We can emerge from this darkness, but only by vigorously, defiantly affirming one another’s humanity.
— Saladin Ahmed
What does it take to become capable of denying someone else’s humanity?
How many negative portrayals of Muslims do we have to see, for example, in our movies and our Facebook feeds before we can no longer tell the difference between caricature and reality?
How many times do we have to hear someone tell us what “those people” want—they want us dead, they want to destroy our way of life, and so on—before we begin accepting it as true, without ever seeking out any of “those people” in the first place and listening to their stories?
How many times does it take for someone influential to say we should fear Muslims and treat them as our enemies before such ideas start to sound, well, not so unreasonable?
Almost no one chooses to hate. No one wakes up and says, “I’d like to stereotype and marginalize an entire group of people today.” The reality is often far more subtle—and more dangerous.
Hatred and fear are nurtured by a thousand stereotypes, caricatures, and misrepresentations that go unchallenged.
Take the Yazidis, for example.
One of the minority groups targeted by ISIS in Iraq, Yazidis are monotheists who believe God made the world and seven angelic beings to govern it. Muslims and Christians often associate one of these angelic beings with the devil, leading some to characterize Yazidis as Satan worshippers—a caricature which has been used to incite persecution and violence against the Yazidi people.
There may be several steps between stereotyping someone and calling for their death, but the path from one to the other is unmistakable. It’s a path we have, sadly, walked far too many times in our world.
Writing for the Boston Globe, Arab-American author Saladin Ahmed suggests a way off this path.
“Demonization of Muslims is not new in America,” he writes. “We can emerge from this darkness, but only by vigorously, defiantly affirming one another’s humanity.”
In order to do so, we must be willing to question what we’ve been told. We must be willing to tell another story and, most of all, to listen to those who’ve been silenced by a thousand negative caricatures.
How do we step off the path of fear and hatred? Ahmed writes:
By not staying uncomfortably silent when one’s relatives or coworkers start carrying on about “the Muslims.’’ By asking a proprietor to change the channel when an in-store TV blares pundits preaching hate. By finding out what your kids are being taught about Muslims at school. By contributing to a rebuilding fund for a mosque struck by vandals.
How will you challenge the prevailing narrative when it marginalizes and demonizes the “other” in your community?
You can confront fear with preemptive love—by telling a better story.
Photo credit: Keoni Cabral