One of my students is an Iraqi woman who has been in Chicago for a while. Her quirks include shushing the others when they talk too much in languages that aren’t English and bringing candy corn for everyone to share. She is also always the last to leave and she always apologizes for it. Let’s call her Salma.
At the beginning of class, I asked Salma what she did this past weekend, and she told me the usual “going to shopping,” and “walking to the Devon market.” I asked her to use the past tense, and got some impressive went’s and did’s. She also told me that she “watched the T.V. news,” and that there was bad news. She passed me a note:
She added, “We are scared. We are going home, just, we are staying home.”
Now, I immediately knew what Salma was talking about. Last week, a dental student at UNC, her husband, and her sister were shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The man indicted for shooting them was allegedly angry about a parking issue. Many are calling it a hate crime, and that the shooter targeted them because of their being Muslim.
When Salma brought it up, I first began to say something about “a stupid argument about parking.” But, I lost the words into silence because the words lost importance. Salma does not feel scared because of parking issues, which is heroic in itself for any Chicagoan. Anyway, she doesn’t even have a car.
It is quite possible that the man who shot Deah, Yusor, and Razan is so full of anger and psychosis that he thought shooting students over a parking spot was a reasonable thing to do. However, if it were as simple as that, then Muslim Americans like Salma would not feel fear. Clearly, Salma feels tangible hatred toward her, regardless of the hate crime status of that particular shooting.
Salma left her home and traveled more than 6,000 miles to live in America because it was a safe place. She left behind her mother, who is almost 90 years old. She left behind bombs and extremists who kill to make statements and terrorize. For her to be so scared that she would rather shut herself up indoors speaks volumes. Unfortunately, there are Americans who hate Muslims, and even worse some of them act on it. By feeling and seeing hatred against Muslims, Salma is admittedly scared and has changed her lifestyle to feel safer. Hatred has terrorized her. Once again in her life, she shares a country with terrorism. And, that’s something that scares me, too.