My Name is Fatima and I am Not a Terrorist

Fatima Sikder
Faculty Instructor: Sophie Bell

My name is Fatima and I am not a terrorist. Some of you may have heard this phrase before: it’s from a Bollywood movie called My Name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist. The movie follows the journey of an Indian Muslim man on his way to meet the president to convey a simple message: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.” The character Khan’s stepson was beaten to death by kids who believed that Muslims were terrorists during the aftermath of 9/11. Khan believed that by telling the president he was a Muslim and not a terrorist, it would stop incidents like his innocent son being bullied to death. Although it’s just a movie, it has a beautiful meaning to it, especially for Muslims like myself, who live in America. I’m way too lazy to visit the president, but I can spread the same awareness through my writing.

I’m an American Muslim; I was born and raised in New York City. I’ve lived here my whole life. I think the only time I actually left this place was to visit my parents’ hometown in Bangladesh for two months in ‘07.Yet, if I were to stand next to a blond-
haired and blue-­eyed girl from Germany who speaks no English (I know I’m being very generic, but for the sake of discussion), I would be the one to look like an outsider. A “foreigner.” Why? Not because I’m Muslim, but because I wear the headscarf. It’s the headscarf that gives it away. You can be Muslim without “looking Muslim.” Who knows what “looking Muslim” even means? A Muslim can be any race and any color; it’s the way we present ourselves that distinguishes us from others. Commonly, Muslim women wear the hijab while Muslim men grow beards and wear a kufi.

Since I wear the hijab, a head piece for religious and modest reasons, I’m sure at first glance most people would assume that I don’t speak English, that I just came from a foreign country, and just maybe I’m a part of a terrorist group. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault that they’ve never been directly exposed to individuals who look like me. All their information comes from either the media ­­ which trust me, is not good news – or their family and friends. Every time the media talks about terrorism, it is generally associated with Islam somehow. What are people going to think if you keep using the words Islam and terrorism in the same sentence over and over and over again? It sticks to your brain, whether you want it to or not.

Personally, I have had no major experiences with racial profiling. Yes, I get the occasional disgusted glances in my direction, but to me, that’s normal. You get used to it after walking around with the hijab on for ten years. However, recently I did have the pleasure of experiencing racial profiling (I’m being sarcastic):

Two friends and I decided to meet up on a Saturday in October 2013 to study for our first Chem test coming up on Tuesday. After reviewing chapter five for three hours in DAC, we finally decided to stretch our legs and go for a lunch break. We went exploring, three “adventurous” hijabis, to find a place to eat. After ten minutes of serious contemplation, we settled for pizza at Regina’s.

The minute we walked in, we all noticed the glances we got from the table in front. There were four boys, white as milk, most likely St. John’s students. Since I was hungry, I wasn’t really paying attention to them. My thoughts were mostly on what toppings I wanted for my pizza. So this story is basically what my friend, Sarah, told us after we had settled down to eat:

Should I get mushrooms or black olives. Ooh, maybe jalapeno peppers. I’m in the mood for something spicy, I thought as I licked my lips devouring the image of the perfect pizza I had on my mind.

“Oh my gosh, did you hear what they were saying?!” asked Sarah as we settle down at the table.

“What….” I asked confused. When is my food coming!?

“Those dumb jocks at the table. The ones that just left!” explained Sarah, shocked that I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Oh, them… No, not really. I mean, I know they were staring at us. I just thought they were creeps. Why, what’d they say?” I replied.

“Ugh. I’m so annoyed. They were like ‘Oh, if you’re gonna come to a country, you should dress the part too’ and stupid stuff like that,” said Sarah. “Yo, if I actually had the guts, I woulda said something back. So rude! Like, this is my life. I can wear whatever the hell I want!”

“Why are you getting so worked up about it? Calm down. It happens. People say stupid things. Why ruin your day over it?” said my other friend.

“Yeah. I mean, people are gonna say dumb things regardless. Plus, they’re probably dorming in St John’s. I’m guessing they’re not from New York. If they were, they’d know that this is New York. Everyone lives in New York,” I said.

“I guess. Whatever. I’m just so pissed.” huffed Sarah as she reached into her bookbag. “You know what’s kinda funny? Ever since I started using this two shouldered bag, I’ve been getting way more stares than usual, especially ‘cause it’s so big and stuff. But, I like put my laptop and my books here, you know. What do they think I’m carrying, a freaking bomb or something. Idiots,” she said as she shook her head.

“You know what would’ve been funny? If you walked over to those guys and dumped your bag on their table and ran away screaming. Imagine how freaked out they woulda been,” I said laughing.

So basically, we laughed it off and moved on. That’s what you do in life. There’s always going to be ignorant people in the world and that can’t be changed. You just have to make a bad situation into a good one and get on with your day.

What I experienced is nothing compared to what other Muslims go through on a daily basis. My friends and I weren’t even directly targeted. At least those guys didn’t come up to us and insult us; unfortunately, not all Muslims get off so easy. I’m not sure if any of you heard of it, but there’s a Youtube channel called TrueStoryASA: It’s just two young Muslim guys named Adam and Sheikh who post videos ranging from vlogs to pranks to just about anything that comes to their minds. I follow both of them on Instagram, and I remember this one picture that Adam posted a couple of months ago. He was at the airport when he posted a picture of a smiling Muslim man being frisked by the TSA. Before I say anything else, one thing you should know is that Adam, who is Middle Eastern, doesn’t really “look Muslim” (whatever that means) or Middle Eastern. He can probably pass for a Hispanic or white guy. With that said, the following is the caption underneath the picture he posted:

“So I’m on my way to Michigan and I go through security check. The security talks to me in Spanish and lets me by without anyone even touching me. I had no clue what he said but he then saw a Muslim man dressed with his traditional cultural clothes and mumbles ‘oh sh*t, he’s definitely getting checked.’ I couldn’t believe what I heard! All he was looking at was the Muslim guy, he literally let EVERYONE in front the Muslim guy go through security check without even looking at them until he got to the Muslim guy, he stopped him. The Muslim man went through security check and NOTHING rang, but the security said he has to give him a ‘random security check,’ the man was confused. I felt so bad because his family had to see this happen. They checked his bag, then they put on gloves and put him aside and checked his whole body. He was smiling because he knew that Allah was with him! I find it so messed up and disgusting for what they did to him. It’s 2014 and people still look at Muslims as ‘terrorists’, if anything the security was the terrorist for terrorizing him. All the man did was smile and not even say a WORD! #PEACE”

Azeem Khan, a Muslim blogger, went through a similar situation. He was “randomly searched” at the airport when trying to go to Puerto Rico to attend a friend’s bachelor party. I put randomly searched in quotations, because we all know it’s not really a random search. In his blog, Khan states “I get it. My name is Azeem Khan. It’s not James Williams. That’s why I got picked. It wasn’t random. I understand that. So does the person telling me it’s random.” Khan is like any other American out there. He pays his taxes, he buys fruits from the local supermarket, and he is a law ­abiding citizen; so, why is he treated differently when in an airport? Khan ends with, “Racial profiling is never okay. It’s not when cops do it, and we need to start being more aware of the fact that it’s also not okay when a TSA officer does it either. C’mon Americans. Open your eyes.” Like Khan, I also believe that day by day, authorities have turned the other cheek, or even encouraged the use of racial profiling; it may not have been intentional, but unfortunately, it has become a norm. If law enforcers are the ones to commit the crime, who’s left to stop them?

These were just a couple of incidents where a Muslim was racially profiled. There are hundreds of other similar incidents that go unheard of because of the lack of representation in the media. Now I’m not saying that racial profiling of Muslims has never been covered in the news; I’m saying that no action has actually been taken to minimize it. The TSA, other security figures, and the general public need to get rid of the irrational notion that all Muslims at airports are going to blow up the place.

I’m not going to lie; there are some valid arguments for the use of racial profiling. Sam Harris, an Atheist blogger, believes that Muslims should be racially profiled, but only to make airport security more efficient and less time consuming. TSA should spend more time frisking someone who looks like a jihadi, as opposed to the “elderly couple who couldn’t have been less threatening had they been already dead and boarding in their coffins.” Another popular blogger and political commentator, Michelle Malkin, agrees with Harris. To her, racial profiling should be accepted as a means of protecting the nation. In fact, she wishes to see more racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims in order for more terrorists to be identified. Of course, she does make it clear that this treatment will be unfair to the loyal Muslims and Arabs out there, but it’s is a mere price to pay for the prevention of another “mass terrorist attack on American soil.”

Although Malkin accepts the fact that innocent Muslims will suffer due to unfair treatment, she fails to realize that this might in fact, lead to another “mass terrorist attack on American soil.” When people are mistreated, they may retaliate against the oppressor. What if our ignorance and actions actually end up resulting in the birth of a new terrorist? Who’s to blame then?

For every one reason for the use of racial profiling, there are two more reasons against the use of racial profiling. Bruce Schneier, author of “The Trouble with Profiling” and an internationally renowned security technologist, believes that racial profiling is ineffective with regard to protecting the nation. Schneier’s main concerns with profiling are the high cost and the ineffectiveness of profiling Muslims. According to Schneier, “If adding profiling to airport checkpoints allowed us to detect more threats at a lower cost, then we should implement it. If it didn’t, we’d be foolish to do so.” Another one of Schneier’s main concern is how Muslims are profiled. It is inaccurate to assume that only Arab­ appearing people are terrorists. Schneier states “Muslims are black, white, Asian, and everything else—most Muslims are not Arab.” He continues by saying that it is actually a bad idea for TSA officials to profile just one religion or race. According to Schneier, “Focusing on a profile increases the risk that TSA agents will miss those who don’t match it… Once the TSA establishes a profile, terrorists will take steps to avoid it.” He comes up with an effective alternative to profiling; stating that “randomized secondary screening is more effective, especially since the goal isn’t to catch every plot but to create enough uncertainty that terrorists don’t even try.”

David Harris, professor and associate dean for research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, agrees that racial profiling fundamentally does not create greater safety or security. In fact, all racial profiling does is “confound law enforcement by distracting police from the careful observation of behavior.” The more money we spend profiling people who look Muslim, the less money we have to spend on actual possible threats, people who are behaving suspiciously. The best way to fight against terrorists like al­Qaeda is with intelligence, and for that, we need information. According to Harris, “the best – maybe the only – source of information about possible threats in our Muslim and Middle Eastern communities is the people who live in these communities. They know the language and the culture. They know who’s new, who seems suspicious, and who might be a danger. We need these communities as our partners.”

With the Muslim community on our side, it will be much easier to discover and fight against possible terrorist threats. In Lackawanna, New York, government officials were able to capture and contain a terrorist threat. The only reason the government was able to investigate the young men involved, all of whom had gone overseas for al­Qaida training, was because the members of the Yemeni community in Lackawanna trusted law enforcement enough to come forward and volunteer the critical information. Harris asserts, “If there had been no trust, there might have been no information passed to the authorities, and thus no case. If there had been no case, there might have been a deadly, even catastrophic attack. When people feel targeted as a group, they lose trust in law enforcement. Trust is replaced by fear, anger and resentment. And these emotions, ultimately, may inhibit, if not ultimately destroy, the critical flow of information and intelligence to law enforcement.”

This is an excellent example for Michelle Malkin and Sam Harris to take note of. Had the American government isolated and mistreated these Muslims, they might not have stepped up and informed officials of what was happening. It’s better to be friends with the so­called “enemies” than to mistreat and oppose them.

From a certain point of view, I can understand why racial profiling is so common. Even if we don’t admit it in public, our minds are built to readily judge people. We can’t help what thoughts cross our minds, especially since we know no one can read our thoughts. But at the same time, we, as sensible human beings, should realize when to speak our mind and when to keep quiet. Like the situation with my friends at Regina’s Pizzeria; if those guys had genuinely wanted to know why we don’t dress or look ‘American,’ they could’ve asked us straight up. I’m sure they would’ve felt a bit awkward at first, but trust me: pretty much every Muslim out there would be more than willing to answer your questions. But please refrain from asking silly questions like, “Are you bald under that (hijab)?” “Do you take a shower with it?” or “Do you sleep in that?” These type of questions may annoy some people out there only because we’ve been asked these questions so many times. The answer is no by the way! However, please don’t feel intimidated by this. So, please, next time if you’re curious or confused about a Muslim, just go up to him or her and just ask! I promise we don’t bite…that hard. Hahaha.

Works Cited

Harris, David. “Racial and Ethnic Profiling: On the Highways? In the War onTerror?.”University of Pittsburgh School of Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. <http://www.law.pitt.edu/magazine/fall­2008/racial­and­ethnic­profiling­on­the­highways-
in­the­war­on­terror>.

Harris, Sam. “In Defense of Profiling” The Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/in­defense­of­profiling>.

Khan, Azeem. “Airport Profiling: A Familiar Story for Muslims.” The Huffington Post.   19 May 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/azeem­khan/racial-
profiling­muslim_b_3303582.html>.

Malkin, Michelle. “Racial Profiling: A Matter of Survival.” USA TODAY: Aug 17               2004. ProQuest. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Schneier, Bruce . “The Trouble with Profiling.” The Blog . N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the­trouble­with­profiling>.

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