In the years following Sept. 11 and every subsequent extremist terrorist attack in the West since, Muslim Americans have bore the brunt of apologizing for and defending their religion, answering calls to denounce these attacks in ways that no other groups have needed to.
The statistics are clear: after the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, Cali. last year, the rate of alleged hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. almost tripled. Divisive rhetoric calling for a complete ban of all Muslims coming into the country both validates and exacerbates anti-Muslim discrimination.
Such bigotry isn't limited to any specific part of the country. In a recent incident in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — a neighborhood that is held up as the archetype of the gentrification of New York City — two Muslim women were the targets of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Amani Alkhat and Eman Bare say they were on their way to lunch, and waiting at a stoplight when an employee of a bar said to them, over his shoulder: "ISIS."
According to a Facebook post she wrote following the incident, Alkhat turned around and said, "Excuse me?" to the man, who grinned and responded, "Are you a part of ISIS? I'm just asking!"
He had some bad luck in the Muslim women he chose to harass today, right? We immediately turned around and confronted him. I asked, "Well, are you a part of the KKK? Are you a Nazi? Actually, are you a mass shooter? Are you going to light us up right now?" I guess these two so-called oppressed girls in headscarves scared him off, because he quickly gathered his things to run back into his store.
"I honestly didn't believe my ears at first because it was so unexpected," Alkhat told A Plus in an email. "He was cleaning a glass door; we were waiting for a stoplight to change. It was such an unnecessary interaction. It was like he couldn't help himself but to express his Islamophobia and grin about it."
Alkhat and Bare share a well-established platform that they used to shed light on their experience. Alkhat is the editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl, a website for and by Muslim women, and Bare a contributor. While Alkhat described the incident on Facebook, Bare wrote an article about it, titled "How We Got An Islamophobe Fired In 20 Minutes."
Quickly after the man scurried back into the bar, Bare whipped out her cell phone to take a photo of him and the storefront. Alkhat wrote that this angered the man so much that he stormed back out, accused the women of harassment, and threatened to call the cops on them, saying, "I'll have them decide if you're ISIS or not!"
"I'm putting this on blast because it's really sick when racists exploit the political vulnerability of marginalized, ostracized, and scapegoated minorities to get a free pass in imposing further violence upon them," Alkhat wrote. "Whether it's undocumented peoples being threatened with deportation, Muslims with their lack of due process rights, or other variations of this oppression."
20 minutes after Alkhat's post on Facebook went up, inciting plenty of outraged responses, the business owners reached out to her and Bare to inform them that the man had been fired.
In a climate rife with street harassment and Islamophobia, Alkhat said that she and Bare have no qualms taking up space and talking back as Muslim women.
"It's important to stand up for ourselves instead of being intimidated or cowering. We're not doing anything wrong — we're simply existing. Racists should be the ones to feel uncomfortable engaging in that behavior," she said. "Hopefully that man and any likeminded person who saw our Facebook post will think twice about harassing Muslim women next time. And mostly, we have to make other Muslim women feel confident and unafraid in pushing back. To be honest, it was much easier that Eman and I had each other in that situation."
Image via Amani Alkhat
Following the escalation of anti-Muslim hate crimes over the past year, Muslim Girl published a Crisis Safety Manual for Muslim Women on its website — that, too, kept them well-prepared for situations like these, Alkhat said.
As for the man's firing, Alkhat noted that she hopes it sends a message to racists that society will not accept such behavior. "It's important that businesses respond to discrimination because it's a lesson and a warning that it's not condoned in our society," she said. "Racists should be held accountable and not feel comfort in their racism."