I am an American. I am also part Afghan, part Persian and a practicing Muslim.
I was born here. I have lived in the states my entire life, and I cannot say that I have had too much to complain about. I often feel, however, as if I do not belong in this country.
My Muslim faith is questioned every day by others. It is deemed Satanic, evil, terrorist-breeding, anti-human, anti-life, anti-Western and simply barbaric. By simply donning a piece of cloth on their heads, Muslim women are supposedly oppressed, helpless and in desperate need of saving.
Some Americans seem not to understand Islam and believe everything that they hear on the news, telling Americans that Muslims hate the western world and that Islamic women are brutally oppressed.
I grant that the actions of some individuals who identify as Muslim practitioners, especially in the last decade, have given the world a skewed notion of Islam and have given most all Muslims a bad name.
However, if we were to apply this harsh standard to all human beings, then Christians who are white fundamentalist KKK-enthusiasts would represent all white Christians. Timothy McVeigh would represent all Catholics, simply because he was one.
I do not believe that all non-Muslims hate me and my religion. On the contrary, some of my dearest friends are not Muslim. For the most part, we individually accept each other’s beliefs and values, however they may differ from our own.
Why, then, is there a tendency to demand that Muslims change themselves? To be considered true patriotic Americans who love their country, must Muslims modify their modes of dress, values and cultural traditions?
I do not believe that true patriotism and nationalism only applies to one particular group of American citizens.
What is American anyway? Is it simply one race of human beings, one set of values and beliefs, one clearly designated culture? Are we to push for assimilation of all ethnic and religious groups in the country in order to become whole, a global symbol of unity?
What I love about my country is its diversity, not an imaginary notion of uniformity and homogeny.
One key criticism of Islam focuses on its women. It seems that the hijab, which is the attire donned by women practicing Muslim faith, has become a symbol of female oppression in the Western world. I often encounter the attitude that all Muslim women are oppressed and that the hijab especially is a symbol of patriarchal repression, coercion and tyranny on behalf of Muslim men toward Muslim women.
The great hypocrisy here lies in speaking on behalf of all Muslim women by proclaiming that they are oppressed, rather than asking them why they make the quite personal choice to don a headscarf, and indeed, if they feel oppressed by their traditions and their religion.
To me, this is the true patriarchy: speaking on behalf of women and rendering them voiceless and invisible.
I do not claim that all Muslim women who wear the headscarf are liberated, just as I would never claim that all non-Muslim women are free of oppression and patriarchy. Without a doubt, not every veiled Muslim woman is a liberated one but the veil is not a symbol of oppression for every single Muslim woman who wears one.
Indeed, the argument I often hear from veiled Muslim women revolves around a sense of liberation from being seen and treated as a mere sexual object by men. Rather than be constrained in a constant obsession with how they look, some veiled Muslim women enjoy the freedom to simply not care about how others perceive their hair or body.
Relegating Muslim women and men simply to a skewed stereotyped image is not effective; on the contrary, it is more detrimental and dangerous than anything else.
We must work to eradicate the ideas of “East versus West.” We must stop considering Islam, the religion and Muslims, a people, a brutal 10-headed enemy.
In fact, look around you. You’re not likely to see a person who is going to look, talk, believe and think exactly like you. As corny and hackneyed as this may sound, the sooner we learn to accept, and, more importantly, respect the different belief systems in the country and around the globe, the sooner we will all achieve some sort of harmony, or whatever it is that they taught us as children.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Neda Habibi at Neda.firstname.lastname@example.org.