A Little Girl Called me a Terrorist

Ela has asked that we spread her message. I am honored to do so. Her original post is at imperfectwriting.tumblr.com

I went to the mall, and a little girl called me a terrorist.

My name is Ela.  I am seventeen years old.  I am not Muslim, but my friend told me about her friend being discriminated against for wearing a hijab.  So I decided to see the discrimination firsthand to get a better understanding of what Muslim women go through.
My friend and I pinned scarves around our heads, and then we went to the mall.  Normally, vendors try to get us to buy things and ask us to sample a snack.  Clerks usually ask us if we need help, tell us about sales, and smile at us.  Not today.  People, including vendors, clerks, and other shoppers, wouldn’t look at us.  They didn’t talk to us.  They acted like we didn’t exist.  They didn’t want to be caught staring at us, so they didn’t look at all.
And then, in one store, a girl (who looked about four years old) asked her mom if my friend and I were terrorists.  She wasn’t trying to be mean or anything.  I don’t even think she could have grasped the idea of prejudice.  However, her mother’s response is one I can never forgive or forget.  The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.
All that because I put a scarf on my head.  Just like that, a mother taught her little girl that being Muslim was evil.  It didn’t matter that I was a nice person.  All that mattered was that I looked different.  That little girl may grow up and teach her children the same thing.
This experiment gave me a huge wakeup call.  It lasted for only a few hours, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much prejudice Muslim girls go through every day.  It reminded me of something that many people know but rarely remember: the women in hijabs are people, just like all those women out there who aren’t Muslim.
 Please help me spread this message.  Treat Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Taoists, etc., exactly the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they’re wearing or not wearing, no exceptions.  I don’t know that the world will ever totally wipe out prejudice, but we can try, one blog at a time.

As I quoted in my post about John Howard Griffin, as a black man Griffin recorded experiences that were hauntingly mirrored by Ela’s words: “I got off and began walking along Canal Street in the heart of town… I passed the same taverns and amusement places where the hawkers had solicited me on previous evenings. They were busy, urging the white men to come in and see the girls. The same smells of smoke and liquor and dampness poured out through half-open doors. Tonight they did not solicit me. Tonight they looked at me but did not see me.” (From Black Like Me).

Ela said, “The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.” She had experienced her own version of “the hate stare.”

Ela said, “It didn’t matter that I was a nice person.  All that mattered was that I looked different.” Griffin reported that he discussed his project with the FBI before beginning. He asked them, “Do you suppose they will treat me as John Howard Griffin, regardless of my color – or will they treat me as some nameless Negro, even though I am still the same name?” The response: “You’re not serious, one of them said. “They’re not going to ask you any questions. As soon as they see you, you’ll be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you.”

50 years later, and we have made so little progress. Huge honor to Ela for taking her own journey into a different culture and bringing to light the prejudices and fears that still plague us.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

4 responses to “A Little Girl Called me a Terrorist

  1. I know that this is only ever so remotely similar, but you can notice this sort of discrimination even from the way you dress. Put on an expensive looking suit, people will smile at you, open doors for you, be kind to you, kiss your ass. Walk around in a T-shirt, shitty jeans and old sneakers; poof, you’re non-existent.

    Great post wise wolf. We’re not anywhere nearly evolved as we like to think we are.

    • Good notice. Been going on for a long time, that.

      “I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid known as B-612.

      This asteroid has only once been seen through the telescope. That was by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909.

      On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said.

      Grown-ups are like that…

      Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.”
      -The Little Prince

  2. For those who don’t know me: I’m Catholic and so is my daughter, Meg. We don’t wear scarves as a sign of our religion, though that is beginning to be a thing that is happening among young Christian women.

    Meg looks terrific in scarves, and she used to wear them occasionally in a way that makes her look like she is wearing a hijab. We were together once at the Valley Mall in Harrisonburg with her in her white scarf framing her face. She looked just beautiful. I was so proud to be with her.

    When we got back in the car, she let out a long breath and said, “Whoa.”

    I said, “What?”

    She looked at me incredulously. “Didn’t you see all those death stares that people were shooting at me? My gosh, that one woman yanked her kids away from us and stomped in the other direction.”

    No. I hadn’t seen. And I was with Meg! And I’m not all that stupid!

    Sometimes one is right there when horrible bias shows up and one still doesn’t see it. Pretty appalling.

    • Great contribution. I wasn’t aware of the rise of scarves among young Christian ladies. I remember well my relations putting their scarves on whilst attending Mass, in the days of my youth; while visiting a spectacular midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Innsbruck, I was admonished by the door warden to remove my hat, which – as it was jillionteen degrees below zero – I had forgotten. Sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander, and yes I am familiar with 1 Cor. 11.

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