Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wajahat Ali on Islamophobia

Ciara Sebecke

Last Thursday, I had the chance to hear from Wajahat Ali, one of the creators and social media pioneers for the Al Jazeera network. He discussed Islamophobia, the election, America’s past and future, and how to shape a better story for Muslims in the coming years.
The talk was not a serious, dry, and politically correct presentation like I imagined. It was inspiring, refreshingly literal, and had a touch of dark humor. He talked about his experience as an American Muslim of Palestinian descent and how that was shaped by a serious of recent unfortunate events and decades of negative propaganda.

Neutrality Never Helps the Victim 

Before this talk, I never realized how I, being nonreligious and the whitest of all white girls, was actually a part of the problem. This presentation made me think of a quote from holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Although I have always believed that the Muslims in our country are treated unfairly, I wasn’t doing anything about it. In his presentation, Ali mentioned that 60 to 65% of Americans claim that they don’t know a Muslim. I undoubtedly am part of that problem.
Even though there are tons of Muslims on campus, it seems like I’ve never really gotten the chance to befriend someone who is Muslim or from the Middle East. With 3.3 Muslims in the United States, I ought to have at least had polite conversation with someone who is Muslim by now. The problem is that consciously or not, many people only talk to others who look the same as them and have similar interests. I am going to do my best to break that trend.

How to Paint a Better Picture for Future
As a journalist, I must take action to paint a better picture of Muslim Americans. The RTDNA Ethics code states that "Journalism challenges assumptions, rejects stereotypes and illuminates – even where it cannot eliminate – ignorance," and with so many years of negative media portrayal, from the Crusades to 9/11, there is nowhere to go but up. Wajahat Ali says that the best way to change the current path for Muslims is to “Speak. Unleash the pen. Tell stories. Write a new legacy for America.” The best way to make a difference is to write new stories, and as someone soon to be in the media industry, I must do just that.

Especially after the recent election of bigoted, outspoken president-elect Donald Trump, I can no longer be silent. Silence helps no one. With a very small portion of Muslims in the media to change the story themselves, I must do the right thing and make them a part of a positive conversation. Just as Ali quoted from Prophet Muhammad, “even if the day of judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.”

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