SundayReview | Opinion
By AZIZ ANSARIJUNE 24, 2016
“DON’T go anywhere near a mosque,” I told my mother. “Do all your prayer at home. O.K.?”
“We’re not going,” she replied.
am the son of Muslim immigrants. As I sent that text, in the aftermath
of the horrible attack in Orlando, Fla., I realized how awful it was to
tell an American citizen to be careful about how she worshiped.
Muslim American already carries a decent amount of baggage. In our
culture, when people think “Muslim,” the picture in their heads is not
usually of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction. It’s of a
scary terrorist character from “Homeland” or some monster from the news.
with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him
spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral,
and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me
afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.
Aziz Ansari’s parents, Fatima and Shoukath Ansari Credit Photo courtesy Aziz Ansari
million Muslim Americans
. After the attack in Orlando, The Times reported
the F.B.I. is investigating 1,000 potential “homegrown violent
extremists,” a majority of whom are most likely connected in some way to the
Islamic State. If everyone on that list is Muslim American, that is 0.03
percent of the Muslim American population. If you round that number, it is 0
percent. The overwhelming number of Muslim Americans have as much in common
with that monster in Orlando as any white person has with any of the white
terrorists who shoot up movie theaters or schools or abortion clinics.
I asked a young friend of mine, a
woman in her 20s of Muslim heritage, how she had been feeling after the attack.
“I just feel really bad, like people think I have more in common with that
idiot psychopath than I do the innocent people being killed,” she said. “I’m
really sick of having to explain that I’m not a terrorist every time the
shooter is brown.”
I myself am not
a religious person, but after these attacks, anyone that even looks like they
might be Muslim understands the feelings my friend described. There is a
strange feeling that you must almost prove yourself worthy of feeling sad and
scared like everyone else.
I understand that as far as these
problems go, I have it better than most because of my recognizability as an
actor. When someone on the street gives me a strange look, it’s usually because
they want to take a selfie with me, not that they think I’m a terrorist.
But I remember how those encounters
can feel. A few months after the attacks of Sept. 11, I remember walking home
from class near N.Y.U., where I was a student. I was crossing the street and a
man swore at me from his car window and yelled: “Terrorist!” To be fair, I may
have been too quick to cross the street as the light changed, but I’m not sure
that warranted being compared to the perpetrators of one of the most awful
incidents in human history.
The vitriolic and hate-filled
rhetoric coming from Mr. Trump isn’t so far off from cursing at strangers from
a car window. He has said that people in the American Muslim community “know
who the bad ones are
,” implying that millions of innocent people are
somehow complicit in awful attacks. Not only is this wrongheaded; but it also
does nothing to address the real problems posed by terrorist attacks. By Mr.
Trump’s logic, after the huge financial crisis of 2007-08, the best way to
protect the American economy would have been to ban white males.
According to reporting
by Mother Jones
, since 9/11, there have been 49 mass shootings in this
country, and more than half of those were perpetrated by white males. I doubt
we’ll hear Mr. Trump make a speech asking his fellow white males to tell
authorities “who the bad ones are,” or call for restricting white males’
One way to decrease the risk of
terrorism is clear: Keep military-grade weaponry out of the hands of mentally
unstable people, those with a history of violence, and those on F.B.I. watch
lists. But, despite sit-ins and filibusters, our lawmakers are failing us on
this front and choose instead to side with the National Rifle Association.
Suspected terrorists can buy assault rifles, but we’re still carrying tiny
bottles of shampoo to the airport. If we’re going to use the “they’ll just find
another way” argument, let’s use that to let us keep our shoes on.
Xenophobic rhetoric was central to Mr. Trump’s campaign long before
the attack in Orlando. This is a guy who kicked off
his presidential run
by calling Mexicans “rapists” who were “bringing
drugs” to this country. Numerous times, he has said
Muslims in New Jersey were cheering in the streets on Sept. 11, 2001.
This has been continually disproved
but he stands
. I don’t know what every Muslim American was doing that day, but I
can tell you what my family was doing. I was studying at N.Y.U., and I lived
near the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, I was on the phone with
my mother, who called to tell me to leave my dorm building.
The haunting sound of the second
plane hitting the towers is forever ingrained in my head. My building was close
enough that it shook upon impact. I was scared for my life as my fellow
students and I trekked the panicked streets of Manhattan. My family, unable to
reach me on my cellphone, was terrified about my safety as they watched the
towers collapse. There was absolutely no cheering. Only sadness, horror and
Mr. Trump, in
response to the attack in Orlando, began a tweet
with these words: “Appreciate the congrats.” It appears that day he was the one
who was celebrating after an attack.
Aziz Ansari, an actor, writer and
director, is a creator of the Netflix series “Master of None.”