On a day I remember to be like any other, perhaps while watching Nickelodeon and sitting too close to the TV, my uncle arrived home from college. He had just graduated and had converted to Islam. He had a new name. “Call me Uncle Amin”, he told my cousin and me. When we’d forget and say “Uncle Andre” over and over again, he would ignore us until we got it right. My uncle would go on to graduate from Seton Hall Law School and move to Long Island. My cousin and I spent many wonderful weekends with him roaming the home of the African-American Muslim family he lived with and practiced law for in Dix Hills. They were very generous spirits and an early lesson for me on the power of the kindness of strangers. I spent hours playing in their tranquil and serene backyard, which I’m certain, was influential cultivating my appreciation for nature. It was in their home that I was first exposed to symbols of privileged Americana, like Haagen Dazs ice cream and home offices. So if you asked me about Islam, it would be these early memories that I would reference. Things like work ethic, family, love, dedication, professionalism, compassion, tolerance, generosity and peace. Extremism has no religion. Religion is merely a tool to give you parameters for your walk with God. It is designed to offer you direction, wisdom, patience, understanding, and perspective on how you see yourself and others. And the ultimate reward, I’d imagine is to achieve peace of mind and gratitude.
In this country, we proclaim that all men are created equal (even Muslims), but the fragility of the social underpinnings on which that statement stands is palpable. As a college-educated black woman, regularly navigating the terrains of the “haves” and “have-nots” is a normal part of my reality. As it is for many others, I still walk into meetings and am the only one of their kind in the room. It’s not a complaint, but a fact. The range of individuals I’ve interacted with in my educational and professional experiences has been to my benefit, in that I’m worldlier, more open-minded, and it has been an invaluable asset in my work as an organizer, and connecting with people.
So, what to do about the Muslims? I think the question itself is absurd. “Send them back,” I heard a Trump supporter say on cable news. Them? Back? Who exactly? The reality is that neither Trump nor his supporters have any damn right to send anybody anywhere. Unbeknownst to them, Muslim Africans were amongst the people who were brought to this country to be enslaved at its inception. This of course, was also while the Native Americans were being decimated and displaced. But, those are just facts. Who cares about facts anyway? They’re just a matter of record. But, seriously? Can we have better conversations about this? One place to start is grounding them in facts and not feelings. How you feel is not reality. When I’m upset I usually take a nap. And, voilà! I feel better. So, let’s please stick to the facts. It’s the only way to honestly advance the dialogue.
If we really want to talk about eradicating extremism, then we might actually get something important done. That means addressing worldwide poverty, hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, climate change, human trafficking, violence against women and girls. I could go on and on. In order to do these things we have to change. We have to teach and demonstrate compassion and tolerance to everyone everywhere as a matter of life or death. It should be seen as a component of basic skills, in every sphere of public life, from school curriculum, to police training, to corporate HR departments. We need to understand that we are only visitors to this planet, and we don’t have the right to destroy it beyond recognition for self-aggrandizement at the expense of human life and ecological health. Further, as Americans, nearly all of us immigrated here – either by choice or by force. Ultimately, no one has any standing to tell someone else to leave this country on the basis of who and what makes you comfortable. Period.
About Nicole Scott-Harris: Nicole is a New Jersey native and resides in the NYC metro area. She works as an Environmental Justice Organizer and serves as UniteWomen.org Legislative Director for New Jersey. She is an alumni Fellow of the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics and an executive committee member for the League of Women Voters of NJ’s Young People’s Network.
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