Never Forget - On Islamophobia in a Post 9/11 World
Originally written for Let Your Voice Be Heard Radio!
September 11th, 2001. Thousands of lives lost in an instant, millions more affected forever. Calls for war eventually became a call for a war at home.As I’ve previously written, we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the “post” “-isms,” we’re supposed to have moved beyond racism, sexism, and classism, and all other social stratification. Yet, thirteen years later, a recent attack reminds me once again that we’ve got a long ways to go.
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Linda Sarsour is the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. A radical woman, community organizer, and activist – I had heard of her through my own organizing circles while working at the Police Reform Organizing Project. The amount of respect she commands is something I aspire to not only as a woman, but just as a human being. However, a lot of people will not be interested in any of that while news continues to stream images of the Middle East in continued turmoil. When she walks in the streets of New York, people won’t see beyond her beautiful hijab that adorns her crown. Mild disapprovers will shoot a glance, but bolder folks will shoot racial epithets and hateful words at her and others like her across New York City.
Just last week, someone took their prejudice to a whole new level.
Her attacker, a 45-year-old man named Brian Boshell, was drunk and harassing Sarsour and a colleague. When they told him that they would alert the authorities if his harassment continued, his words mutated into physical violence. As the NY Daily News reported, at first, they called to report that he was loitering around their office, located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. By the time Sarsour had to call a second time, she did so while she and her colleague, Kayla Santosuosso, were being chased by Boshell. He continued to shout hateful words, throw near by objects at them, and threaten to behead her.
Eventually, cops made it to the scene, and Boshell is rightfully facing charges of aggravated harassment as a hate crime, and some others. Yet – there was another layer of trauma to be had. In this post 9/11 World, the New York City Police Department did not respond to Sarsour’s call until 40-45 minutes later. In those 40-45 minutes, she could have easily been attacked again, or worse. Yet, it seems that a call about an Arab woman being attacked does not warrant the same timely service and speedy protection. At the intersection of being a woman of color and practicing Islam, her cry for help was devalued by a system that is supposed to protect all.
The very same activist community that originally introduced me to her work was outraged. They called for an investigation to the response time, and that the officers be looked into to see if they had any other incidents of delayed responses. The outrage reached NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the latter of whom was in agreement that the police did take “inordinate amount of time based on the nature of the complaint.” But what about the people who record moments like this? What about citizens who call for help and never hear a response from officials until it’s entirely too late.
As #neverforget is flooding your news feeds and timelines, I leave you with this. Never forget the lives lost in the attacks on the Twin Towers. Never forget the first responders of this fateful day. Never forget the service men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. But never forget who is bearing the brunt of all of that hatred. Never forget all of the lives that have been destroyed and upheaved in the Middle East. Never forget the lives of those who face Islamophobia on the daily here in the United States and abroad in other Western nations. Until we can acknowledge that prejudice, and provide tangible remedies beyond more “sensitivity trainings” and installing body cameras – Linda Sarsour – and all of us who are deemed “undesirable” in this institutionally racist system – will have to continue to look over their shoulders in fear from the state and from their “fellow” Americans. Never forget that we all shouldn’t be living in fear of our lives for simply being who we are.