Wholly a Buckeye
Toronto-born Nima Dahir writes that backlash over terrorists and fear can't erase the fact that she is proud of who she is: Muslim and an Ohio State student.
I am wholly an American — my words neatly tumble out of my lips in a standard Midwestern accent, my heart fills with pride whenever Team USA wins a gold medal, my patriotism pushes me to demand more from this great nation.
I am wholly a Buckeye — I pretend to understand the intricacies of Ohio State football, I slip to the 11th floor of Thompson just to watch the sunset and I love to hear “O-H-!” when I am far from Columbus.
And yet, occasionally, these communities that are wholly mine reject me with an unyielding ferocity. Following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, I anticipated the betraying sting of that rejection once again. This atrocity had been committed in the name of my faith, and my fear of backlash was immediate. Intermingled with the grief, there were the predictable reactions demanding Muslim condemnation of the attacks, calls for increased surveillance of Muslim communities, and most painfully, for us Muslims to go home. As though we had other homes to go back to; as though our hearts did not ache alongside the world.
I am a Buckeye, and I welcome all of the responsibility and privilege that identity entails. I attend a university that boasts tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of living alumni. The Buckeye community is strong; the Buckeye Spirit is tangibly real. In the varied faces of excellence on this campus, I see women who, like me, wear their hijabs proudly. I find solace in knowing that our achievements are recognized, that we can exist as visibly Muslim and excel on this campus.
Yet, outside of the classroom, I am often confronted with misunderstandings about my identity. To every person who shifts seats on the bus as I sit down, to every individual that passes me and whispers an Islamophobic slur: know that your attempts to shatter my sense of belonging are for naught. I am a Buckeye just as you are, and I will not let you take that away. I am visibly Muslim and this is my home — these identities are not mutually exclusive. To those who do not share in these experiences, do not ask how I can be made to feel welcome — I need not be made to feel welcome because I am not a guest. I cannot go home because I am already home.
The dangerous narrative developing around Muslim-Americans claims that our religious values are incompatible with American values. The way I see it, however, this narrative is itself incompatible with our American values. In allowing fear to lead our actions and divide us, we are letting hatred win. The atrocities in Paris (and in Beirut, Bamako and around the world) are meant to instill divisiveness. When our base emotions motivate our reactions we abandon our national values. Hatred begets hatred, and to move forward together we must choose unity over division. We must demand more of ourselves.