Speaking Out Against Hate: A Note to Americans from a Yemeni Muslim Student

Can we have an honest conversation; Yemeni to American ?

Though many of you want to believe that Muslims are peaceful and they should be treated justly, I understand that at the same time you can’t make sense of all the atrocities committed in the name of Islam — so-termed “Islamic fundamentalism,” “terrorism,” and “radical Islam.”

I feel you all. Because, as a practicing Muslim, I am also confused, frustrated, and outraged. But I believe most of you don’t know enough about Muslims.

The absolute majority of Muslims in the world are hardworking and lead peaceful lives. But unlike many of you, many live in societies plagued by poverty, political instability, social and political oppression. This is a reality I know very well. Growing up in the Muslim-dominated Yemen, I witnessed fifteen wars; wars waged by Muslims against Muslims. For me, it would have been futile to seek an explanation in religion. I knew there was more to the story of what led Yemen and the broader Middle East to where it’s today.

Worsening political and social conditions are sufficient to create troubled individuals in any society. Added to that is the humiliation that these individuals feel when their countries — once proud civilizations — are intruded upon by foreign forces. They can’t stop these intrusions by undertaking serious negotiations, or by imposing effective economic sanctions, or by fighting back with mighty armies.

So a very tiny minority of those who are frustrated, wrongly and tragically resort to radical measures in response; seeking legitimacy in misconstrued sacred texts and traditions to substantiate their actions. And these acts of terror committed in the name of Islam have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.

Americans, you know that anger isn’t productive and hate leads to more hate. Responding with hate against all Muslims creates more of those troubled individuals, and reproduces the same narrative that created them in the first place; completely negating the values upon which this nation was founded.

Your country is at the forefront of societies that teach the world what it means to co-exist, what it means to be truly a diverse place. The American experiment has not been perfect, and is not perfect now, but it is an experiment in forming a “more perfect union.” That is a noble experiment indeed. Your nation has shed so much blood in the past so that the values of freedom and equality will prevail. My father, who has never set foot on this great land, sent me here not only to receive a quality education but also to learn those values in hopes they might one day echo in my war-torn Yemen.

I urge you not to let, for example, Donald Trump’s dystopian view of America and of Muslims win. The America that Trump promises isn’t an America that inspires the world, not an America that inspires America, and not an America that my father ever would have wanted his daughter to seek enlightenment in.

I, a Muslim student in America, am with you in mourning for the lives lost in Orlando, in San Bernardino, in Paris, in Yemen, in Syria and other places. And I am with you in speaking out against hate and injustice because I want your society to continue being exceptional in its diversity and progress, and to be a role model for other societies, including my own, to emulate.

Born in Syria to Yemeni parents, Safaa al-Saeedi grew up in Yemen. She graduated from Duke University in 2015 with a degree in political science and economics. Al-Saeedi is currently working as a visiting research scholar in Asia and Arabia studies at Duke. She will be joining Northwestern University in the Fall as a PhD student in political science. She is very interested in Middle Eastern affairs and aspires to contribute to original scholarship that addresses issues of political and economic development in the Arab world, particularly Yemen and the Arab Gulf region. See also her piece in Duke Magazine “Across a Divide” about her ‘double life’ in Yemen, and in the U.S.

ISLAMiCommentary is a public scholarship forum that engages scholars, journalists, policymakers, advocates and artists in their fields of expertise. It is a key component of the Transcultural Islam Project; an initiative managed out of the Duke Islamic Studies Center in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). This article was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

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