by Qudsia Jafree
It was nauseating to watch.
A clip of a plane crashing into a tall building looped on the television in front of me, over and over again. It was my first year of college, and I was standing in the dining hall for breakfast, frozen, no longer hungry. I called my father immediately, asking him to turn on the news. Something terrible had just happened.
As I processed what was flashing on the television screen, I silently prayed that whoever was responsible for this horrible crime would not share my faith or ethnicity. I knew what the repercussions would be. I knew that the community that I shared a religious and ethnic identity with would be thrown under the microscope and lumped together as one entity – 2 million Muslims across the country would be held accountable for the deplorable actions of 12.
11 years have since passed and my fear has actualized into an everyday reality. Over the years, several federal laws and statewide measures have been enacted with a frenzied, fear-induced precedence.
- In 2001, the Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush, allowing for the suspension of civil liberties as defined by the U.S. Constitution should they interfere with a terrorism-related investigation.
- In 2002, the National Security Entry Exit Registration (NSEER) was implemented, which calls for mandatory government registration by all male nationals from 25 countries, all of which are Muslim countries with the exception of North Korea. In a single year, nearly 84,000 males were registered and 13,740 placed in deportation hearings despite the lack of a single public charge tied to terrorism.
- In 2011, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011, which legalizes indefinite incarceration without having to press charges or guarantee a trial for all terror-related investigations.
- U.S. Transportation and Security Administration’s (TSA) enactment of new regulations that allow for racially profiling passengers from “terrorist prone” countries for extra pat downs and searches of their baggage.
- Stateside, the NYPD recently revealed that it had orchestrated a tri-state surveillance program in NY, NJ, and CT to monitor and track Muslim communities for terror-related activities. A report released on their findings in 2012 concluded that the 6-year spying effort produced not a single lead to terror-related activities.
Not only have we seen an increase in laws and measures that institutionalize racial and religious profiling, but also an uptick in hate crimes targeted towards individuals that are or are perceived to be Arab, Muslim or South Asian. In the year following September 11, 2001, the FBI reports that hate crimes targeted towards perceived or actual South Asians, Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs increased by 1,600%. This emerging issue has not only highlighted the need for improved community responses towards hate crimes, but for increased federal and state measures in place to address, prosecute, and assess crimes fueled by hate.
Harpreet Singh Saini, 17, lost his mother on August 5, 2012, when a member of a white supremacist hate group disrupted a prayer service at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. He killed six congregants and a police officer, and left a chilling impact on a community that has endured over a decade of targeted violence as a result of backlash for the attacks of 9/11.
In a moving statement before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, Saini expressed his grief for his mother in these simple yet profound words: “I want to give my mother the dignity of becoming a statistic.”
Currently, the FBI documents hate crimes committed against Sikhs as crimes targeting Muslims or South Asians. While this may capture the broader root of the crimes – post 9/11 backlash and xenophobia – it dehumanizes the victims of these horrific crimes in the process. Saini is asking for us to dignify his mother’s death. He is calling for improved measures around data collection for hate crimes so that the extent of crimes impacting the Sikh community can be accurately portrayed.
This week, YWCAs across the country commemorate YWCA Week Without Violence™, a national YWCA initiative to mobilize communities to take a stand against all forms of violence. As the week wraps up, I challenge you to do three things to stand against violence.
- Challenge your personal stereotypes. How we perceive one another is learned behavior. I challenge you to unlearn some of those stereotypes by intentionally interacting with individuals that you wouldn’t normally interact with. Whether that’s someone from a different race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, class, religion or gender identity – I promise you, you’ll find more in common than you think.
- Learn about the prevalence of violence in your local community. Volunteer at your local YWCA and learn about the rich history of programming assisting women and families – ranging from domestic violence, sexual assault, and racial justice.
- Reach out to your Members of Congress. Your voice is critical to shaping your local community’s policy agenda – attend town meetings, write to your elected officials, and write letters to the editor to express your concern about issues faced by your community.
Qudsia Jafree is the Policy & Advocacy Field Coordinator for the YWCA USA.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ blog carnival on issues of violence in all forms. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story on your blog or website, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.