Society has taught me to fear Muslims. The media subliminally sends messages that my heart should clench when in their presence, especially at an airport. If they are carrying a bag or wearing a hijab, I should be even more afraid.
I never understood this fear, but, even as a child, I was aware of it. I could feel the fear from my elementary school teacher as she educated me on the tragedy of 9/11. As a child, I never could grasp why I should fear an entire religion because of the actions of individuals.
This subtle but systemic fear is the reason that thousands of Muslims are in detention camps in China, and many people are not aware or simply do not care.
Recently, leaked documents revealed a network of detention camps throughout the western province of Xinjiang, China. These camps hold at least a million Muslims. The Chinese government has called the documents false and fabricated, even though the documents are signed by Zhu Hailun, the top security official and deputy Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, according to TIME. Muslim individuals who escaped the detention centers reported acts of rape, torture, mental abuse and much more.
The lack of mainstream media attention pertaining to this issue is saddening but not surprising. At this point, the lack of human rights coverage pertaining to Muslim individuals has become an industry standard.
Generally, the only time Muslim people are covered in the media is when they are linked to an act of terror. This further perpetuates the normalization of fear surrounding Muslims. When one Muslim person commits a heinous act, the whole religion is scrutinized — even though Islam is one of the most practiced religions in the world with 1.6 billion followers. This same scrutiny is not given to those of other religions, especially not religions that originated in Europe, like Christianity.
There is a paradox in the way society links violence with the faith of Islam. When a white individual enacts mass violence, they are labeled a lone wolf or mentally disturbed. But when a Muslim person, especially if they are brown or black, commits an act of violence, they are immediately labeled a terrorist. Why are white terrorists allowed to be individuals but Muslim terrorists’ actions speak for a whole religion?
This ideology is scary to think about because society isolates those whose identities are not deemed acceptable. If this isolation continues, it is bound to create a societal rift that cannot be repaired.
This fear of Muslims is seen globally. In 2017, approximately 3,000 Muslims were killed in Myanmar within three days. And, more recently, 50 people were killed in a shooting at a mosque shooting in New Zealand. This negative portrayal of Muslim individuals fosters violence against them. These detention camps in Xinjiang sadly show that these implicit biases can cause people to torture other human beings.
The root of this issue is fear. It is because of this fear that Muslim people are dehumanized and treated as if their lives are of less value. These acts of mass human rights violations will continue if not dealt with. To create systemic change in the way Muslims are viewed within the dominant narrative, we must remove fear as the foundation and replace it with an effort to truly understand and celebrate each others’ differences. This starts with the media accurately covering the injustices Muslims face with equal weight as other human rights violations.