Fear and uneasiness are not usually emotions that engulf my mind at Williams College.Â This place is by far the safest place I have ever lived. In fact, I am quite sure that I will never again experience the Williamstown level of safety and security when I move on from here this coming June after graduation. This sense of belonging and comfort that has resulted from life at Williams has however taken a severe blow since last Tuesday. Since that day I have increasingly become conscious of my position on this campus as one of the handful of people possessing the same skin color and religion as the likely perpetrators of last week’s disasters.
Being Muslim at Williams has never been easy: the burden of educating people about Islam, defending it from negative stereotypes thrown out by the popular media, and the fallacies created by the actions of extremist Muslims was never something I chose to place on my shoulders when I first came here.Â
However over time, I feel that, like the other Muslims on this campus, this burden was something that I internalized, saw as being normal, and not something to dwell over or worry about. Tuesday morning, at 10 a.m., while watching the scenes of chaos that this disaster had created, I was sure about only one thing: the burden of defending my religion and educating people about its true, and peaceful teachings had suddenly become much heavier than ever before. I knew that Muslim extremists would be automatic suspects, as had been the case in the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995, and that there would be backlash against Muslims all over the country. However, as much as I prepared myself to encounter incidents and stories of retaliation, what has happened since that day, has truly shocked and saddened me in many ways.
By Tuesday afternoon, amongst all the messages of sorrow and pain that filled my inbox, I had messages from Muslim and South Asian friends and relatives across America many of whom had already been victims of retaliatory discrimination and attacks, on their college campuses, and in their hometowns.
By now, most people are probably familiar with stories involving comments like “Arabs, go home” and the assaults on anyone who seemed to be Arab or Muslim. In many places it has seemed that simply having darker skin qualified one to be a prime candidate for such attacks. Incidents like these symbolize the unfortunate division that is being created between American Muslims and other Americans in the aftermath of this disaster. It is important for us to realize that American Muslims are identical to all other Americans: they are loyal to this country,have universally condemned the Tuesday attack and have shared in the feeling of collective loss that has encompassed us all in the last week.
One would think that retaliatory attacks and murders of American citizens because of their skin color or religious affiliation would be characteristic in areas where ignorance and a lack of knowledge are commonplace. Stemming from this, one would not imagine that such incidents would occur in the educated, aware and liberal environment that we ourselves are in at Williams. Unfortunately, however, for all of us, even our seemingly protected and secure environment in Williamstown has been invaded by these retaliatory hate-attacks.
Starting last Tuesday, there have been several incidents of verbal attacks against Muslim and/or South Asian students at Williams. These attacks have come from within the student body, and the broader community. Incidents like these simply display the same anger and hatred that possessed those who committed these terrible crimes in the first place.
We cannot allow our Williams community to succumb to the same pressures that other, less welcoming and less understanding communities in America have already succumbed to.
We must be more willing to understand the realities of one another’s beliefs and faiths, and not associate, as we often do, the actions of few individuals with entire groups of people. In situations like this, retaliatory actions against innocent people who share the same ethnicity or religion, as the suspected perpetrators of this crime offer no support or comfort to those who lost loved ones in last week’s tragedy. After all, in reacting to crimes of hatred with hate, how are we any better than those who took the lives of those innocent people last Tuesday morning?