“A Person and/or Small Group Cannot Represent A Country, A Nation Nor A Religion”

I am struggling to even find a starting point for this blog post because when I think about the topic so much anger fills my brain. This past week has brought a lot of unfortunate circumstances that can make it very hard to see positively. Between the Boston Marathon, West Texas explosion, the Senate failing 90% of the country on gun background checks, and more…it is a very frustrating time. However, it seems to be made worse by just how people are choosing to take out their frustration, and the media is not helping.

The victims of the Boston Marathon have been on my mind, as they have been for most of the country’s I’m sure, constantly. Yet despite how awful we feel because of this violence and hatred that has been inflicted on innocent people, there are still those who turn around and add more violence to the picture in the name of it. Throughout the news coverage, I had been hoping that the suspects would not turn out to be Muslim because I knew it would reinforce stereotypes in this country that people fail to see past. Right off the bat it was assumed that they were Muslim and “non-white”, probably Arab even by members of our government and the media who plastered the name of an innocent Saudi student and another 17 year old who were also victims of the awful events that had just occurred. Within the same day of the attack there instances around the country of people who “look Muslim”, which is a completely ignorant thing to say, being violently attacked. In the Bronx a man was beaten up outside of a restaurant he was having dinner, a woman in Boston was shoved in front of her child just walking home. Rumors spread like wildfire that the Saudi who had been highlighted in the media was being secretly deported by some shady deal that Obama was making. The 17 year old who the New York Post put on their front page was getting threats via social media. Their names and faces tainted on top of the pain they were already feeling just like anyone else who was in or watching with Boston that day.

It infuriates me how irresponsible the media has become when they know the influence that they can have on people. Is getting the story out, being first, or even getting the highest ratings more important than a person’s safety? The reporting has beenĀ despicableĀ and very difficult for me to watch. Before we even knew anything about the two suspects the focus of their identities rested on things such as their social media page saying Islam as world view, or the fact that Chechnya is primarily Muslim. These things were reported as if they were the true answer, when in fact there was absolutely nothing that said this was the reasoning behind the attacks. Therefore only causing people to spin into more ignorant comments about Muslims and people of Chechnya, that they really knew very little about. Was it worth it? Was it worth it to get that reporting out to cause people pain? I have friends who were in and around NYC who just “looked” Muslim, whether they were or not, who felt terrified to be in public due to the negative attention and even abuse toward their safety because people cannot see past this color blind vision that continues to be drilled into their minds. There has been no trial, we have not even heard directly from the suspect any details for a motive, everything is only speculation, yet it is being reported as though it is fact and therefore people are taking it as so. Even it does turn out that they did act in the name of Islam, it is a radicalization that is not a characteristic of the religion, but of their minds and demeanor. They are no different, and quite possibly may have even acted in similar unfathomable reasoning, as the recent mass shooters. All of these mass shooters were white male. Can you even think of one of their religions? Probably not, because the media did not report the information as they did the two Boston suspects.

I watched Bill Maher yesterday, where a point was brought up that of course not all Muslims are violent, but it is only fact that radical Muslims are the most violent today. This point was awful to hear because it will only reinforce what people are already thinking. I don’t see this as the case. There are terrible acts being done in the name of many religions that have been radicalized, or in some cases not. In Africa, groups based off of Christianity such as the LRA have abducted millions of children, murdered, raped, and maimed millions of African citizens using a perverted version of the 10 Commandments in their work and to brainwash others, for example. It can happen anywhere, it just depends on the person and the circumstances, NOT the religion itself. To bomb innocent people does not take one particular religion that billions of others follow as decent human beings, it takes a person whose brain has been tarnished for other reasons or an understanding of that religion that is coming from the results of that already tainted brain. Just how much of the Taliban are uneducated and deciphering the Quran in ways that the majority of other Muslims would never. Just like the Westboro Baptist Church translates the Bible into a tool of hatred. This translation of the Bible used in the name of much violence and death including toward the LGBT community. And now here we are disgusted with the violence in Boston on Monday, and in some cases acting out by creating more instances of violence and hatred.

We live in a country that is extremely diverse. I think that makes us fortunate. We can get to know and learn from people that have roots throughout the world without even leaving the United States. In fact, we all have roots, of course varying how far back these roots are, that stem to a different nationality. Diversity is a beautiful thing. So many different minds and views trying to make sense out of this world and bringing fun traditions (and food!) to our door steps. But yet, all we have is anger for people who don’t “look American”. Whatever that means. I’ve also seen some reports come out trying to get the similar points out that I am here, but use terms such as “white folks” are color blind. As someone who is white, this is just MORE labeling and assuming. It never seems to end.

Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leonne and a Muslim himself tweeted an important reminder to the world.

“A person and/or a small group cannot represent a country, a nation nor a religion.”

Do Something also shared a thought that wraps this entire message up very well:

“Heads up: Saying Al-Qaeda is an accurate representation of all Muslims is as stupid as saying the Westboro Baptist “Church” is an accurate representation of all Christians.

There are 2.2 BILLION Muslims in the world. To think that an incredibly small group of fundamentalists is a fair representation of that many people isn’t right.

We’re all human, let’s start acting like it towards each other.”

Yes there are terrible things that have happened this week. Yes they may or may not have been committed in the name of something as seen through the killers head. But everyone, no matter where they are from, or what religion they are, as innocent decent people (as the majority of the world is) are feeling the hurt and sympathizing with the victims. Let’s not create even more hatred and violence because of something we do not understand or because of what is being drilled into our heads by the media. Open your eyes, think for yourself. If more prejudice and violence stems it is only the evil minded who are continuing to win this battle.

The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.

Unveiling Muslim Women at Ohio University

written and photographed by MARYBETH BOGNAR

My latest and final story for the InterActivist:


On Saturday, April 23, the Muslim Student Association at Ohio University held an open house at the Islamic Center. The event encouraged OU students and Athens community members to learn more about Islam through speakers, videos, and presentations that occurred throughout the afternoon, and also offered Middle Eastern cuisine. The open house cleared up misconceptions about many aspects of Islam, one being women’s role in wearing various headscarf apparel.

The controversial topic of Muslim women’s headscarves is common in discussions about women’s rights. Around campus, people who are misinformed often speak about how they feel sorry for women who are “oppressed” or “forced” into these practices. However, this is far from the truth. During the open house, women who wore different types of the headscarf encouraged their guests to ask questions about what headscarves mean to them personally and to their fellow Muslim women.

Muslim WomenOne woman who spoke at the open house was Heather Irwin, an international studies graduate student from Portsmouth, Ohio. Irwin first chose to wear a headscarf with a face covering when she converted to Islam about eight years ago after growing up with a non-religious background. She wears it for different reasons, but decides to always have a scarf over her head and neck as well as being covered down to her wrist and ankles. “It varies on the situation,” Irwin said. “When I’m gardening I’ll wear a top and jeans, but if I’m on campus I’ll always wear the overgarments.” Although Irwin chooses to cover her face, this is not a requirement of Islam. “I like the protection, privacy and freedom,” Irwin explained.

Irwin found herself looking for religion several years ago. She believed in God, but did not belong to a religious community. She was attracted to Islam because of its simple and basic beliefs, prophets, and the community that it brought to her. Once she converted, she tried different apparel to find the most comfortable choice.

A more common scarf worn by Muslim women is the hijab, which is what Maha Alsaeed chooses to wear. Alsaeed is working to receive her Ph.D. in math education at OU. She has been Muslim her entire life and continued the religion when she moved to the United States from Saudi Arabia. “I feel comfortable covering my head and body. I try wearing skirts, but I’m just more comfortable when I have very loose clothing everywhere,” Alsaeed said at the open house. Her husband also encouraged her to do what she felt most comfortable with, which helped her try different styles and find what worked best for her.

These traditions are not just about appearance. Irwin and Alsaeed both feel that they are far from oppressed, and are actually taken more seriously by and get more respect from those around them. “I’m able to practice my right to be judged by character. My hijab helped me do that and caused people to think about what’s in my mind,” Alsaeed said.

Irwin agreed and added, “I receive much more respect in Athens.” She feels like liess of an object because “men won’t often check you out in these loose clothes.” Irwin also found that she pays attention to her behavior more since she is less anonymous and commonly recognized by her appearance.

Unfortunately, Irwin and Alsaeed’s choices in clothing do not come without scrutiny in today’s society. Alsaeed found one form of negative opinions toward Islamic practices in a Parkersburg, W.Va. coffee shop. She said that an elderly woman worker there seemed to dislike her and one day, the woman asked about Alsaeed’s scarf. After hearing why she chooses to wear it, the woman simply replied, “Strange; here is your coffee.”

Irwin had a scarier experience when she spent two years in Indianapolis, Ind. She faced aggressive comments every day. “People would get in my face and call me ‘wrong, evil and bad,'” Irwin said. “It was very frightening.” She sometimes heard comments such as “look at that thing.”

Both Irwin and Alsaeed have found that people in Athens are very accepting, and will even ask questions about their traditions that they are happy and willing to answer.

“More conversation on the subject of Muslim women and headscarves has stemmed from ongoing legislation changes in France, in which certain forms of Muslim overgarments are being banned. President Nicolas Sarkozy has cited resolving security issues and liberating Muslim women as two of the primary goals of the legislation.”

Both Irwin and Alsaeed shared a look and a quick laugh in response to this statement. “People seem to be scared that France will be an Islamic country,” Alsaeed said. Irwin finds the law flawed for many reasons, one of which has to do with procedures in international airports within France. “The law applies to anyone passing through the country, including its airports,” Irwin said. She expressed her concern of having to take off her overgarments and headscarf even if she was just switching planes in the airport. Alsaeed spoke about her experience outside of the U.S. while she was growing up in Saudi Arabia. “You cover your face or people will look at you in Saudi Arabia,” Alsaeed said when talking about smaller towns in the country. However, in larger cities people commonly wear the scarf but do not cover their faces. “It is not required by law, but it is more a social norm,” Alsaeed said. Irwin added, “In Afghanistan it is not legally required, but there is a strong social pressure. In Iran the policy changes a lot.”

Although policies and traditions vary throughout the world, these women show their choice through what they wear for their religion. Alsaeed and Irwin, along with other women at the recent Islamic Center open house, encourage questions and conversation to help create understanding and cooperation within the Athens society and to help these ideals spread throughout other communities in the U.S.