The home of the brave

One WSS reporter recounts her experience as a white Muslim woman living in America.


Fatima Kammona

A view from the plane.

When did the fear of other people, whether it’s their religion, race, ethnicity or all of the above, outweigh their right to be respected? I was born and raised here in America. However, my parents weren’t. The color of my skin is white, I’m a female and I wear a headscarf. I am a born and raised white female Muslim-American.

My mother is from Lebanon and my father is from Iraq, so I’m Lebanese, Iraqi AND American. For those who say I’m not American, what do you have to say about the typo on the front of my passport that says “United States of America?” America was built by immigrants, by people coming from across the ocean. The only people that are native to America are the Native Americans. With this in mind, why are we so afraid of new people coming? Every day there are brave individuals that risk their lives to come to the “land of the free” so that they can live the American Dream.

These days, people forget that you are your own person, that there is only one of you in the world. There are 7.5 billion people in the world, but there is only one me. There are about 1.8 billion Muslims, but I make up less than 0.0000001% of that. I am only responsible for my own actions and only I can control my actions. So how come when something appears on the news about a Muslim radical terrorist doing something atrocious, I am looked at and treated as if those are my actions and I’m responsible for them?

What makes me American is not the fireworks on the fourth of July or the barbecue that you have with your family on Labor Day. What makes me American is the fact that I grew up believing I have the same rights as those of the other kids in my class.

When I was traveling this summer, I felt like a foreigner when I was in American airports. This day and age, wearing a headscarf means you will get some stares. To be honest, you get used to it to a point where you don’t even notice. However, the glares and attitudes I have received while traveling are not the same that I was used to. I usually travel outside of the country every two years, and several times within, and it’s almost as if every time I travel, people want to remind me that they don’t think I belong here.

Once, while traveling to Tennessee, we had stopped at a rest area. An older white woman came up to my mother, my then four-year old brother and me and asked us, “Do you believe in Jesus?” My mother simply replied to her and said, “We do believe in Jesus, but not as a god.” With that, the woman rolled her eyes, made a sound that mimicked the big bad wolf trying to blow down one of the three little pigs’ houses and walked away, closely followed by her husband.

As people’s fears increase, their tolerance for others decreases.

When I was waiting for my flight from Chicago to Qatar this summer, I had sat down by this mid-twenty-year-old Muslim woman from Canada. She began to tell me about her experience traveling in and out of the United States. I learned that her name was Kulsoom Kazim and that she had actually traveled in and out of Canada four times in the last year. When I asked Kazim about her thoughts when she travels in the United States, she said, “When I come into the U.S. I feel, like, this negative vibe [from] the people, not just the non-Muslim but the Muslim people too. There’s just that lack of acceptance.”

“I moved to Arizona, so I did live a portion of my life in the States about 4 to 5 years and then I moved back to Canada,” Kazim said. The years that Kazim lived in the U.S. would be the years she attended school from 5th to 9th grade. I didn’t see Kazim again because we had connecting flights to different countries, but one thing she said really stuck with me. “As people’s fears increase, their tolerance for others decreases.”

This is the home of the brave, so why does this fear control our tolerance for others? If we all like to think of ourselves as our own person with our own thoughts and beliefs, then why are we so fast to put others into groups and categories and stereotype them? Why can’t we be brave enough to move forward and give a little bit more acceptance and tolerance to those who need it?