As a Muslim, I refuse to call myself a victim after the San Bernardino shootings (COMMENTARY)

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Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Ruth Nasrullah

Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Ruth Nasrullah

A San Bernardino, Calif., police officer stands near flowers left near the scene of the Dec. 2 shooting rampage at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-NASRULLAH-COLUMN, originally published on Dec. 8, 2015.

A San Bernardino, Calif., police officer stands near flowers left near the scene of the Dec. 2 shooting rampage at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 3, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-NASRULLAH-COLUMN, originally published on Dec. 8, 2015.

(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.


READ: San Bernardino victim had clashed with shooter over Israel, Holocaust


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.


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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.


READ: Jerry Falwell Jr. is wrong to encourage concealed weapons to ‘end those Muslims’


Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Ruth Nasrullah

Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Ruth Nasrullah

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)

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  • Michael Glass

    Ruth, I stand with you in rejecting hatred against Muslims. You are right. No sane person would do such a thing as slaughter unarmed civilians. However, there are texts in both the Bible and the Koran that lend themselves to the promotion of hatred.

    Fortunately, most of us are sensible enough to ignore these texts or explain them away. Nevertheless, words do have a way of being twisted- or taken literally – and being used to justify atrocities.

    An old bishop once warned people not to press the paps of scripture too hard, lest they yield blood and not milk. I ask anyone who believes in the Bible or the Koran to be careful in their choice of texts and in the interpretation they put on them.

  • @Ruth,

    “Rage if you will, hate if you must, but don’t harm anyone”

    Thank you so much. Beautifully stated commentary.
    Of course Americans have absolutely nothing to fear from Muslims – especially
    American Muslims who comprise only 1% of the population yet they are 4% of the professional class in medicine, academia and technology in many cities. We should bring every Syrian refugee to the United States immediately – it is our loss and our embarrassment that they are not here yet.

    I think religions are damaging. We would all be better people without religion.
    At the same time, I fully support your Constitutional right to choose your religion for yourself.

  • Jack

    Ruth, I hope hatred hasn’t risen, but this time, it may have.

    For years, the far left painted a twisted portrait of America. It ignored the fact that America is a tolerant land, with people judged as individuals, based on character.

    While that’s still true, today’s rhetoric is worrisome, especially from ordinary people. Bigotry is the exception, but it may be growing.

    What’s the answer? Two competing routes — the CAIR route and the Constitution route. The CAIR route is to claim Muslim victimhood every time there’s a terrorist attack. Nothing infuriates Americans more. And that plays into bigots’ hands — potentially creating more of them.

    The other route is for Muslim Americans to get in the media and tell their story and say they support America and the Constitution above all. Nothing will do more to shrink the bigots’ power.

    And the media, in turn, must be more open to hosting such Muslims, instead of the wacko fringe.

  • Sara

    I so agree with Jack, that the most powerful antidote to backlash against Muslim Americans is for them to speak up loudly and clearly, to get in the media, and for the media to feature them. Thank you for successfully doing this, Ruth.

    I also appreciate Max’s demographic information…this, too, is a tool when the information is spread through the media.

    Keep up the good work, everyone.

  • Thanks for the comment, Jack.

    Regarding CAIR: I worked as Communications Coordinator for CAIR’s Houston office for a year and a half. I can tell you that there there is no automatic or mandated response by any CAIR chapter or their headquarters. The decision to respond and by what means is made by each chapter individually. Some messages are more effective than others. In addition to its other work, CAIR strives to inform the public about anti-Muslim incidents and sentiment and if that comes off as “playing the victim” that’s not necessarily because the organization wants sympathy. They want to raise awareness.

    I don’t think CAIR and the constitution are incompatible and if Americans are infuriated by CAIR’s message perhaps their priorities are wrong.

    Nihad Awad, CAIR’s Executive Director, once remarked “I can tell you where our condemnations are – they’re in the inboxes of Fox News reporters.” We can’t force the media to cover us. However, I hope that my…

  • contributions as a writer are helpful.