The Rabbi who spoke at the White House told the audience that his father came to the United States on the St. Louis, its last journey to the United States before making its famous “Voyage of the Damned.” As Obama said Wednesday night, now, it is other boats being turned away from potential asylum. Thus, as Jews, as people who have ourselves been turned away when seeking refuge, or have been accepted, begrudgingly and with a high tax for being who we are, we must open our doors to refugees, open our doors to the stranger as we are commanded to do each year on Passover.
Wednesday night – which happened to be both the 150th anniversary of the passing of the 13th Amendment and the fourth night of Chanukah – I stood in the White House, listening to President Barack Obama and a Rabbi (whose parents were both Holocaust survivors) talk about the origins of the holiday. Relative to Christmas, Chanukah is minor, but the story fits in with several other Jewish holidays – “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.” But I was pleased by the serious tone both the President and the Rabbi took; they both talked about the refugee and immigrant experiences of Jews, and how now, it is a different group that is in trouble, a different group to whom we must extend a helping hand. Both leaders drew a connection I often feel, between Judaism and compassion to those in need, and to hear a similar message from my president was deeply moving.
University of Cincinnati pre-med student Haneen Jasim had a potential brush with death after a normal study session Monday night, November 16th. Upon leaving the Starbucks at University Square, she was honked at, cursed at and called a terrorist by a man in a car, according to WLWT, presumably because she was wearing a hijab.
The man then drove toward her without stopping. Luckily, three bystanders pulled Jasim onto the sidewalk, possibly saving her life. She is ever-thankful for “three wonderful souls who saved my life,” but was terrified by the experience.
“The fact that an individual could have this much hate for Muslims that he is willing to kill an innocent woman is unbelievable,” Jasim says. “Of course I was scared at that moment. I was scared for my life.”
She is still afraid, not only for herself, but because this terrifying incident can happen to any Muslim child, woman or man. Jasim reached out to Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which called Monday for an FBI and Cincinnati Police hate crime investigator. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator. However, Jasim says that even if they catch him, she won’t press charges.
“I would want him to apologize to me and other Muslims in public,” Jasim explains. “I would also want to make sure that he will never do this to anyone ever again. We, Muslims, were taught to forgive.”
Because the incident was all over the media, garnering national attention, many individuals reached out to Jasim.
“I received a wonderful concerned message from Brianne Cain,” she says. “I had no idea who she was, and she only knew me through my incident. She wanted to make sure I was well and had the idea to plan a rally against Islamophobia. I thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed to organize it with her.”
Cain, a sociology student at UC, has lived in Clifton all of her life and couldn’t believe what had happened. She had heard that Islamophobic violence was on the rise, but never thought it would happen to someone around her.
“It was just too close to home,” Cain says. “I’ve been interning at Planned Parenthood, which absolutely has inspired me to be more involved in my community and stand up for what I believe in and given me some great tools/ideas for how to do it.”
However, the march/rally that took place yesterday, If You HEAR Something, SAY Something: a March and Rally Against Islamophobia, was the first time both women had organized something of that scale. It started at 3 p.m. and went until 4 p.m. The Facebook event reads: Please join us in a march to support the Muslim community followed by a rally. Come learn about Islamophobia, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it!
“Before Haneen and I met, I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to turn into anything, but her determination was obvious and inspiring, and somehow it came together!” says Cain. “Her ability to turn what happened to her into an opportunity for positive change is incredible.”
The two speak out on the march/rally and how they hope it will help spread the message against Islamophobia.
ACRO: What do you hope is the outcome of this march/rally?
Jasim: I hope to get individuals to want to learn about Islam and Muslims — to understand that we are kind people. I want others to speak out when witnessing hate speech toward Muslims or individuals of other faiths.
Cain: I hope that through this event, not only will the Muslim community feel supported, but the rest of the community will understand that they have a role to play in this. People seem to think not being racist is enough, but that’s just not true. You have to actively fight against hate speech and discrimination to expect anything to change. If we make it clear that no one will stand for Islamophobia, then we begin to have an environment that fosters acceptance, not hate.
ACRO: Why is this march/rally important?
Jasim: This march is very important to explain to others that Islam is not ISIS. The real Muslims around the world do not consider the individuals involved in ISIS to be Muslims. Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Muslims are not terrorists. Islamophobia needs to be stopped. No one should ever be scared of Muslims because of extremists claiming to be Muslims.
Cain: This rally is important because people need to know that this is happening and that it’s everybody’s responsibility to do something about it.
ACRO: Do you think there needs to be more awareness surrounding Islamophobia and why it’s a problem?
Jasim: Of course I do. Educate others on Islam, the meaning of Islam, the condemning of terrorism. I want people to go out and learn about Islam. Give us Muslims a chance to show you how peaceful, pure and innocent our religion is. We are not terrorists. We are the last thing from being that.
Cain: I definitely think there needs to more awareness surrounding Islamophobia. I think the more people that share their stories, the better. It takes tremendous courage to talk to people about something so personal and I admire everyone that is going to do that. I hope that it will encourage more people to speak out in the future. I think spreading the message is exactly how we combat Islamophobia. We talk to each other. We reach out to our Muslim friends and give them support just as we reach out to our non-Muslim friends and give them information. Ignorance is at the heart of all of this and we need to be willing to do something about that. The most important thing I want people to take away from the rally is a personal sense of responsibility regarding Islamophobia. Although there have been events about Islamophobia on campus, this is the first that is a march and rally. The reason we did it this way is for exposure. We know it’s going to be cold and the entire event takes place outside, but we want people that are walking by to stop and listen.
ACRO: Did the event accomplish what you and Haneen intended?
Cain: I definitely think we accomplished what we meant to. I honestly didn’t even think to count how many people, but I’d say around 40… someone said nearly 50 [people showed up]! Everybody hung out afterwards and met each other and talked to each other and that’s what we wanted… to build our community. After hearing our amazing speakers, I was left with such an overwhelmingly positive feeling. If everybody else left that way, then we definitely accomplished our goal!