It is devastatingly hard to be the first. Hard to be the first to graduate high school, graduate college, make the transition from blue collar worker to the esteemed American Dream, white collar professional … now, imagine being one of the first women of color to serve in an institution that has traditionally been overwhelmingly white, privileged and male, with very defined limitations on what can be said, and what is taboo. Now, add another layer to those firsts, being a black-Muslim woman, in an increasingly institutionalized Islamophobic environment. And this woman is championing our cause, as Muslim-Americans, as Palestinian-Americans, and that of of all Americans to live free without the stigma of identity. In return, her remarks are taken out of context by the bully media, and even worse, the President of the United States.
As an educator, in class, when we approach difficult topics, I stress with my students the ability to have an authentic conversation. How engaging in dialogue, even if you have different opinions can lead to insights you may not have considered before. You have to actively listen before you can respond. As a debate coach, debaters understand that emotion is not enough to refute an opponents argument, you must counter with factual evidence, extending the depth of argument with the use of logic. This is fundamental at the elemental debate level, and as I observe national media, all of that is thrown out of interactions that are happening between the hyper-sensationalized media, and political officials who are overly stimulated on social media. Professional decorum is out the window. There is no dialogue, there is only a one-way monologue.
The Danger of Inauthentic Dialogue
Real lives are at stake. Congresswoman Omar, who is speaking the hard truths has put herself and her family in danger. When the President spews vengeful tweets, this US Congresswoman’s life is on the line. Using the phrase “We Will Never Forget” with a video of the Congresswoman takes what she says out of context, and is vile. However, from a marketing perspective, for someone who is trying to turn the tide of public opinion – can be very useful for his intent and purpose. Arguably, the intent and purpose is increasingly anti-Muslim, anti-female leadership and anti-black; a renewed xenophobic American lens.
It is unacceptable for a nation that claims a representative democracy, unacceptable for a person seated in a position of extreme power, able and willing, to influence opinion in such a way that goes even beyond the individual being attacked. The President is supposed to set a high moral standard, unfortunately, with this President, he continues to set the bar lower on what is acceptable in the scope of public dialogue. The disrespect would not be tolerated in the classroom, and should definitely not be tolerated on the American political scene, restore dignity to the Presidency.
Call to Action – Muslim American Organizations
We’ve all heard the phrase, “you can’t control what others do, but you can control your reaction”, in some variation. Well, here is what we have to do because in order for Congresswoman Omar to continue speaking these hard truths we have to uplift her and make sure she knows she has our support. We also have to make it clear to opponents to her message, that it is exactly that – you are free to disagree on intellectual grounds, you are not free to incite hateful violence against her and by default the almost 400 million American-Muslims in this country.
So here is my message to all of our Muslim-American organizations, particularly our mosque leadership, let us uplift our sister with messages of support. Let us be clear, particularly among the non-black Muslim-American leadership, it is necessary to stand with our sister during this time. Send a letter to your Congress person, urging them to stand up against hate. Urge them to clarify the power of their own words, along with those of the President. Clarify the notion that the elected Congressional leader personally, as well as the Muslim-American community at large, are hindered because of these words to live and speak freely and safely within this country.
Here is a sample letter for any, organization, mosque, or individual to use:
The Honorable ________
United States House of Representatives/United State Senate
City, State, Zip
On behalf of (insert organization’s name) we would like to extend our support for our elected officials to speak within their communities freely, without persecution of character or threats on their lives, either directly or indirectly with insinuating comments or attacks on social media or any other platform.
We understand that within the scope of politics disagreements will occur, however, political decorum should be adhered to, as we’ve seen recently in New Zealand, words can have profound impact on our communities. Civil discourse should not be stifled by hate, engage in productive dialogue that will move our country forward in a positive light, not one marked by hatred.
We stand with our elected officials to speak freely, to not have their words held hostage by media soundbites. We urge all officials, including yourself, to stand with Congresswoman Omar against all Islamophobic attacks she may incur either within our institutions of government, online or in person.
Your City, State, Zip
Your Phone Number