Being “a Muslim” in America

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In only the latest lethal Islamophobic attack:

The white man suspected of shooting two men, killing one, allegedly told a bartender before his arrest that he had killed two Middle Eastern men

Adam Purinton, 51, was arrested at an Applebee’s bar where he’d been drinking five hours after the shooting. He reportedly told the bartender—who called police—that he needed to hide out.

According to the Star, at least one witness heard Purinton yell ‘get out of my country’ shortly before shooting two men he believed to be Middle Eastern.

As it turns out, the two victims—Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died from his injuries; and Alok Madasani—appear to be of Indian descent and worked as aviation systems engineers at Garmin.

A third victim, Ian Grillot, was shot in the hand and shoulder while reportedly trying to defend the other victims.

Rest In Peace, Srinivas. Godspeed, blessings, and love to Srinivas’s, Alok’s, and Ian’s families and friends. To all who knew Srinivas and know Alok and Ian: you’re in my prayers.

Please, let no one doubt for one second that fear and hatred lead to the deaths and suffering of innocent, ordinary people every single day.

Muslims are not your enemies. Islam is nothing to be afraid of. Every time someone tries to convince you of either falsehood, remember the over 1 million civilian victims of the Global War on Terror. Each one of those deaths is a reminder to us of what fear can do. But also remember the smaller more local numbers. Every year since 9/11 tens of American Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims because of the color of their skin or the way they dress or speak are killed – notwithstanding the numbers of incidents in other countries. An American Muslim is more likely to be killed in an Islamophobic attack than a non-Muslim American is to be killed in a terrorist attack by someone or a group claiming Muslim or Islamic identity. Overall, white supremacists are also responsible for seven times more deaths in America than so-called “Jihadists”. In 2015, 12 people were killed in Islamophobic attacks. 12 people with families and friends. 12 communities were terrified. Comprising less than 1% of the total population of America, every Muslim knows these stories and feels the pain and the fear of the victims and those who survived them. The numbers for 2016 and 2017 promise to be higher in the context of the hate speech that was allowed to pass for campaign rhetoric.


Imagine someone in your church. In your synagogue. Your temple. Or your community center, country club, or school. A cousin of yours. A brother or sister. A parent. A spouse. A child. You yourself. Lost in an instant. Not by accident. Murdered by an angry person full of hate and rage. Hate that isn’t even directed at the person you’re imagining. Would that it were at least something personal. Rather, a blind rage that sought to end the life – to stop the breathing and dreaming and movement and every relationship – of just anyone who this angry, hateful person saw as an enemy. An enemy. And why? Only – for no other reason whatsoever – because of what he heard someone else say about “the Christians”. “The Jews”. “The Catholics”. “Blacks”. “Mexicans”. “Asians”. “Muslims”. And just like that, a person you knew, loved, depended on, needed, couldn’t see yourself living without, prayed for, laughed with, cried with, ate with, walked with, grew old with, saw and heard every day… your friend, your best friend, your mom, your dad, your brother, sister, neighbor, wife, husband, grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle… in a second. Is gone. Vanquished by a hateful individual who believed with every fiber of his being that that other human being was a threat to him, nothing more than an enemy in a war between “us” and “them”. Over what? Skin pigmentation. A piece of cloth on someone’s head or face. An accent.

Imagine it happening to you. A loss of someone you love. That person being hurt severely, filled with pain and then dying. By the hand of an assailant with all the malice of intent a person could muster. Taken away. Her murderer didn’t even know who she was. Didn’t care. All she was to him was “a Jew”. “A Black”. “A Mexican”. “An Arab.” “A Muslim”. An enemy. Nothing more. Reduced to a label. An object of unimaginable, unfathomable rage.

Gone. A memory. Someone you and everyone who knew her, knew him, them, miss for the rest of your life.

Because of a lie someone told one day:

“Catholics are Papists, can never be loyal to anyone other than the Vatican! They don’t belong here”

“They’re all Christ killers. Greedy, lying, dangerous”

“They’re inferior to Whites, could never assimilate into polite, educated society”

“Their fake prophet was a war monger and a pedophile, preached wife beating, slavery, rape, violence”

“They don’t worship the same God we do”

“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL, Islam is a cancer”

“It’s the Judeo-Christian, not ‘Abrahamic’, tradition”

“American Muslims celebrated 9/11”

“They’re uncivilized”

“Nuke Mecca, that’ll fix all of this, end terrorism”

“They’re evil”



“Islam is inherently violent, the Quran teaches violence”

“Islam is a political ideology masquerading as a religion”


“Towel heads”



Muslim-Free America





“Muslim problem


“It’s Islamofauxbia, a liberal conspiracy, there’s no such thing as Islamophobia”

“Jewish conspiracy”

Muslim-Free Zone


“Whites only”

“Christians only”


“Sand Niggers”


“They hate us, hate our freedoms”


Civilization Jihad, a stealth jihad”

“They’re stealing our jobs”

Islam hates us

“They should go back where they came from”

“Camel jockeys”

“Muslim terrorists, Islamic terrorism”

“Bomb them back to the Stone Age”

Jihawg bullets send Muslims straight to hell”

“Get out of my country”

Fuck Islam

They all should die

“Register them”

“Ban them”

These lies are more than words. This is the sound of hate. The germs that infect the feeble, the impressionable, the ignorant, the desolate, the people who’ve never met “a Muslim” or “a Mexican” or “a gay person” or “a trans person”. Their token other is a composite of inaccurate, irresponsible, exploitative, sensationalized images and soundbites from internet forums, comment boards, social media posts, copy/paste e-mail chains, fake news sites, and conspiracy theorists who they never fact check. But also, all too often, mainstream news organizations who (should) know better like Fox, CNN, BBC, and others. College classrooms are not exempt, nor are elementary and secondary schools. These are frequently the words of our politicians too.

The words of hate are uttered by people everywhere. Repeated then by someone because that person thought it was funny. Or witty. Or provocative. Or “had to be said”. Because that person wanted fame or fortune and didn’t care at whose expense it was taken. And many, then, come to believe that lie. And that lie is translated from harmful words into harmful acts and even policies and programs.


I know what it feels like because my uncle was killed in an Islamophobic attack. Another crime of hate that was never classified a “hate crime” where his murderer knew my uncle only as “that Arab” whom “he got”. He shot my uncle multiple times one night while my uncle worked the night shift no one wanted at a convenience store. My uncle had a wife and four kids. He had six brothers and sisters. He loved his mom very much. Had buried his dad a few years before. My uncle wasn’t interested in politics or particularly religious. He had a mortgage to pay, kids to feed and clothe, two of whom sorely needed corrective glasses and were at risk of going blind. That’s what was on his mind that terrible night a few years after 9/11. Those are the people he could be seen in the security camera footage trying desperately to call before another bullet took the life from his hands, stopped his breaths, his thoughts, his heart. And he was gone. And his family was alone. And they were so so scared. And the world would never be the same again.

They went into hiding because people hated them for blaming Islamophobia. “There’s no such thing”. “It’s not a phobia because Islam is scary and Muslims are threats”. “Muslims did 9/11. They deserve what they got coming to them”. “Leave if you don’t like it, go back where you came from”.

They moved to another state and started over.

My uncle and his wife came to the US fleeing war and policies that targeted them because of their nationality. “Amriika”, “America”, they thought. “That’s where we belong”. “We’ll be safe there. Have kids, work, be free and happy. No more wars. No more violence or persecution.”

Our family was… still is… shattered. Lost.


“O lost soul, goodly soul, you may return to Me now, your Lord. You are forever loved. And forever loving. You have always been and will be accepted and comforted by Me. Come, join the others, every soul is with me now. Rest in Me, in My paradise, forever.”

Above is my translation of the Quranic verse written on my uncle’s tombstone in the interfaith section of the Christian cemetery in the United States where he is buried; in the country he loved and served, became an adult in, had children in, toiled in, struggled in, and died in. The verse is written in the beautiful and love-filled Arabic calligraphy of his younger brother. It was transposed into the stone that my grandma has washed by hand and adorned in flowers and prayed next to for hours, cried relentlessly at every week, for the last 11 years, 6 months, and 5 days.

Nazir Harb Michel has a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University and a second Masters in Arab Studies from Georgetown University. He is a Princeton University Public Policy Fellow, a Liechtenstein Institute Politics, Religion, and Diplomacy Fellow, a Truman Scholar, and holds a Ph.D from Georgetown University’s Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. He is currently a Postdoctoral Senior Research Fellow at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative on the study of Islamophobia.

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