It starts with the Pilgrims. From the stories we learn in the very beginning of elementary school, the notion of religious freedom is drilled into our minds. The idea and its effects permeate our education by way of history and civics classes, debates about “God” on our currency, and introductory science books that now discuss evolution. Our national identity revolves so much around our ability to worship or not worship according to our beliefs that we sometimes fail to fully acknowledge violations of this liberty when they arise because, in our American mindset, they simply should not exist.
Before attending Student Voices Against Islamophobia, I was not completely oblivious to religious oppression within our nation, but I certainly failed to realize its reach and its repercussions. The event began with a list of all the atrocities—verbal and physical—that Muslim Americans have suffered in our homeland over the past few years. Immediately I was floored–how did I not know? Three Muslim American college students in North Carolina were murdered last year and I had never heard about it. Student stories poured forth of verbal attacks on the street, of threats against the entirety of Islam, and of ceaseless hours spent shamefully and silently wishing to hide hijabs for safety’s sake. In a country that worships religious liberty and in schools that exalt its foundations, Americans walk around fearing the repercussions of their beliefs on a daily basis.
As I have learned just this week, Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, beautifully illuminates the hypocrisy behind American Islamophobia. While slavery and Islamophobia are problems separated by over a century, both are deeply rooted in a horribly outdated notion of what makes an American. Somehow, despite almost two hundred and fifty years of radical equality, social upheaval, and startling diversity, this nation is still trying to fit the description of “tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America”. We may openly preach religious tolerance, but the practices of certain citizens, some unfortunate politicians, and a widely ignorant society completely contradict our claims, criminalizing and polarizing a group of individuals solely based on their religion. As Douglass puts it, “at the very moment that [we] are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty” many of us, including some of our government officials, promote a mindset that unfairly targets a group of fellow citizens and often excludes them from our national identity.
I have never experienced this or any persecution first-hand, and I fully acknowledge that I am one of the least qualified people to write on the topic, much less propose a solution. However, I consider myself both a Christian and a Patriot. As such, I hope to use my privilege to better this country that I and so many others love, hoping that soon the country may love every last one of us too.