(RNS) After the San Bernardino massacre, I, like other Muslims, worried about my safety.
I wondered what would happen if I went outside, given that I’m easily identifiable in my hijab. I wondered what that day, or the next or the day after that, would be like for me.
And that, I have decided, is ridiculous. I was not a victim that day.
The first officer on the scene of the massacre, Lt. Mike Madden, described how he had to pass “people obviously in great amounts of pain” in his pursuit to find and stop the shooter if he could. Those people were the victims.
I have seen smartphone video of terrified survivors following a police officer to safety. You hear the breathless sobs of the young woman filming as she follows the group. They were victims. Not me.
But in the weeks and months ahead, I may well become a different kind of victim: a victim of those who blame Islam and all Muslims for the massacre.
I am a Muslim and I don’t condone murder. I don’t know anyone who condones murder, whether of one person or 14 or 130 or 3,000, because I only know reasonable and sane human beings.
Often, when Muslims hear news of a mass shooting, we hold our breath waiting to find out if the killer was a Muslim — for fear of a backlash.
We sometimes don’t even have time to feel sorrow. We go straight to defensive mode. Some of us immediately offer public condemnations of mass killings. Some of us avoid the mosque for a few days. Some keep their children home from school for a few days.
As Republicans vying for the presidential nomination try to outdo each other in their macho nativism, anti-Islam rhetoric has increased and hate crimes have multiplied across the country.
Armed protesters have already held rallies outside mosques to proclaim their hatred of Islam. Could those protesters go from shouting to shooting? Might the threats posted on social media, left on the voice mail of mosques or spat in the faces of women become reality? How ironic that would be; harming innocent people because they belong to a specific religious or political group is — well, it’s terrorism.
But Donald Trump’s latest proposal, to ban Muslim immigration, has been so roundly criticized, it’s not necessarily the case that his extreme and unworkable proposal will impact anti-Islam rhetoric in general.
There are still so many open questions about the San Bernardino killers’ motive and how they were able to amass so many weapons and organize their attack so precisely. We all wait for answers to the question of how that small apartment could have become the nexus for a horrific crime and how a young couple could abandon their small baby for the sake of mass murder.
As the days pass and bits of information are shared, a public discussion has grown over the danger American Muslims may pose to their friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Let’s talk instead about how to prevent these incidents in a conversation that does not exclude Muslims. Every American is at risk; every American should contribute.
Let’s reflect on all that can be accomplished in the wake of the San Bernardino attack. Let’s pray for understanding — and let’s do so in memory of the victims, the real victims.
But I ask of those who blame Muslims and Islam for attacks like these: Rage if you will, hate if you must, but don’t harm anyone for the sake of that rage and hate.
As for me, I won’t be a victim. I know who I am and that I must maintain my dignity and belief in my value to my society and my nation. My identity is not defined by anyone else.
A version of this column originally appeared on the Houston Chronicle website.
(Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston)