by Suja S. Amir, MPA
As a Muslim woman, a child of Indian immigrants, and one who chooses to wear a hijab, I have experienced racism and Islamophobia. African Americans however, have experienced by far, the most degrading and systematic abuse in the United States. Observing symbols and monuments associated with individuals who have promoted racism, white supremacy and other toxic ideologies being defaced and/or removed is a powerful indicator that Virginians want to disassociate public spaces from the deceitful and offensive narrative these symbols convey.
Our Commonwealth is having a robust dialogue about symbols and monuments legitimizing systemic racism.
Elected officials in our Congressional delegation and the General Assembly have spoken out against these Confederate symbols and monuments. At the same time, many of these electeds, including my representative, support Islamophobic legislation like H.R. 7183 which seeks to support the National NEVER FORGET Act designating the Freedom Flag, as the national symbol of commemoration for those who lost their lives on 9/11. While this effort may seek to memorialize the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the myopic approach by Virginia legislators to this symbolic gesture is disconcerting.
This legislation was co-sponsored by Pete King (R-NY), a notoriously racist Congressman who is known for remarks against the Black and Asian communities, and regularly stoked Islamophobia with baseless and offensive remarks against American Muslims. That should have been the first red flag (no pun intended) for any legislator. Secondly, the “Freedom Flag” 9/11 curriculum used in some Virginia public schools is filled with Islamophobic and xenophobic narratives that dangerously distorts the actual historical narrative.
United States government “anti-terrorism” policies and initiatives launched since the September 11 attacks have had a profoundly negative impact on Arabs and Muslims in the U. S., largely because they have targeted members of these communities indiscriminately.1 These toxic policies have not only been the source of violence against American Muslims, but have also influenced violence against Muslims in other countries, such as China, Russia, India and Europe. Since 9/11 anti-Muslim defamation, hating and fearing Arabs, Muslims and South Asians has become the new normal in the public domain, with complete impunity.2
H.R 7183 supports the “Freedom Flag” being flown at every federal building, which essentially gives a rubber stamp of approval to the “Freedom Flag Foundation”’s curriculum. This is akin to the pernicious history lessons, shaped by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) which taught multiple generations to uphold institutionalized white supremacy partly through public school curriculums. Not only did UDC rewrite history, they were integral in erecting the Confederate monuments.
The “Freedom Flag Foundation” curriculum promotes sweeping generalizations about terrorism and the scapegoating of an entire religious community. The curriculum supports the “de-Americanization” of the American Muslim community by defining and linking terrorism solely to Muslims – despite the fact that in America, the greatest public security threat is white domestic terrorism. The curriculum feeds into the stereotype that 9/11 only impacted select communities, when the victims of 9/11 actually included American Muslims, many of whom were frontline responders.
On September 11, 2001, I would have been taking the PATH train to the World Trade Center for breakfast before heading to work into New York City. But because I was back home in Virginia for a family wedding, I was waking up to frantic calls from family and friends. 9/11 touches so close to home for many reasons. But for me, it reminds me that my name could have been on the New York City, 9/11 memorial – and my daughter left without her mother.
I’m deeply disappointed in our Virginia elected officials, including my representative, who are supporting such a poorly researched and irresponsible bill. Even more disappointing is that these legislators represent a large constituency of American Muslims. Supporting this bill feeds into the assumption that 9/11 only impacted a select few communities, discounts our perspective, and does not seek to engage their constituents before supporting such legislation.
Historical preservation and education, while important, is not tied to shrines, monuments and flags. The real threats to education come from the lack of input and representation from diverse backgrounds to ensure education is objective and without influences of the propaganda of any specific organization or ideology. The existential threats to our democracy are the institutional and structural racism embedded in our institutions and state code.
It is high time members from both political parties not only condemn and disassociate from all forms of racism and bigotry. But more importantly, it is high time our elected officials denounce racist, Islamophobic legislation like H.R. 7183, which will enable the “Freedom Foundation” to push Islamophobic curriculum in our schools.
1.Wong, Kam C., The Impact of USA Patriot Act on American Society: An Evidence Based Assessment, 2007
2. Iftikhar, Arslan, Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens our Freedoms, 2016