Growing up in a post-9/11 America as a Muslim American meant growing up in fear.
Being only seven years old when a horrific terrorist attack wrecks your country is traumatizing enough. Now imagine, at seven years old, being blamed for that attack.
As my friends and classmates grew up, they would celebrate milestones and achievements like their first piercing, their first date, their first kiss, and their first straight-A semester. For Muslim kids, those moments were overshadowed by our first time being labeled a terrorist, or the first time we were asked by our teacher to “explain Islam and tell the class why Muslims hate America.” Among Muslim Americans, these moments are so common that they feel clicheed—and yet, I still remember them with the same burning trauma I felt as a child.
Our families endured these moments in silence, because who could we go to? All of our leaders shared these sentiments toward us. In the eyes of this country, Muslims were seen as terrorists until proven innocent.
Our parents persevered in hopes of the American dream finally reaching our families—in hopes that someday we would be seen and treated with full humanity and dignity.
What seemed like genuine progress has proven, this week, to be a mirage. Decades of pushing back against the demonization of Muslims in our politics, media, and culture has been undone in the span of a few days. Our communities have watched in fear and heartbreak as Palestinians are dismissed as “human animals” and “savages.” Mixed with our grief and heartbreak for the innocent hostages taken in Israel and the innocent civilians killed in both Israel and Gaza is a profound fear—because we’ve been here before.
It is particularly disheartening to witness the silence of elected leaders in the most progressive district of North Carolina, a place that prides itself on diversity and inclusivity. In this district, the site of one of the most violent anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last decade, our member of Congress has remained conspicuously silent on Islamophobia and the plight of Palestinians.
Such silence sends a message that the concerns of the Muslim and Arab communities are not a priority and allows hateful rhetoric to proliferate until it calcifies in people’s minds, leading to horrific acts—like the murder of a sweet, loving 6-year-old boy named Wadea Al-Fayoume in Plainfield, Illinois.
Silence allows hate to take root in our communities. And it has taken root for far too long. The same rhetoric and hate that killed Wadea this week also killed my friends, Deah, Yusor, and Razan, in 2015.
How many senseless murders will be enough?
At minimum, we must call it out. Elected officials must condemn all forms of hate and discrimination, including both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Silence from those in power can be interpreted as indifference to or, worse, endorsements of bigotry.
As the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina, I am not afforded the luxury of silence, because I must advocate for Muslims of all races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. But we need ALL our representatives to stand up for justice and equality, regardless of their party affiliations, political financing, or ideological beliefs.
Ultimately, the millions spent by Super PACS like AIPAC and DMFI to prevent any criticism of the Israeli government has created a vacuum of compassionate leadership.
In the absence of measured, thoughtful conversations that reject both antisemitism and Islamophobia—conversations that these funders have prevented—hate, bigotry, and fear-mongering step in, dehumanizing Palestinians, Muslims, and Arabs, and leading to the violence that took Wadea’s life.
I want to be clear: any politician who has been complacent in creating that vacuum has blood on their hands.
We cannot turn back the clock; we can’t bring Wadea, Deah, Yusor, Razan, or any of the Palestinian or Israeli civilians killed back to life. But we can and must prevent more violence. It’s time to acknowledge that leadership requires action. It’s time to call for an immediate ceasefire, and an end to the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
It’s time to demand an end to Islamophobia and antisemitism alike, because all forms of hate thrive in the same ecosystem.
This is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of human rights. These are the very principles on which our nation was founded.
They say that in situations of injustice, silence is complicity. But our elected officials aren’t just complicit; by remaining silent, they are creating a breeding ground for hate.
We will shout, and sing, and pray into the void, until every child lives free of fear.
Nida Allam is a Durham County Commissioner.
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