When I moved to America in the fall of 2015, I was filled with excitement, hope and utmost gratitude for being one of the members of the global international community fortunate enough to study abroad in the so called “ land of the free and the home of the brave.” Sure, I came from the exquisite country, Egypt, but studying abroad in America, New York City specifically, was a dream of mine that had finally come true. Growing up in the ‘East,’ America had essentially served as a beacon of hope, freedom, and ultimate democracy; with its most sacred and distinguished platform being the American Dream. After a few short months of living here, I came to realize that the most coveted dream had shattered and there was nothing more disappointing.
Hearing a potential candidate like Donald Trump openly declaring in public how he wishes to place a ban on all Muslims, stating “they’re not coming to this country if I’m President,” and seeing numerous people cheer for him in the audience, is when I knew that the ideals of freedom and equality, which I had admired so much about this country, was just a fabricated delusion. I do not feel safe here, but rather fearful for the innocent 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States who are now being publicly discriminated against by a potential leader of this country.
Within the past few decades, the rise of fanatical groups, from Al Qaeda to ISIS, have resulted in Arabs being the trending issue in Washington. The government made sure people knew this by altering the media landscape to depict Arabs as the ‘enemy.’ However, how is it possible to rip away the entire humanity of a race due to the disgusting and criminal actions of just a few? An example of such actions took place on November 15th, 2015. I remember sitting on the couch in my tiny flat watching TV with my small group of Arab friends, who are also studying in the city. As we were flipping through the channels, we suddenly stopped when we came across CNN.
My cousin is a journalist who works for Vice News, and that night she took off to go to Paris to report the attacks, interviewing citizens in the aftermath. For the first time, I got to hear the voices of the innocent and accomplished Muslims in this world, whose existence is entirely removed from the media landscape, and whose voices were silenced by most U.S. news media outlets. One of her interviews with a young veiled lady is forever engrained in my mind. In the dispatch, Dina (my cousin) visited one of the areas where the attacks had happened. Dina asks the girl, [i]“Why did you choose to come down today and wear your veil? Are you not scared of anything happening to you?” The girl responded by saying, “This is the most important time I should be wearing it, to prove that we are in solidarity with the victims, and that our religion has nothing to do with the actions of these few people.”
It was then that I realized that I am not the problem. In fact, we were also victims taking the blame for actions of just a few lunatics. I cannot just sit around and make sad pathetic faces while feeling bad for the innocent 1 billion Muslims in the world. Feeling bad for others, also known as compassion, is a great quality, but it is just a feeling. Pillow talks with my Arab friends around here would not make a difference but rather perpetuate the problem, as I would still be one of the millions of silenced Arabs and Muslims who are overwhelmed with fear.
I told myself I would not become uncomfortable in my own skin just because of my religious beliefs and background. If Donald Trump wins and becomes the Republican nominee, our greatest nightmare will become a reality. The American Dream will not only be shattered, but nonexistent. In regards to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in America, famous television writer Norman Lear recently said in an interview how he’s “never seen our country so confused, so removed from anything resembling an American dream, heading in a direction that scares the hell out of me. Trust me, in 93 years, one sees a lot.” After recent events that have gone on with the elections and the words of Donald Trump, I am forced to ask: What happened to the American dream?
Hanna El Alfi is an SVA Photography major. She was raised in Egypt but studied in an American School.[i]“In The Streets of Paris Under Attack | VICE News.” VICE News RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.