New Yorkers should stand with their Muslim neighbors

New Yorkers should stand with their Muslim neighbors

New Yorkers should stand with their Muslim neighbors
November 18, 2015

I am a New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn. Since Ellis Island’s heyday, New York state has been known for its tradition as a gateway to the shores of the United States and has welcomed generations of immigrants, including my parents. In honor of the innocent lives lost in the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut at the hands of ISIS, I call on my fellow New Yorkers to stay above the fray of hateful and inflammatory rhetoric being spewed by 27 (and counting) U.S. governors, as well as media pundits and American citizens, against American Muslims and refugees.

Over 35 years ago, my parents chose to leave Palestine where they were living under military occupation to raise their family in the United States, a country where they believed their children would live in safety and have many more opportunities to thrive. I am grateful every day for the choice that my parents made.

Unfortunately, after every horrific international attack by terrorists who claim that they are acting on behalf of Islam, there is an immediate knee-jerk reaction to put collective blame on all Muslims. As Muslim New Yorkers, we are horrified by these attacks, but not because of our faith; we are horrified because we are human. There is an expectation that we should apologize and denounce these attacks on behalf of our faith. We denounce these despicable acts of terror because they defy humanity. As Muslims, we do not want to reinforce the fallacy that we are somehow connected to ISIS through the same basic ideology, when in fact we have absolutely nothing in common at all. We should recognize that religious fanatics perpetuate violent acts for their own deranged reasons. 

Immediately after the attacks in Paris, mosques across the country have received death threats resulting in at least one recent arrest in Seminole County, Florida. The Internet is plagued with vitriolic anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-refugee rhetoric. American Muslims are not the enemy; we are your neighbors, students, local storeowners, doctors, cab drivers and fellow residents of this state. American Muslims should be treated as partners in the fight to counter terrorism, not suspects. We work, live and raise our children, and the safety of our families and our communities is top priority. This is a universal principle that we know we share with our fellow Americans. Every person in every corner of this world deserves to live, work, eat, pray and play without fear. 

New York has already demonstrated leadership on the question of whether to continue to welcome Syrian refugees in our country. These individuals are escaping the very same terrorism that the world has witnessed in Paris and Beirut. Syrians have been killed by the thousands, millions more have been displaced, and their entire livelihoods have been destroyed by the likes of ISIS and the Assad regime.   

I commend Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his passionate response to the refugee question: “The day America says, ‘Close the gates, build the wall,’ then I say take down the Statue of Liberty because you’ve gone to a different place.” That sentiment was echoed by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who responded to the growing number of governors calling for bans on refugees, “I think that what we’re seeing on behalf of the governors is appalling and that we are much better than that as a country.” I also couldn’t agree with Mayor Bill de Blasio more: “We are a strong country. We can protect our country with the appropriate and intensive screening and accept refugees seeking our protection at the same time. New York City is a proud immigrant city, and we will not turn our back on that history or the people being persecuted and fleeing war.”

The measured and thoughtful remarks by Cuomo, de Blasio, and Mark-Viverito stand in stark contrast to the inflammatory and irresponsible rhetoric of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said he would not even allow orphans under the age of 5 into the country. Even representatives from our own state, such as Rep. Peter King, went as far as denying that a prejudice against Muslims exists in our country: “That’s all nonsense about Islamophobia, but there are people within the Muslim community who want to kill us … And I don’t know why the Muslim community doesn’t welcome the police in, doesn’t encourage police to come in.”

King’s rhetoric is not only divisive, but inaccurate. What he won’t tell you is that one-third of alleged terror plots have been foiled due to cooperation and tips from American Muslims. We should never forget Aliou Niasse, a street vendor selling framed photographs of New York who, in 2010, alerted police to a car bomb in Times Square. His quick thinking saved countless lives. The congressman should not confuse valid criticism of unwarranted surveillance by NYPD of American Muslims solely based on faith with a lack of cooperation and a lack of regard for the safety of our communities and all New Yorkers. Law enforcement should continue to do their work and follow credible leads, not put an entire community under suspicion. American Muslim leaders meet with NYPD periodically and we have very strong relationships with our local precincts and captains. 

New York City is home to about 1 million Muslims.This year, for the first time, Muslim children did not have to choose between their faith and going to school, as New York City became the largest public school system to recognize Muslim high holy holidays. This would have never been a reality without the support ofNew Yorkers from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. My 11-year-old daughter’s response was, “I love New York.” This is what New York City is all about: recognition, inclusion and respect for all people.


Linda Sarsour is a Muslim Palestinian-American racial justice and civil rights activist born and raised in Brooklyn. 

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Linda Sarsour