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New Zealand’s Mass Shooting is an Expression of the Violence Muslims Face Around the World

As a Palestinian kid who grew up experiencing violence in a war-torn region, I used to wonder whether people in other parts of the world knew what it was like for Muslims, who, in are oppressed in so many regions of the world, live amid war, or as citizens in countries that vilify them.

When I moved to the United States, I found my answer when I turned on the news. After 9/11, Muslims were seen only as the clothes they wore or the language they spoke. Many non-Muslims in America were scared by the violence and, in turn, their neighbors. They did not realize or care that Muslims were scared, too. They saw us only as terrorists, and failed to recognize our thousands of years of laughter and happiness, surrounded by food and family.

This was reinforced again when I was out with my mom and we were verbally attacked by someone just walking by: “Take off your headscarf or get out of this country!” A curious child, I asked my mom, who dons hijab: “Why do they hate us?”

It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? Born from a lack of understanding my identity and how the world may perceive me and my family, this question brings victimization to a whole new level. Looking back, I realize how much this question implies: After all, if “they” hate “us,” surely “we” did something wrong, right? Having experienced so much hatred at such a young age, I had many feelings about my ethnicity and faith. Over time, and after talking with my family, friends, and educators, I found these feelings were misguided — as were the people making me feel shame for them. Muslims have always been and will always be beautiful. As I started to educate others, that belief became my guide.

In eighth grade, a classmate told me that all Muslims are terrorists. I sat there stunned, in awe of the ignorance of those my age. I demanded to know, “What am I?” He pondered this for a few moments, trying to figure out his best response and try not to offend me, as if he hadn’t already. Eventually, he concluded, I was not a terrorist; he corrected himself to state that not all Muslims were terrorists, “only the ones with long beards and a turban.”

If he only knew that Muslims do not wear turbans.

I have been asked every conceivable race-related question, with good intentions, but negative implications. Growing up, my classmates just didn’t know better: Aside from me and a few others, they didn’t know immigrants. As I became more comfortable with my peers, I learned to befriend them, correct them, and teach them the errors in their logic; pleasant but firm, to show that we are happy to share our perspective. We share that right as equals. Many Muslim young adults, including myself, believe that this is the first step. If others were to open the Quran, they would understand the poetry in the words, the peace in the language. A trip to the local mosque is recommended, too: There, you will be welcomed with open arms and an open mind. All we Muslims ask is that you do the same.

I felt distraught and sorrow when I first heard of the March 14 attack on two mosques in New Zealand, attacks believed to have been carried out by a white nationalist Islamaphobe who released a manifesto and live-streamed the event on social media platforms. Still, I was not surprised. For far too long, Muslims have been branded “terrorists” or “dangerous” and violently attacked as a result, even though the fastest-growing religion in the world is founded on the ideals of opportunity and equality, not terror. But when 49 humans die at the hands of a racist individual indignant against a belief system — an entire group of global peoples — the world community must understand where violence compelled by ignorance comes from.

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