SHANIE KALIKOW (GRADE 11)
My Opa (“grandfather” in Dutch) was born in hiding in the Netherlands, and, as a young child, had to wear a star because millions of people were convinced he was a danger to them. Though only three years old, he was still a Jew, and Jews were thought of as either rich bankers who ruled everything or as poor people who took the jobs of ‘regular’ Europeans. After the war, my Opa began to understand that although the war was over, the hatred was not. He still experienced anti-Semitism daily. The baseless hatred towards Jews wasn’t erased with the end of World War Two. In the next generation, my dad experienced bullying and anti-Semitism from his peers and community. My grandparents attempted to fight against this hatred. They immersed themselves in the small Jewish community that existed and they created a vibrant Jewish home for my dad and his sister.
I have had an extremely different experience growing up Jewish. When making a decision about where to have a family, my dad and mom were able to move to a town with a thriving Jewish community. In Newton, I have never been personally bullied, made fun of, or hurt because of my Jewishness. I am not marked as ‘different’ simply because I practice a different religion. I have friends from many different backgrounds and ethnicities. I am accepted and included despite my religion wherever I go. Compared to many Jews who have had to grow up surrounded by anti-semitism, I feel so lucky to have been able to practice my religion without the judgement or hatred of other people.
Unfortunately, right now, the majority of Muslims in America do not have my experience, but rather experiences similar to my grandfather and father. Following 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, Muslim-Americans have increasingly been targeted by hate crimes and slurs from the general public. Though there have been many more terror attacks over this time carried out by non-Muslims, people are over-simplifying the problem and identifying a target that is “different” on which to pin all their worry and anger. Muslims are portrayed as religious fanatics, terrorists, and unwanted immigrants who take ‘regular’ people’s jobs. Such oversimplification is not a new tactic. Oversimplification is how Hitler reacted to the myriad of problems Germany was facing post Weimar Republic. He used Jews as a scapegoat, tapping into the already present anti-Semitism to unite the Nazis. This led to the violent persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany and ultimately the Holocaust.
Therefore, the Trump administration’s Islamophobic rhetoric is extremely worrying to me. I worry that pinning the blame for all terror attacks in America on one group of people will lead to a similar event. President Trump has already laid the groundwork for more anti-Muslim hate crimes through his January 27th executive order which banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This included the children and families seeking refuge from the horrible war that has taken over their homes. A five year old was detained and kept from uniting with their family in the United States because President Trump seems to believe that they, purely because of their religion, are a potential threat. Though the courts have stopped the ban from being enacted, the fact that it was ever declared sends a loud message to Muslims that they are not welcome in the United States.
Trump says that he banned people from these countries because he thinks that they are the source of terror in America, even though not a single person had been killed by immigrants from any of these 7 countries since at least 1975. In fact, more than twice as many people murdered in terrorist attacks were killed by white American terrorists than by radical Muslim terrorists. So, it doesn’t look the primary purpose of this ban was safety. If President Trump was really trying to protect the United States, shouldn’t he have been focusing on the terrorists within the country, white extremists, and how they were able to carry out these attacks? Shouldn’t he now be focusing on ways to ensure that terrorists from the United States have a much harder time obtaining their deadly materials, such as guns?
On top of this, it looks like the executive order actually made things more dangerous for many Muslims. On January 29, 2017, two days after this executive order was signed six Muslims were killed in a mosque by a white nationalist terrorist in Quebec city. Two days after that, a mosque in Texas was set on fire. Though there have consistently been hate crimes, these are two attacks that seem much bigger than some others and were only days after the proclamation of the ban. It seems that the government’s attack against Muslims has made others feel justified in their hate acts.
The government is trying to create a common enemy to shift the focus away from other prominent issues. They are scapegoating the 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States for the crimes of a few muslims, as well as ignoring the fact that the majority of terror attacks are committed by white Americans. In doing this they are dividing a nation of people. By defining a person by how they pray, the government is asserting that each person is no more than his/her religion. They seem not to realize that people who happen to be Muslim also happen to play sports, they happen to draw, they happen to read, they happen to work. It has taken three generations for my family to live in a place where we can freely practice our religion and be noticed for things other than how we pray. I will support efforts to make sure it does not take another three years for the rampant Islamophobia practiced by the United States government to stop. I will support efforts to make sure that all people can practice their religion freely and without potential threat from the country they live in. I will support efforts to make the United States an inclusive nation that attacks the root of the problem, rather than blame an entire people and create a new one.