more knowledgeable than her when it came to our respective roles. However, it took half a year before I moved up the professional ladder.
When we do hold a job, we’re anxious about how our income might be affected in relation to our identity. 76% of Muslims surveyed by Muslamic Makers fear repercussions as severe as being fired when it comes to expressing views in the workplace. With a statistic as heavy as half of British Muslims experiencing poverty, losing a job is a risk that most Muslims cannot afford to take. Your heart may feel better about speaking up, but your cheque book won’t. And if you have mouths to feed, the pressure to stay silent is huge. Loans, bills, and other debts come in the way of taking time off for protests. Meanwhile, your non-Muslim coworkers never have to defend their religion or race when there is a mass shooting—as it’s understood that any group of people are not a monolith. Outside of tragedies, concessions and exceptions, rather than accommodations, are frequent in the workplace. Breaking fast during Ramadan is “inconvenient” to a manager at a fast-paced retail job, but smoke breaks are sanctioned.
These are just domestic jobs. In national roles, Rashida Tlaib, Representative of Michigan, has been censured by her fellow colleagues for pro-Palestinian comments, despite having support from the majority of her constituents. Sara Jama faced similar harassment in Canada—she was removed from her party after calling for a ceasefire. What kind of republics do we live in, when those we elect to represent our interests are harassed for doing their jobs? It makes us feel as though diversity is only something to showcase outside of the office. Our votes are valued more than our voices.
68% of American voters want a ceasefire. One million Britons protested in London, contrasted by a majority of MPs still resolute on support for Israel. Some of these same politicians had a similar trend with the Iraq War—initially showing support, then regretting it after public sentiment had staunchly changed. We can only hope it won’t be too late this time.
Diversity, it seems to us, is only valued when garnering votes or attracting job applicants. However, when we ask for the same accommodations that our non-Muslim counterparts receive, we cannot receive them. Playing politics doesn’t exist only in the political realm, but in the personal one.
We condemn or are condemned
Eyebrows raise when Muslims don’t speak out against global terrorism in a country far away. Once, proof of those condemnations was well over 700 pages long. But the same expectation falls short when domestic lone shooters are forgiven, with a diagnosis of mental health problems or a troubled past.
Before we can inform others of Israel’s crimes, verified by several world organisations, we must preface with a condemnation of the groups around it. How familiar are we with this? Only now, after public sentiment has swayed towards regretting the “War On Terror,” are we able to acknowledge the millions of lives lost in post-9/11 wars without first acknowledging 9/11. In courts, we never see a plaintiff carpet-blaming a group of people for what it has suffered—merely detailing the crimes that the one defendant perpetrated. As Dr. Hatem al-Haj beautifully writes, “Supporting the Palestinian cause doesn’t necessitate blanket agreement with every action or strategy of the resistance.”
We afford this grace to the heroes and heroines of our fiction—why not our realities? We romanticise the fight against authoritarian regimes in movies and literature, but hardly actualise it. Star Wars fans call Darth Vader evil for murdering Younglings in cold blood. But why is it that a siege that Benjamin Netanyahu ordered on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of eight premature babies on oxygen, is not called another massacre? How is it that Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, can stand for Israel when their hellfire missiles can decimate innocents, much like the Death Star’s arsenal?
No one expected Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games to pledge constant loyalty to the Capitol. I see her in Bisan Owda and Plestia Alaqad, two women documenting the crimes against an authoritarian regime. I look at the kufiya as a real-life mockingjay pin; a small piece of clothing that threatens those who don’t believe in what it represents. And threatened they are—minimizing the genocide as “complicated” and the apartheid as a “conflict” because white lives are not the victims.
As the chant goes: “Resistance is justified when people are occupied.” In real life, resistance takes different shapes and forms. Motaz Azaiza works movie magic on his Instagram, as much of a “Boy Who Lived” as Harry Potter. However, our hearts fell when we saw J.K. Rowling, along with other artists, protest a boycott on funding Israel’s crimes. Muslims may have wished they could join “Dumbledore’s Army” with their non-Muslim friends, but cannot endorse the intifada (revolution) for fear of being seen as extreme. However, signs at the March for Israel can say “Let them finish the job”—the total decimation of Gaza—without being seen as calls for genocide.
Consider a “two-sides” argument as a one-sided stance
Propaganda asks us to consider “both sides,” to imagine a peaceful resolution for the long-standing conflict. But how can there be peace when one entity is adamant on brutally occupying the other? It seems as though the decision has already been made for us; that the two sides will both somehow be happy with having two states.
That hasn’t been the case for years. As expulsion by Israel continues, the shrinking of historic Palestine grows. History itself shows that Palestine existed long before Israel did. Shakespeare mentioned it in his Othello, Anne Frank in her diary. This is also a vast oversimplification of the issue; that it’s Muslims versus Jews, and that by having two states, the West can avoid being both antisemitic and Islamophobic. A simple answer!
If we listen to all sides—Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, Jews, and Zionists, no one wants two states.
Pro-Palestinian activists, Christian or Muslim, do not advocate for a state that only practices one religion. Rather, they advocate for the country as it was before 1948—Palestine, a mix of different religions and peoples. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is a call that from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea, Palestinians won’t live under occupation. No border walls. No checkpoints. No identification cards. It is not a call for ethnic cleansing of Jewish people. Even Jewish organisations verify that.
Jewish Voice for Peace stresses that antisemitism and anti-zionism are not the same. To conflate the two is dangerous. If Not Now, another group, provides resources for all to learn about the current apartheid.
A core argument of Zionism is that having a “Jewish state” is what will guarantee the safety of the Jewish community. However, Ethiopian Jews would argue differently. Despite practising the same religion, their women were administered sterilisation without their consent or knowledge when immigrating.
Additionally, Muslims are always trained to mention both sides despite non-Muslims only mentioning one. When we bring up the Palestinian casualties, the response is a shrug, that some collateral must be expected in the ongoing “War on Terror.” By contrast, when we say, “Nearly half of Gaza is made up of children, and they are half of the casualties,” the knee-jerk response is, “But what about Hamas?”
We’re seeing again that Palestinians and other Muslims are tallied as numbers, sacrificed to a greater cause—rather than people. It is at protests I see them honoured most, where organisers will roll out metres and metres long of the victims’ names and ages, calling them “martyrs.”
The dogma of dehumanising
Seven years after 9/11, in the 2008 American election, a woman voiced her concerns to Senator John McCain about his opponent—Barack Obama. “He’s an Arab,” was one of her complaints. The Senator interrupted her and described the eventual President as a “decent family man.” We commemorate the Senator for not allowing her to continue speaking negatively against Arabs and Muslims (which she did to reporters after the town hall). However, we wished that there had been a clarification on how “Arab” was not the antonym of “decent family man.”
Fourteen years after 9/11, another rally gave us a nightmarish sense of déjà vu. “We have a problem in this country. It’s called ‘Muslims’,” an attendee to a Trump rally in 2015 said. “We know our current president is one.” Trump nodded and said, “Right.” Comparing the aforementioned incident with Senator John McCain to this one, what has changed? In both instances, the words “Arab” or “Muslim” are spoken as insults rather than identification. This is dehumanisation.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust defines dehumanisation as when “those perceived as different are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity. During the genocide in Rwanda, Tutsis were referred to as ‘cockroaches.’ The Nazis referred to Jews as ‘vermin.’” In this interview, Arabs were referred to as “animals.”
“This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle,” read a since-deleted tweet by the Israeli Prime Minister. Since then, over 14,000 Palestinians have been killed in bombings.
Dehumanisation is only the fourth stage of a genocide. As it mounts, the perpetrators then turn to polarisation—which is how they justify the murder of innocent lives. No one put it better than a Jewish woman I saw at my last protest. She had wrapped a kufiya around her hair, and wrote a sign that said: “They tried to justify killing us too.” Dehumanisation and propaganda are simply methods of their warped justifications.
On domestic, national, and international levels, solidarity has been shown to Israel. Muslims watched as monuments lit up blue and white. Flags were lowered half-staff, but only to honour Israeli victims.
Censorship isn’t new for non-celebrities, either. When users who uploaded pro-Palestinian content noticed that they weren’t getting views, Instagram’s parent company claimed it was a “bug.”
The world’s largest search engine is no exception. When I Google “pro-Palestine protest in DC,” the top results show the pro-Israel rally. Even if I add “-israel,” in an attempt to show all search results that don’t mention the pro-Israel rally, the top results show the pro-Palestine protest as “violent.” Despite the large numbers at the pro-Palestine protests, I felt nothing but safe and welcome. Tears formed in my eyes, not from sadness, but from the sheer amount of people who wanted to stand peacefully for the truth. To have this landmark event publicised as “violent” makes me feel that any portrayal of Muslims and Arabs post 9/11—even when it is real, not fictional—will always be negative.
In the initial hours of the largest pro-Palestinian protest in the capital of the United States, numbers were watered down to “tens of thousands.” The final count ended up being 300,000. The same occurred in the capital of Texas, which gives the most aid to Israel—by proclaiming “thousands,” with an actual count close to 50,000. But negative news about our diaspora is, sadly, nothing new. The New York Times depicted Islam and Muslims as worse than cancer and cocaine in half of all headlines analysed from 1990-2014.
So if good news about Muslims are minimised, and the negative news is maximised, what happens to our oppressors? News outlets favoured the organisers of the March for Israel’s testimony when they counted their numbers as 290,000 (despite photo evidence showing the contrary). Major news outlets grant Israeli lies a platform, but disfavorably shadow Palestinian media.
On CNN, a spokesperson for the IDF blatantly asserted that a calendar was a “guarding list” that Hamas members used to monitor hostages. Arabic speakers were quick to point out on social media that the “list” was actually a calendar.
The Israeli President, in an interview broadcast by the BBC, proclaimed a double threat: that an Arabic version of Mein Kampf was found on the dead body of a Hamas fighter, and in a “children’s living room.” Those claims were questioned on social media as people pointed out the pristine condition of the book. How could it have been retrieved so cleanly from a building that was reduced to rubble? Some commenters even wondered what a “children’s living room” was.
In both cases, the Israelis’ claims were taken as fact, with no fact-checking done on the part of these news agencies.
The Zionist regime is finding ways to exterminate Palestinians with Hamas as a scapegoat culprit, just like the United States justified the invasion of Iraq with the phrase: “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” At least 280,000 Iraqis were killed, and American troops still remain indefinitely in Iraq. Is the “freedom” of Iraqis correlated to the presence of the United States army?
A positive parallel
Allah SWT says,
“They wish to extinguish Allah’s light with their mouths, but Allah will ˹certainly˺ perfect His light, even to the dismay of the disbelievers.” (Surah As-Saf 61:8)
Despite the propaganda, the dehumanising language, the relentless denial of basic human rights, two notable TikTokers of other faiths, @jackjackwilds and @megan_b_rice, ended up taking their Shahada after witnessing the incredible Palestinian faith in the face of this oppression. Scholars like Shaykh Mikaeel Smith and Imam Suhaib Webb also reverted to Islam after 9/11. It is a testament that Allah, al-Qadir (The All-Powerful), is truly limitless compared to the forces that dare go against Him.
In the twenty years since 9/11, generations of Muslims have not forgotten the hateful rhetoric. We have not forgotten the surveillance in our places of worship, the “random” selection, the illegal detentions and the 75 years of apartheid.
People of all faiths are wearing the kufiya now to show their support of Palestinians—and regardless of your background as a reader, you too, can wear one to show your support. Be sure to ensure that the seller is distributing from Hirbawi, the last kufiya manufacturer in Khalil, Palestine.
Trials and tribulation are nothing new for the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. From his ﷺ time until 9/11, we have faced opposition from all around us, and yet, we have also always received help from our Rabb. Who would have thought that Allah would send rain after Israel cut off water to Gaza? It reminds me of when Allah did the same at the Battle of Badr.
“… And He sent down rain from the sky to purify you, free you from Satan’s whispers, strengthen your hearts, and make ˹your˺ steps firm.” (Surah al-Anfal 8:11)
So what do we do, when history threatens to repeat? The past is the greatest asset to making sense of the present challenges—and insha’Allah (God willing), to solving those challenges as well.
We hope that Palestine will be a lesson for all. And that, like birds, they will one day be free. From the river to the sea.
Hannah Alkadi is a Lawful Good Social Media Master, starving writer, cat mom, and total nerd. She is 29 years old and lives in Dallas, TX. Her current project is the revival of her blog, “Social Media Free Sabil Allah,” helping nonprofit and for-profit owners navigate the wild, wild web.