America is one of the most racially and religiously diverse countries in the world. People with different ethnical and religious backgrounds have lived in America for centuries. It’s unclear when the first Muslims arrived in the United States, but their influence on the American Culture isn’t going to be un-noticed.
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As communities migrate from one place to another, they take their culture, values, and traditions with them. These same norms can be applied to the migration of Muslims from the Middle-East to the United States such as slaves coming from Africa, Arabs coming to the United States and settling here. They all brought their tradition with them. Times had been tough on the community as their faith had been questioned over numerous periods of time, whether it was for the slaves coming from Africa to keep the religion alive, or after the attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center. The major event that changed the lifestyles, judgement, and portrayal of Muslims in America was attacks on Twin Towers of World Trade Centre on Sept 11, 2001.
Even though these attacks were carried out by few extreme minded individuals who were linked to terrorist group al-Qaeda, but the storm of hate, prejudice was experienced by the whole Muslim community that lived here in the United States. Muslim in the U.S. were Americans the day before attacks but all of a sudden they became terrorists, anti-Americans the day after the attacks. Muslim Americans have since thrived and silenced all the stereotypes against them, and the belligerence act of Islamophobia. Americans are suspicious of Islamic beliefs and motives which creates widespread hostility towards their faith. Facing discrimination throughout the country and despite heightened anxiety around their place in U.S. culture, their experiences largely mirror those of other religious groups. Even current President of United States Donald Trump has sign Executive Order 13769 also known as the Muslim Travel ban, which shamefully attempts to ban migrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries. Trump’s Travel Ban aims to keep Muslims out of America but it would be impossible to take the America out of Muslims.
Mainstream media has one of the largest impacts on today’s world and how societies can perceive people as the other. The media has been used to invoke hatred towards Muslims in America. Portrayal of Muslims in America has been negative mainly because of two things one being their faith but also people who come from the Middle East. The media has focused on presenting Muslims in a centric manner by associating the word terrorist with Muslims; while the historic context and perspectives that played behind the attacks are not mentioned in the influence on the individual’s decision to perform such an act. Media start to debate if Islam justifies violence to achieve something. And because of the negativity spread by the media, American Muslims’ citizenship, patriotism, and devotion to this country are constantly questioned. Political cartoons depicting a Muslim person’s outfit was aimed to trigger suspicion and enforces a negative perception of Muslim people. When discussing the fear mongering ways of the media on the public, one cannot leave Hollywood behind. Hollywood may have invoked more islamophobia and xenophobia in individuals than President Trump may have done. Hollywood has made Americans associate Islam with terrorism through inaccurate representation. Television showtime Sleeper Cell came with a tagline “Friends. Neighbors. Husbands. Terrorists,” and Homeland, where the mere act of a man praying toward Mecca signaled foreboding events. If there are few good Muslims shown in the shows, it doesn’t come without a twist. In shows, Sayid on Lost or twins *Nimah and Raina of Quantico are defined by a connection to Saddam’s Republican Guard or terror groups. Muslim representation in movies, TV shows, and even news is that Muslims in American art and media are represented as being violent, terrorist, and intolerant.
Despite such negative representation, religious profiling, and constant questioning of their faith and loyalty, American Muslims have achieved a lot in educating Americans about Islam, and how it promotes peace among communities, and how few evil minds use religion to carry out their heinous acts. Comedians like Chris Rock, Paul Mooney, Russell Peters, Margaret Cho, and Dave Chappelle are a few examples of intellectuals who challenge the stereotypes and common-sense beliefs held about their respective ethnic groups. The use of comedy to highlight injustices experienced by the Muslim community is common among all of the recent Arab and Muslim American comics. Muslim comedians believe that distrust and fear such as one poll found out that 39% of Americans admit to having feelings of prejudice against Muslims living in the US and they may support an initiative to have Muslims carry around special ID cards, concerns like Muslims in America are sympathetic to groups like al-Qaeda, etc. can be combated through comedy (Amarasingam). As Dean Obeidallah speaks of 9/11 events, he says that those events changed the way he was viewed in the country. Another comedian, Maz Jobrani, Iranian-born comedian and actor, also takes a dig at how Muslims are portrayed in the media. He notes, every time they show us on T.V, they always show the crazy guy burning the flag going like Death to America, and its always that. Media doesn’t show any other role of Muslims besides being violent, anti-American. They depict Muslims and Islamic countries as hotbeds of fanaticism, full of Muslim men who enslave their wives, movies such as Not Without My Daughter serve to warn American women about the dangers of inter-racial marriage, which is totally mis-representation of the Islamic religion. Its true that in every religion there are people who are willing to connect and relate with other religions, and also there are people who take the religion very extremely by manipulating and using the religion according to their own belief/ mind set. Actions from such people do no reflect the belief system of entire religion.
There are lot of American Muslims who achieved fame in American art and Culture such as Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari are few of the outspoken American Muslims taking representation of Muslims in America to positive and friendly level. In a New York Times op-ed, Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family, Aziz wrote that people in American culture associate Muslim less with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction than with a scary terrorist character from ‘Homeland’ or some monster from the news. He also adds that the most constructive way to approach the problem is to show Muslim people being normal on TV.
Even women artists have also came forward to shatter the stereotypes about Muslims not only in the United States, but also rest of the world. One of the famous artists Shahzia Sikander, had solo show at Brent Sikkema Gallery in New York in 2003. Shahzia in her work named Utopia, in the post 9/11 context tries to think about the world in different ways, including taking on icons like American flag and inflecting it with her own meaning. Utopia, help better situate the cultural divide and argue for seeing cultural reading not as mutually exclusive but necessary for seeing any work of art. In such images, times like 9/11 are being created in the ways various histories are being retold through art. Larita Dixon, in her painting of Hijabis describe that, in this work, she wanted to show the fun side of Muslims, her aim is to show people that Muslims are just like everyone else. Another artist Kelly Izdihar Crosby, in her painting of Tapestry of Sisterhood, states that she is touched by the diversity of Islamic global community and that’s the reason she created a montage of Muslim women wearing turbans, hijabs, wraps and no hijab. The reason behind the painting was that she wanted to show the beauty and diversity of Muslim women in terms of how they outwardly reflect their faith. The mainstream image of Muslim women is one dimensions, and this piece offers the viewer an alternative to that monolithic stereotype towards Muslim woman. Female Muslim comedians such as Tissa Hami had to deal with issues surrounding the hijab. She often starts off wearing the hijab and half way through her act she removes it, to illustrate that she is same women regardless of what she wears on her head. This act has much bigger impact which makes a point on larger context. She wants to prove that no all veiled Muslim women are silent or oppressed or terrorist. A veiled woman isn’t someone to fear from, because no matter she wears hijab or not, she is the same person.
At the end, one way or the other, American media must change how they portray Muslim Americans. Muslim Americans have same rights and freedoms as every other citizen of this country does, regardless of their ethnicity, religion and race. Acts carried out by few individuals does not reflect the ideology of the whole community or religion. In order to reduce violence, stereotypes, and prejudice among communities, media needs to portray every individual, community as same, rather than picking on one religion to expand the hate crime against the religion.
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