The other day I was happily surprised when one of the universities where I work sent an e-mail asking professors and staff to be extra thoughtful of our Muslim students in the next few weeks, to make sure they know that they are welcomed, and accepted, and supported in our academic community. The memo was sent in response to the backlash after the Paris terror attacks and the fact that Governor Bruce Rauner has banned Syrian refugees to enter Illinois.
I talked to some of my students, and some of them had felt weird, had noticed that some people looked at them in a different way, or were more mindful of speaking Arabic in public. They were starting to develop fear of the fearful. I did my best to reassure them that, although they may encounter some jerks, there are more people who are respectful and open minded.
And then, when I was browsing through the news this morning, I saw this:
And I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As someone who has traveled a bit, lived in the melting teapot that is the United Kingdom, is an immigrant herself and defended for many years that the US is a very welcoming and respectful country with its immigrants, unlike some European countries that impose their western cultural view on newcomers, I was astonished.
As someone who went through something similar, I was appalled. As I wrote the other day, I grew up in a region of Spain where terrorism was a part of the scenery, of our daily news, of our lives. I never agreed with the terrorist group ETA or their ideas, but I was Basque nonetheless, and in some regions of Spain they automatically assumed that everyone who was Basque was a terrorist.
We have had our car scratched while on vacation, the likelihood of being stopped by police if your license plate was Basque was much higher in the rest of the country, and I had friends whose parents didn’t allow them to visit the Basque Country. Call it regional profiling, if you want. But it was not nice, and it felt awful, because it made some of us victims twice: we were afraid of terrorism itself, and at the same time we were afraid of being taken for terrorists.
The backlash of that backlash was that some people felt isolated and targeted, and as a result of that they ended up growing closer to the terrorist group and it’s political army. The same can happen here: some Muslims may end up being more radical after being singled out and discriminated against because of their religion. And this is not a war we are going to win without the help of non radical Muslims (which, whatever some republican candidates want you to think, are the majority of them).
I understand that security has to be tighter. I actually want security to be tighter. I have to hop on a plane myself in a few weeks and I would be lying if I told you that I will be as calm as usual. I will try, but human nature is not that easy to reign over. What I will not do is discriminate against my fellow passengers.
I will not fear someone for what they look like, what language they speak, where their passport was issued or what religion they belong to. At the end of the day, I am also a foreigner who speaks a different language. I just happen to be a foreigner from the right part of the world. I will do my best to be able to keep telling my students that there is nothing to fear.
Injustice is injustice whether it happens in Spain, the United Kingdom or Chicago Midway Airport. And injustice won’t make us safer. It will just turn the world into a panic ridden nuthouse. Just turn on the news and you will see.