The Boat Is Getting Crowded

Muslims may have received the brunt of the backlash in its severity, but the word “illegal” quickly became the new buzzword, and everyone brown is a suspect.

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Social Views
November 22, 2015 0 comments

Within days after the Paris attacks, I saw a Facebook post from a fellow lawyer that said:

Why are illegals such bad drivers?

I responded:

You can tell status from behind the wheel?

He replied:



On the same day, politicians were proudly exclaiming that more “Mexicans” were leaving the US than entering.

Even now with the obsession over national security and whether any Muslims can be trusted, those perceived as “Mexican*” still cannot catch a break.

Politicians throw in the threat of unchecked people crossing the border. While it is couched in National Security and the “Muslim threat,” people from south of the border know exactly who will bear the brunt of the negative rhetoric and legal implications. Few countries south of the border are included in the refugee program, but I cannot imagine anyone really thinks the fear mongering will stop with the refugees.

When 9/11 happened, I worked in accounting at a manufacturing company, and my husband worked at a construction company. My sister woke me up with her phone call, and I turned on the television to scenes that looked like something out of Hollywood.

By the next day, it was known that people, calling themselves “Muslims,” had perpetrated the heinous acts. My husband, who is from Iraq and has olive skin, began wearing a floppy hat and occasionally mixing Spanish words with his English.

The company I worked for was very concerned for my safety, not at work but on my drive to and from work, so they offered to let me have the rest of the week off.

My husband told me I “had his permission” to remove my scarf if I felt unsafe. I told him that I did not put the scarf on for him, so I did not need his “permission” one way or the other.

Several years later I was invited as a panelist at a Muslim conference in Chicago. The discussion was about Muslims in the West after 9/11. I shared the history of the United States about many groups that had been discriminated against for “otherness” in the past: Native Americans, Irish, Catholic, Jewish, African-American, etc. I also pointed out that eventually, the overt negative treatment ends – sometimes because a new group is vilified so much that it replaces the previous group, and sometimes national prosperity simply causes people feel less “threatened” by “otherness.”

I closed with the statement that the most important lesson is that we remember what we experienced so that we will stand with the next group that gets targeted in the future.

During the question and answers session an audience member approached the mic and asked, “Who do you think will replace the Muslims as the next targeted group?” The overall consensus was the “Mexicans.” I publicly disagreed. I told them the “Mexicans” were already in the boat with us.

That was, and is, true. Like it or not, we share the boat.

Following various international events, attacks and discrimination on Muslims always spikes, but in between Muslims often experience personal times of ease – meaning individuals feel things become somewhat normal.

However, those perceived as “Mexican” have not been so lucky over the last ten years. Verbal, political, law enforcement, and personal attacks on those perceived as “Mexican” has remained sickeningly consistent.

Muslims may have received the brunt of the backlash in its severity, but the word “illegal” quickly became the new buzzword, and everyone brown was a suspect. Some law enforcement institutions, especially in Arizona, moved the majority of their resources toward locating “illegals” – usually through random traffic stops of brown people with chipped windshields and busted taillights as a premise to check status, or “random” business raids.

“Illegal” became a code word for “criminal of the worst kind.” The undocumented community has been blamed for everything from crime rates to illegal voting, no proof required.

While people from majority Muslim countries were subject to “special registration” (in 2002 and 2003 non-US citizens, including “Green Card Holders,” from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan had to report to special centers to give fingerprints, photographs, and biographical details), people from south of the border had to worry whether their employers would try to steal their wages (employers not paying for work done, believing undocumented people had no legal rights or would be too scared to report); whether walking or driving would land them in a mobile detention center until they proved their status (or if they would ever see their family members again if they could not prove their status); whether failing to hear from a friend or family member meant they were busy, dumped at the border, or dead; and whether it was worth it to call the police if they were victims of, or witnesses to, a crime.

Let’s not forget the Native American community who are often mistaken for anything but “native American.” Unlike the other targeted minority groups in history, Native Americans have never made it out of the social dungeon. They constantly hear “go back to your country.” [Not sure whether to laugh or cry on that one.] And that is not even the worst thing they hear.

Yes, there are people advocating for yet another “special registration” for Muslims. Yes, there are people advocating Muslim ID badges. Yes, there are people advocating the detention of Muslims in mass. Yes, there are haters verbally and physically attacking Muslims and Muslim institutions.

But every brown person is feeling the heat these days – even people who are not brown but have some other characteristic that makes them look like an “other.” In Canada, a lady was attacked for wearing a winter scarf because someone thought it was a religious scarf. A Hindu Temple was vandalized because someone probably thought it was a Mosque. An Uber driver, and Christian immigrant, was attacked by a passenger who thought he was Muslim. There are countless other stories that did and did not make it in the media.

Groups are also suffering from a less direct backlash. Are you paying attention to the sudden desire to roll back women’s liberation? (dress codes requiring girls dress in a way that “does not distract from boys’ education”; the dissection of what rape “really is”). The movement to stop underprivileged women’s basic health care access from Planned Parenthood? The threat to basic social services for the poor, especially children? The threat to Social Security? The slide backward on how HIV and AIDS victims are treated and viewed? The continued discrimination and attacks on the transgender population despite Caitlyn and the increase in acceptance of homosexuals? The continued failure to address the needs of veterans?

A lot of people have their own life-threatening problems resulting from the extreme political landscape in the United States.

We as Muslims need to take a step back and realize we are not the only ones affected – and we need to stand with others in their time of need rather than just complaining because everyone is not standing with us.

Just pick one. Any one. You and they will be glad you did.

That is how we live Islam. That is how we represent Islam.

And though I understand Muslims feel pressured to condemn ISIS and terrorism individually, and there is nothing wrong with doing so, recognizing and standing with others in their time of need will always be more effective in demonstrating the beauty of Islam than all the articles, memes, tweets, and hashtags combined.

* Unfortunately, “Mexican” is the catch-all phrase for everyone south of the border, and too many people seem to believe that the entire undocumented population is “Mexican.”

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