After Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims across America faced hostility. On this campus, there were isolated incidents. Groups of students cried “Anthrax!” at packages carried by Muslims and laughed. A speeding car attempted to crush a Muslim graduate student’s wife and children. Hate mail trickled into the Muslim Students Association board’s inbox.
Yet this hostility was countered by the generosity of spirit and graciousness shown by the open-minded Yale community. Comforted by neighbors and friends, most Muslims on this campus upheld that Yale could provide us shelter from any acts of hate or prejudice. Here, we could be ourselves without fear of being attacked for speaking our political views. We were equals in the eyes of our peers and professors, since our worth, for once, was measured by our contributions in all walks of life rather than by our system of beliefs.
Suddenly, an alien panic has pierced our daily lives. This recent alleged hate crime, for it deserves to be labeled what it is, shatters for all students the sheltered feeling of our Yale world. It brings to the surface undercurrents of hostility toward Muslims that some of us never perceived before at Yale. In shock, the Muslim community only wonders what is next. Unspoken associations hang in the air identifying the war as an expression of hatred for Muslims. At Yale, we host panels and discussions, but a lack of communication stops us from engaging in dialogue addressing the ever-present volatility and discomfort. The door for such dialogue needs to be pushed open, since there is evidently a need to address these issues.
My expectations, as those of my fellow Muslim Yalies, are still that the place I wholeheartedly call home accepts me for who I am and what I gladly contribute to its well-being. I don’t wish to walk in fear down the very halls that preach tolerance, diversity, and respect for every belief, whether mine or not. Am I not worthy of such ideals? Yale, as the torchbearer of these American ideals, represents to me the values we all cherish; it is supposed to be an intellectual paradise that fosters a free flow of ideas.
But recent events have directed a brand of hatred toward me that is incomprehensible. This hatred is aimed not toward a distant, indefinable “them” whose motives and daily lives you could never touch, but toward the 20-year-old Muslim-American Yale student sitting next to you in your “World Cinema” section. When Fox News tells you to watch out for the indubitably shady activities of your Muslim neighbor, it is pointing a finger at me. I have done nothing to deserve this scrutiny.
In my heart of hearts, I am deeply saddened by this turn of events. I am heartbroken, infuriated, and worst of all, terrified. Small noises outside my window now overwhelm me with fear. The perpetrators of this act thrive on this and on the divisions they have begun to create in our society. These are the people that ruin the continued, touching efforts of others at this institution to weave disparate ideologies together. Yale is an institution meant to produce leaders and humanists, not criminals and aggressors who see the world through racial and religious lenses.
Let us never forget what has happened and ensure that this sort of dangerous mentality does not find a home at our institution. These students must be identified and apprehended. We must reinstate within our community that not only is it safe for individuals to be whom they wish but that we cannot allow others to interfere with the basic rights all Americans deserve. If the current campaign against terrorism is meant to combat forces that thwart the American pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, then why am I unduly subjected to this paranoia?
No matter what, I affirm these truths: I am a Muslim. I am a Yalie. I have embraced the ideals for which America stands. And I am definitely an American.
Sumeyya Ashraf is a junior in Branford College.