Raja has just joined WITNESS on a one-year assignment as our Middle East and North Africa Program Associate. She works to ensure that video is used effectively to take advantage of the critical moment of transition in the region. Most recently she was in Yemen covering the revolution as a media stringer and photojournalist. Read a previous post by Raja.
Just Another Girl with a Lemonade Stand
I was born and raised in Brooklyn eating Italian ices and listening to Frank Sinatra on the radio. My summers were occupied by family barbeques at the park, sports until sunset and selling lemonade on my front steps. I was the sort of entrepreneur every child was at my age- stubborn, annoying and persistent. As a matter of fact, one of my most
memorable sales was to quite an important public figure. As I was trying to make a sale to my neighbor, a massive group of people rushed by. My neighbor, who was trying to get out of buying a cup of bad lemonade, pointed at the crowd and told me “See that group? Mayor Giuliani is with them! Sell him a cup!”
I made my way through the mob of paparazzi who was following the mayor as he walked towards our local mosque. I held tightly onto my hijab as I squeezed through the crowd. I reached the entrance of the mosque and there stood Mayor Giuliani with the biggest grin on his face. “And what’s your name?” he asked. “My name is Raja,” I replied. And in front of the large crowd of photographers he smiled and shook my hand. My photograph was published the next day in The New York Times.
I thought it was my launch to stardom and the right PR needed for the launch of a lucrative lemonade business. In reality, it was a political move on Giuliani’s end, as he hoped to maintain New York City’s relationship with its growing American Muslim community. It was a smart move and the Muslim community was grateful for it. It was good times; but again, this was pre-9/11.
Why You Should Watch This Video: American Muslims Advocate for Tolerance
I’ll forever be grateful for my childhood memories. It was the only time I truly felt like I was part of the community. Post 9/11, this all took a drastic shift. As a New Yorker who lived through the 9/11 attacks, I kept searching for common ground. I was struggling- trying to process what happened and find moments to grieve- while at the same time being condemned by the very people I sought comfort from, my fellow Americans. To them, it was guilt by association. I had to mourn the death of 3,000 people while defending a religion of over 1.5 billion people. I find having to condemn every act of terror perpetually exhausting. To hear spurious statements criticizing Muslims for not condemning every attack has only helped reinforce the warped views and misconceptions of Muslims being sympathetic to terrorism. It is a daunting and overwhelmingly sensitive task to take on. And it isn’t easy.
Despite feeling misunderstood and demonized by many Americans
, American Muslims understand that the most effective way to shift public perception of Muslim identity is to promote awareness of their religion and to integrate. To effectively prompt lasting change, Muslims would have to show that we are active and contributing citizens.
This has inspired Muslim advocacy groups in the United States to tackle the task of shifting public perception. With the online film and social media project “My Fellow American” – Americans are encouraged to pledge and spread awareness that Muslims are our fellow Americans. They have developed a productive and interactive way to engage society in identifying American Muslims in their communities and to discuss their important roles as part of the community. Here is the video that anchors the campaign:
Title of Video: My Fellow American
Date Created/Posted: May 31, 2011
Length: 2:49 minutes
Who Made It: Unity Productions Foundation in association with Gardner Films, Inc
Location: United States (video filmed in Baltimore)
Human Rights Issue: Religious Intolerance
With this video, the Muslim community hopes to shift public perception and combat growing Islamophobic sentiment in the United States.
“My Fellow American” is seeking to engage a non-Muslim American audience. Since the video was released on YouTube, it clearly intends on reaching a broader audience as well: non-Muslims internationally. Muslim communities are being repressed and marginalized by communities in many parts of the world. This campaign is targeting communities that are rejecting multiculturalism and integration.
The video urges people to accept Muslims as part of the national fabric that holds the country together. Muslims are active members of our communities. They are doctors, grocery store clerks, mothers and fathers, firefighters and cab drivers. They contribute to and are a fundamental and everyday part of societal growth.
The project encourages people from different backgrounds to pledge and share stories of a Muslim friend, colleague or neighbor they admire. Those who want to pledge their commitment to their “Fellow Americans” are offered the option of posting a video response with their story. This creates an interactive environment and keeps everyone engaged.
The film highlights the significant roles of Muslims in the United States, with characters depicting Muslims going about their daily routines at work and life in the US. The video juxtaposes voices of anti-Muslim radio talk show hosts, pundits and politicians with a storyline depicting that Muslims are active and important members of our community. The voices used are of notorious public figures who carry controversial views and have a following. This video is a rebuttal to their Islamophobic ideology. The soundtrack of the hate speech combined with narratives countering the hate filled voices is disconcerting and compelling and prompts the viewer to think more critically and clearly of what it truly means to be Muslim.
Join The Discussion:
Islamophobia is what continues to nullify multiculturalism in the United States. Multiculturalism is part of our national fabric.
Islamophobia prevents integration and meaningful engagement and the hostile rhetoric is a threat to the very values we have built our nation upon. Keeping both the Muslim and non-Muslim community engaged with one another is highly crucial and in the best interest of America as a whole.
Do you know any American Muslims? What was the interaction like? What did you learn from them? How are they contributing to our growth? Have you seen other videos working to shift public perception of American Muslims? How can we continue to effectively use video to keep both our Muslim and non-Muslim communities engaged?
Take the pledge on the “My Fellow American” website: Muslims are our fellow Americans.
I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.