NYC speak-out against hate

By Frankie Cook

NEW YORK--About 50 youth and adults gathered in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens on December 16 to speak out against anti-Muslim hate and violence.

The open mic event was organized by Teens for Racial and Ethnic Awakening; Turning Point for Women and Families, a New York-based social service organization dedicated to addressing domestic violence in the Muslim community; and ARISE NY, a campaign organized by young Muslims to challenge hate and violence.

A few days prior, the event appeared on the front page of New York's Metro newspaper, featuring a young Muslim woman with the caption "Why do you hate us?" The article gave expression to the daily harassment and violence that Muslims, women in particular, face--from being called terrorists and murderers, to having their headscarves pulled off.

Since 9/11, racist stereotypes of Muslims as violent terrorists who hate freedom and women have been used to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As more and more Americans have turned against these U.S. military adventures, it appears that politicians have hiked the levels of anti-Muslim racism to a fever pitch in an effort to buttress falling support for U.S. intervention.

At the event, young people gave spoken-word performances and made statements about how hate and violence have affected their lives. One young Muslim woman described how she was ridiculed, mocked and harassed in school for speaking out in the wake of the Metro's article about the rally.

However, the 16-year-old remains determined to speak out against Islamaphobia. "It started when I was on the train when I was 13," she said. "A man came up to me, and he gave me dirty looks and told me I was a suicide bomber, and asked me when I was going to blow. In Islam, we have a thing that when something happens to another Muslim brother or sister, it's as if it's happening to me. I believe it's my responsibility in helping to raise awareness about the hatred against Muslims."

In the present climate, there is no shortage of such incidents. In early December, an imam was attacked on the subway in downtown New York by two men shouting racial slurs against Muslims, and only a month and a half before that a Muslim woman and her four-year-old child were violently attacked in Staten Island by a man shouting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs.

It's clear that anti-Muslim hate is on the rise in New York and is being propelled by racist politicians and right-wing media outlets, such as Fox News, which seems to be in the business of promoting anti-Muslim hate. Fox News and Tea Party politicians have been stoking the fires of Islamaphobia since the proposed building of the downtown Cordoba House Islamic Community Center.

"The people on the right seem to dominate the media," said Robina Niaz, executive director of Turning Point for Women and Families. "They may be small, but they are heard. When their voices get out, it legitimizes the criminalization of a whole group of people. This is not new to America. Muslims are the new ones to be scapegoated. Scapegoating has become an acceptable reaction to America's problems, whether it be poverty, homelessness or whatever issue."

Other speakers connected the rise in hate against Muslims to the hate crimes against LGBT people and immigrants. Those who addressed the need to stand up against bigotry in all its forms received warm applause from the audience.

Members of ARISE NY discussed the importance of continuing to organize youth to speak out against Islamaphobia in schools and communities across New York. Since September, numerous protests have been held in support of the downtown Islamic Center and against the hateful rhetoric spewed by conservative pundits and politicians. Protests, speak-outs and events like these are key to confronting such racist stereotypes.