Trip to New York reveals deep-seated cultural rift
Accepting nature of university campus brings some hope for eradication of Islamaphobia
With the anticipated arrival of spring break, I was more than ecstatic to board a plane to New York City for a worry-free week. Although I looked forward to all that the cultural hot-spot had to offer, I had previously made the decision to examine the underlying, said-to-be prejudice which recently stirred up a bit of media attention.
New York City may be considered the nation’s most popular melting-pot of ethnicities, religions and nationalities, yet it appears that one group of people in particular has rapidly become the victim of a lingering sense of suspicion — Muslims.
The most striking instance of this discrimination occurred while I was madly rushing through the heart of Times Square in hopes of catching the F train towards Brooklyn, where I agreed to meet my Muslim interviewee. To my surprise, a gang of NYPD officers had stopped a meager group of girls in hijabs, all of whom were struggling to sift through the throngs of people with their large pieces of luggage. The girls were immediately approached by the officers in the center of the human traffic and were seemingly being questioned about what they were carrying. As the confrontation continued to unfold, it became apparent that the group of friends were being made uneasy by the officers’ inquiries (who outnumbered the girls, two to one).
Within moments, the girls agreed to unzip their baggage, revealing nothing but textbooks, toiletries and other travel necessities. Just as rapidly as they were stopped, the girls were free to continue to the curb to hail a cab with the officers’ eyes watching.
After eventually arriving in Brooklyn, I was eager to share the experience with my friend Jalil. To my surprise, he shrugged the story off as being nothing out of the ordinary.
“It seems as if by being a Muslim man or woman in a densely populated city, you’re an automatic magnet of suspicion,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s become an expected norm — particularly for youth who choose to wear the turban.”
Jalil recounted a personal account of falling victim to discrimination, which unfolded while he and a friend (who happened to don his headdress) were accused of shoplifting from a nearby market.
“The store employees were sure that we had tucked things under his turban … the police were eventually called and demanded that the headdress be removed despite there being [no] reasonable cause for suspicion,” he said.
Jalil’s mother, who chooses to wear a hijab, interjected that an everyday outing will consist of staring and looking over shoulders, although she has lived in the same neighborhood for 15 years.
During the Monday that followed spring break, I frantically caught up with assignments beside a study group sitting in the corner at a stretching table. Within the mix of the stress-laden students were two women in hijabs who were not being treated to any worried glances or under-the-breath comments by others.
Although seeing such harmony sweetened my spoiled outlook after suffering through disheartening inquiries of Islamophobia in New York City, bearing witness to the seemingly natural tendency towards acceptance stirred a few questions within me. If suspicion-stripped relationships can be fostered here at UNLV, could it — and would it — ever spread and be embraced on a larger scale? Will Islam ever assume its needed presence within the picture of contemporary American society?
Being a third-party observer to the studious cooperation of our diverse student body leads me to think that the purging of prejudice may begin in humble numbers, but the triumph of small parts is ultimately fated to humanize the whole.