Land of the Free (Restrictions Apply)

Thousands of students recite, “liberty” and “justice” from the Pledge daily, as politicians utter these glittering generalities in their speeches. But as instances of discrimination grow rampant in our supposedly “post-modern” society, our American values fade into the background. When our founding fathers said, “liberty and justice for all,” did “all” include African-Americans? Because the vicious shooting of Alton Sterling by white police officers deadens the meaning of “justice”. As Sterling was shot, a child lost his father, countless Americans lost a friend, and family members mourned his death. But our criminal justice system is indifferent to police brutality. To the injustices that write their stories in the fate of African-Americans.

Daily Show host Hasan Minhaj said, “Civil liberties is an all-or-nothing game.” We will never truly live up to the values upon which this country was founded until we coexist with one another. Until Caucasians hold hands with African-Americans. Until a woman in a hijab can go out in public without worrying that someone will strip “freedom of religion” from the scarf she wears proudly. So in solidarity with the Muslim woman who was assaulted in an Ontario supermarket. With the Muslim doctor who was stabbed and shot at a mosque on his way to morning prayer. With the woman who was stripped of her hijab while running to catch her train in Chicago.  Our voices will be heard. Even over the political tactics that feed off prejudice. Our fight for freedom, justice, and equality reminds us that these values are inclusive. We pride ourselves on domestic security, despite that mass shootings have become a norm. Despite my uncertainty as to whether I am safe from being victimized by those who falsely assume that I am a threat to this nation’s values. Like Alton Sterling and the Muslims who have been assaulted and killed, we strive to exercise our rights in this free society. I am a friend, teammate, student, sister, and daughter to other Americans. So in the face of these injustices, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to let fear suppress my freedoms. Let’s use our voices to speak out against discrimination. Let’s live up to liberty and justice, not let these values crumble under the social injustices that dominate our political climate.

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A Writer’s Skill

Countless students that attend American public schools often question the worth of completing graded timed-essays in English classes. But writers have an invaluable skill that can be applied to the real-world that enables us to understand various points-of-view, regardless of the extent to which they contradict our own. A recent conversation with a classmate and friend of mine brought me to realize the value of appreciating diverse perspectives.

As a Muslim woman who practices the hijab, I strive to not only represent my religion well but also help others understand it. For instance, I provided a religious and personal perspective on the hijab to my friend, Matthew. After I finished, he said, “If someone said something (negative) about your hijab, I would get offended.” Despite that he neither practices my faith nor identifies with a minority race, Matthew was able to understand the complexity of a perspective that does not align with his own. Because he and I honor diverse perspectives, we foster peace and coexistence with people of other races, gender identities, religions, and more. We are individuals who do not condemn others for being “different,” but rather, honor unique points-of-view.

As there have been frequent incidents of religious discrimination and police brutality, it is crucial to defend those who may be subject to these injustices. Writing has encouraged us to defend other members of our community regardless of whether they share the same beliefs as we do. I do not partake of the LBGTQ community, but I am still proud to defend and honor anyone who is. I do not identify as African-American, yet reading about instances of police brutality strikes negative emotions within me. I do not have to be the victim of discrimination or injustice to empathize with those who are.

Matthew’s kind words are reminiscent of another instance during which my classmate, Elliott, supported me for speaking out against religious discrimination. I shared an argumentative essay that condemns the banning of Muslims at the rallies of GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. Upon doing so, Elliott told me, “If anyone ever gives you problems, I will stand behind you!” I am so proud to be a part of an inclusive community in which people of various faiths and races stand beside me. After frequent reflection of both of the instances that my peers expressed their support for me, I noticed a similarity between Matthew and Elliott. Both of these kind individuals are writers.

The ability to honor diverse perspectives regardless of whether they align with our own is a skill that writing fosters. To all the students who groan before the start of every timed-essay, the art of writing is helping you a build a skill that could stick with you for a lifetime. A skill that promotes unity, social justice, and coexistence.

Coexist

 

Ask Me About My Hijab

Writer’s Note: The “hijab” is a headscarf worn by some Muslim women throughout the world as a symbol of modesty. In this piece, I offer a perspective on the hijab that is void of a religious point of view. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

Ask Me About My Hijab

People ask me questions about my hijab all the time. “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” “Does it get hot in the summertime?” “Why do you wear it, but your sister doesn’t?” I appreciate when others ask me about my religious practices and beliefs, and I would like to encourage you to do the same. I live in a very diverse environment and attend one of the most culturally inclusive schools in the county. Meeting members of the community whose cultural and religious practices differ from my own is something I have always appreciated. With this post, I want to talk about what the hijab means to me in a way that is as void of a religious perspective as possible.

Think of anything you are deeply committed to, whether it’s a sport, academic club, or hobby. For instance, I am passionate about the sport of running; to stop running would be to stop enjoying life in one of the best ways I know possible. Even though I would rather go home and take a nap on some days than go to practice, the satisfaction of completing a workout is greater than the feeling of getting some rest. In other words, overcoming obstacles is far more powerful than the obstacle itself, from fatigue and muscle soreness to mental exhaustion. Similarly, wearing the hijab represents something greater to me than just wearing a scarf on my head. It is a symbol of my devotion to all my values, religious and moral. It represents my ability to be resilient even in the face of adversities. It is the way that I have defined myself for four years during which I’ve undergone a great deal of personal growth. It has taught me that being patient throughout low points in life is more rewarding than giving in to social or political pressure.

As a woman who proudly wears the hijab, I understand that not everyone will agree with my perspective. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to agree. All I’m asking is for you to expose yourself to a new point of view. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so inevitably, you are going to encounter Muslims, but more importantly, you are going to meet people who are different from you.

Wearing the hijab expresses my desire to be judged not on my external appearance, but on my character and intellect. As mentioned earlier, I’m often asked, “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” I’ll be completely open and honest with you. I love the way my hair looks, every strand of it. But my commitment to my religious and moral values is more important to me than my appearance. My teachers, peers, and other members of my community used to describe me based on how I look. Now, they describe me based on the quality of my character. “Naima is intelligent,” they’ll say, or, “Naima is mature.” I want to be remembered and valued for who I am, not what I look like.

It’s clear that the media and clothing manufacturers don’t entirely agree with my opinion. Before I delve any deeper into this subject, I want to remind you that I strive to honor diverse perspectives. Let me ask you this: when viewing advertisements that depict women in revealing clothing, do you wonder what those women are like? Their career aspirations, their values, who they are? It seems that we reduce these figures to no more than beautiful bodies behind a T.V. screen. I know that it may sound shallow to judge others based on what they are wearing or what they look like, but it is an innate and subconscious tendency. It simply makes us human. You wouldn’t get hired if you went to an interview in your pajamas.  I want to make it clear that I do not look down on those who dress less conservatively than I do. I just want to inform you that although the hijab may distinguish me from my peers, I am still able to connect with those who dress in various fashions, follow different belief systems, and come from unique cultural backgrounds.

The hijab has instilled the value of coexistence within me. I work with students of various nationalities and faiths in my school’s writing center, run alongside a diverse group of students on my cross-country and track teams, and befriend people of various cultural backgrounds. My headscarf is a reminder to me that no matter how “different,” I may seem, I am able to coexist with those whose religious beliefs don’t align with my own. We put our differences aside so that we can find a way to connect with each other on a personal level. And that has to be one of the most valuable aspects of being part of such a diverse community. We close cultural, religious, and social divides by choosing to coexist, to accept one another regardless of our differences.

Recently, I was filled with nostalgia while looking at a picture of me and my teammates. As my eyes peered from left to right, I took the time to acknowledge what a diverse group I partake of. In the photo, five members of the team are giving someone a piggy-back ride, including myself. The girl that I’m carrying on my back is part Caucasian and part Japanese. The others are either Italian, French, German, or Mexican. Spending several moments viewing the image, I noticed that my teammates and I are physically supporting each other, despite our differences. Once again, we coexist, just as we have during countless cross-country meets, long bus rides on the way home from races, and even today.

So go on. Ask me about my hijab. Ask me why I would never remove it from a part of myself. But keep in mind that there is so much more to someone than their external appearance or clothing. Learn to value and honor other points of view and understand that exposing yourself to different perspectives doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adopt them.

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The Divided States of America

As we spread the popular hashtag #AllLivesMatter, countless lives of innocent people are lost. Have you heard about the three African-American Muslim boys who were shot in Indiana? Probably not; yet the death of a lion was deemed far more important by news media broadcasters. Why does the media imply that the lives of minorities are so cheap? With the divisive rhetoric that 2016 presidential candidates promote, there has been a sharp increase in police brutality and hate crimes against Muslims. Today, Americans spend more thought ordering the importance of human lives on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, and more. Instead, our energies should be spent building unity between one another regardless of these factors.

Our society doesn’t always agree with this attitude and would like to create as many ways as possible for us to become divided. But I would rather see the integration of all people, black or white, gay or straight, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, and more. Simply put, what does it matter if we’re not all the same?  Shouldn’t the value of our lives be equal regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or any other factor? And shouldn’t individuality be celebrated?

With the current presidential race, don’t ever let anyone make you feel that you don’t belong here. We all belong here. This is our country, and America is a mixing bowl of so many beautiful cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnic origins, and more. So let’s celebrate our unique part of this American society. Let’s make the world around us more tolerant and inclusive. After all, this is the United States of America. Don’t let us become the Divided States of America.

 

 

 

Divide

Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump has done it again. He continues to promote discrimination and vulgarity, as the 2016 Presidential process brings great dissent among Americans. At a recent rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, for instance, Trump encouraged a woman to repeat invective against Ted Cruz, current U.S. Senator from Texas. “She just said a terrible thing,” Trump said, smiling. “Shout it out” (Johnson). Trump encouraging his supporter to call Cruz a “pussy” is simply unprofessional and immature; his vulgarity and rudeness is not a quality presidential candidates should condone.

This harsh invective contradicts American public school’s efforts to mitigate bullying. When political leaders direct insults at one another, it signals to younger generations that it is okay to direct vulgar language at others. One can argue that young people don’t vote, and therefore, their political opinions don’t matter, but children are likely to reflect their parents’ attitudes. For instance, nine-year-old Ava Lovely shed tears of joy after her mother told her they were going to see Donald Trump in person (Mills). Regardless of your political affiliation, would you want your president to be someone who uses invective to make his candidates feel inferior to himself? You don’t have to be a supporter of Ted Cruz to understand that what Donald Trump did at the New Hampshire rally is not an attitude our future president should reflect.

While invective against other GOP presidential candidates is encouraged at Trump rallies, peaceful Americans have often been escorted out of these events. These people are notably followers of Islam and Sikhism. For instance, at a rally in South Carolina, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was escorted out of a rally while conducting a peaceful protest (Diamond). Similarly, a group of Sikh men holding a banner that read “Stop Hate” were also asked to leave (Wang). “You don’t have to be a Muslim to stand against anti-Muslim bigotry,” they argued. Why should an American who is shouting vulgar language at a Trump rally be encouraged to repeat her insults, but peaceful attendees be asked to leave? And why should we amplify the voices of those who condone vulgarity but suppress the voices of peaceful religious groups?

This issue is a divisive matter of race and religion that does not align with American values of peace and justice. It scares me to know that, as a Muslim, I would be forcefully escorted out of a Trump rally because some people wrongly associate my religion with the words “un-American” and “dangerous.” Contrarily, if I were Caucasian, like the majority of Trump supporters, I would be a welcome guest at these rallies. President Barack Obama said, “There is not a white America or a black America and Latino America and Asian America. There is the United States.” It’s unfortunate that the 2016 Presidential process has served to divide us as Americans. We continue to promote prejudice and bigotry while forgetting the values that built this nation, such as justice, equality, and liberty for all. Let’s think about those last two words: “…for all.” American rights and values are not limited to any one race, gender, religion, or nationality, and the framers of our Constitution did not intend for them to be exclusive. So while thousands of Trump supporters may have laughed with the woman who called Senator Ted Cruz a “pussy,” we certainly should not smile at the fact that our American values are in jeopardy because of the widespread bigotry and discrimination that politicians promote. Don’t accept bigotry as a norm in America. Do something about it. Say something. Otherwise, America will remain divided. We will forget what it’s like to be truly united as one nation.

 

Works Cited

Diamond, Jeremy. “Silently Protesting Muslim Woman Ejected from Trump Rally.” NBC News. N.p., 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/politics/donald-trump-muslim-woman-protesting-ejected/&gt;.

Johnson, Jenna. “Donald Trump Repeats Crowd Member’s Ted Cruz Insult: ‘He’s a Pussy.’.” Washington Post. N.p., 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/08/donald-trump-repeats-crowd-members-ted-cruz-insult-hes-a-pussy/?tid=sm_tw&gt;.

Mills, Emma. “Young Girl Cries with Excitement about Meeting Donald Trump.” The Telegraph. N.p., 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/donald-trump/12124464/Young-girl-cries-with-excitement-about-meeting-Donald-Trump.html&gt;.

Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa. “Sikh-American Protester Removed from Trump Rally.” NBC News. N.p., 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/sikh-american-protester-removed-trump-rally-n503971&gt;.

 

 

 

Liberty and Justice for All

Every day at public schools nationwide, students and teachers rise to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This routine has been engrained into our daily schedule for decades. It represents our patriotism. Observing students around me, I see some of my peers idly muttering the Pledge, sending texts, or simply staring at the American flag. As an American, I strongly value the last few words of the Pledge, which are representative of this nation’s ideals: “…liberty and justice for all.” I feel so proud to stand alongside other members of this nation as we remind ourselves of the values that built this great country. But these same values are slowly being replaced by bigotry as anti-Muslim rhetoric increases and hate crimes are directed against African-Americans.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, stated that Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration is “not what this country stands for,” as there are thousands of Muslims who are serving in the armed forces to protect this country (Walsh, Diamond, & Barrett, 2015). Despite Ryan’s public condemnation of the proposal, Trump gained widespread approval at a rally in Iowa. Supporters explained that they support the ban on Muslim immigration because they see it as a preventative measure for future domestic bombings (Diamond, 2015). A couple also asserted their approval of the ban at a rally in Mechanicsville, Virginia, because they want to “take their country back.” Trump has targeted areas of the United States where the number of Muslim Americans is limited. Thus, these supporters do not have the opportunity to see the contrast between peaceful Muslims and radical extremists who wrongly use Islam as a justification for terrorism. The great majority of Muslims worldwide do not share the extremists’ beliefs. However, a double standard exists. Craig Hicks, a man who shot three Muslims in North Carolina last February, does not represent every Christian or Caucasian male (Winter, 2015). Generalizing about a group of people on the basis of race, religion, or nationality, is a form of injustice and ignorance that has fueled a false sense of paranoia in this nation for decades.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, over 127,000 Japanese Americans were interned (Japanese-American Internment, 2015). Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to relocate all Japanese Americans to internment camps. But their relocation only spurred fear and paranoia instead of peacefully integrating people of all backgrounds. It is wrong to assume that one’s race, religion, or ethnicity automatically deems them dangerous and “un-American”. How can we recite the words “liberty and justice for all” from the Pledge of Allegiance, yet order a vast number of people to be placed in internment camps?

Not only have Americans faced injustice based on their ethnicity and religion, but they have also been discriminated against for their race. Take for instance Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot by a police officer in November, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. The officer assumed that Rice’s toy gun was a real firearm and killed the boy after judging the scene for mere seconds (Fantz, Almasy, & Shoichet, 2015). Even though the officer’s snap judgements cost the life of a child, prosecutor Tim McGinty states that evidence does not indicate criminal conduct by police. It’s no coincidence that Tamir is African-American. Everyone can easily think of several names of black Americans who have faced injustice at the hands of a police officer. Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. When will the list end?

When I return to school on Monday morning, I will gladly recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But the fire in my heart will continue to burn with the hope that one day, there will be liberty and justice for all.

 

Works Cited

Diamond, J. (2015, December 8). Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/

Elmir, R. (2015, December 28). Stop asking me to condemn terrorists just because I’m Muslim. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/12/28/stop-asking-me-to-condemn-terrorists-just-because-im-muslim/?postshare=951451343737761&tid=ss_tw-bottom

Fantz, A., Almasy, S., & Shoichet, C. E. (2015, December 28). Tamir Rice shooting: No charges for officers. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/28/us/tamir-rice-shooting/

Japanese-American Internment. (2015, December 31). Retrieved from U.S. History Online Textbook: http://www.ushistory.org/us/51e.asp

Walsh, D., Diamond, J., & Barrett, T. (2015, December 8). Priebus, Ryan and McConnell rip Trump anti-Muslim proposal. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/08/politics/paul-ryan-trump-comments-not-who-we-are-as-a-party/index.html

Winter, M. (2015, February 16). N.C. man indicted in slayings of 3 Muslim students. Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/16/chapel-hill-killings-muslims-parking/23514293/