My gut reaction when I heard about the hatred-inspired anti-Muslim protests that are taking place later this week across the country was to grab my children, crawl under the covers of my bed, and distract us all with a Sponge Bob marathon. It’s overwhelming to try to wrap my head around the idea that these events are actually happening. So my instinct is to retreat to a safe haven and hide, much like I did when I was young child.
The difference is that when I was little, I had to wait until Saturday morning for the Looney Toons, and the threats were largely external—fostered by a Cold War and a common enemy that united us all in fear of a nuclear holocaust. Today, in this increasingly confusing world I wonder, who exactly is the enemy? Is it . . . me? My children? My Muslim family members who do amazing things that don’t make the headlines: strengthening government systems for the Department of Homeland Security, conducting flight safety tests on aircrafts, performing skin grafts on burn victims? Is it ISIS? The Taliban? Russia? Or is it the armed hate groups united under a false banner of “humanity” planning to target mosques and Muslim communities to intimidate and bully us in an attempt to take back America from “people like you”?
How do I explain any of this to my kids, from under my blankets, as they stare at me, wondering what is wrong? They aren’t little enough to shelter them the way I want, or interested in snuggling with me anymore (although Sponge Bob is still a hit). One is a teenager who towers over me and the other is quickly catching up. They can’t be distracted or shielded from the ugly parts of American life. They will hear about them, and they need someone to help make sense of them. But how do you make sense of this insanity? (This is not a rhetorical question. I’m serious. I have no idea.)
What finally gets me out of bed, apart from needing to drive my kids to basketball practice, is the hope that comes with remembering that for every hate monger out there, there are many more non-Muslim Americans who still value the principles of inclusion, diversity, equality, and freedom. I make sure I tell my kids about them and what they are doing to make sure people learn about who we really are and what we represent.
In my own experience, these are the librarians who invite me to Houston to share my multicultural books that introduce Islamic traditions with library patrons as part of an exhibit called “Poetic Voices of the Muslim World.” These are the teachers who will bring their students, who are part of an Arabic language immersion program that was already the target of protests and hatred there, to hear me speak. These are the editors who push for a book where Curious George celebrates Ramadan, in an effort to represent all major holidays. They took a chance, without knowing the incredible joy a little monkey would bring American Muslims, who feel honored by the gesture, and the message it sends that we are worthy of being included.
These actions, and the countless others like them who have given voice to American Muslims like me and encourage us to share our lives, do a lot to combat hate and vile behavior. I strongly believe that the vast majority of Americans are above these protests and embrace love and true humanity. I desperately want to believe that my kids don’t need to be scared—and that the only thing that will come out of these protests is shame for those who promoted and participated in them.