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The word “terrorism” finds its roots in France, during the Reign of Terror of the 1800s. Citizens and revolutionaries used the word “terrorisme” to describe not the actions of rogue groups, but atrocities committed by the government.
As the years passed, the term has been adapted to mean the opposite, most spectacularly by the American media machine and fear-mongers. In this day and age, what is the face of terrorism? When you picture a terrorist, what do they look like?
It’s distressing that, for many Americans, the first image to cross your mind is probably someone Middle Eastern and the word you associate is “Islam” or “Muslim.”
September 11, 2001, was a day of horror for the United States. When something horrible happens, we seek someone to blame. It’s understandable, but when that fear translates to hate, well, then we have a problem.
Last month, when the Boston Marathon was hit by unspeakable tragedy, the country’s response was militant. Social news sites like Reddit and hacktivists like Anonymous began witch hunts for those responsible, and Reddit even falsely ousted an innocent man as one of the bombers. Media personalities, Twitter users, celebrities and everyday Americans formed a schema of the perpetrators in their minds: Monster. Middle Eastern. Muslim. Foreign. Evil.
When the perpetrators turned out to be American citizens, people suspected them of being of Middle Eastern descent. When the perpetrators turned out to be Chechnyan, the assumption was that they must’ve been brainwashed by Muslims.
Why is Islamophobia so present?
A great deal of bigotry stems simply from those who think of America as a Christian nation and, as such, that it must do battle to protect its religious values, an attitude so medieval we might as well be crusaders.
And even barring any and all religious hypocrisies (we’re pretty sure Jesus didn’t make a point of violently discriminating against other peoples’ religious beliefs), that attitude isn’t correct. We aren’t a Christian nation — we’re a melting pot. We’re a place where everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, should come together for the betterment of our nation.
But the blame doesn’t end with the so-called Religious Right; the modern secular community is rank with Islamophobia. Numerous atheist speakers lambast Islam as dangerous and violent, a religion that, to them, is irredeemable. Nevermind the countless good deeds that members of the Muslim community perform everyday. Nevermind the countless Muslim citizens of our own community: coworkers, students and neighbors, who are no different from anyone else — good-hearted, law-abiding individuals.
Twelve years after a terrible atrocity committed by individuals — extremists — we as a nation still haven’t learned the difference between a monster and a man who is Muslim.
When the Westboro Baptist Church protests the funerals of soldiers, we view their actions as isolated incidents, true extremists. We don’t judge all Christians by their actions. When Christopher Dorner went on a rampage earlier this year, we did not project his actions onto any of the communities he belonged to. Why does a church or a police station fill us with comfort, and a mosque with suspicion?
Twelve years after a terrible atrocity committed by individuals, and still the country is choked by ignorance. Every day, women in hijabs are leered at and judged. Men with turbans, most of them Sikh (an Indian monotheistic religion), not even Muslim, are eyed with fear. Countless times a day, an American citizen of Middle Eastern origin is pulled out of line at the airport and subjected to cavity searches, background checks, humiliation — treatment that would make any other American scream with indignation.
We live in a country that values freedom, values individuality, values equal rights for all of us, regardless of creed or color — what makes Muslims any different?

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