Will the Garland Shooting Show Us An America We Can Believe In?

May 5, 2015

Scale model of the statue of Liberty, in Paris, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo Credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

When I heard about the shooting in Garland, Texas, my first thought was: Is my family safe?

I grew up in a town near Garland, and much of my family still lives there. I didn’t know who had been shot at or why, but I wanted to know if my loved ones were okay. They were.

My second thought was less urgent: it was just a nostalgia for my hometown in Texas. Its treeless freeways and strip shopping malls were bland. But the people where I grew up were kind and inviting – even the teenagers, and even when it came to people like me.

I was the first generation of my family to be born on U.S. soil, and I was raised a Muslim. That identity affected me deeply, but it didn’t make me a pariah. I went to prom; I was co-editor of the yearbook; I made some of the best friends of my life.

I wonder if that rather ordinary adolescence would be possible, if I was growing up there now.

Hatred and intolerance toward Muslims in this country is growing. As we reckon with Sunday’s attack on an anti-Muslim event in Garland, we should acknowledge this ugly reality, and its part in the larger denigration of human rights in the United States.

Some of the organizers of the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” event that was attacked in Garland have expressed virulently anti-Muslim opinions. They have the right to those non-violent opinions. And they should never be targeted with violence for those opinions.

Yet many anti-Muslim political figures want to deny that people of all faiths and communities should be able to enjoy human rights equally:

Their position boils down to this: Only people who look like us and believe what we do deserve human rights.

We all want safety and security. But prejudice and hate don’t promote security: they sustain public fear and provide a convenient scapegoat.

Me, age 8, on a family trip from Texas to Orlando, Florida.

Political figures promote fear to justify “security measures” that seem temporary but could stay forever. They use the rhetoric of permanent war: we are all under threat everywhere in the world, and every moment at home.

Yesterday, Representative Peter King even cited the Garland attack as a reason to keep giving local police “weapons of war” because “the fact is we are at war.” “We are at war with Islamist terrorism and we have to have all the weapons and all the resources available and thank God that that officer last night was able to kill those two,” he said.

Whether it is a militarized police force patrolling our streets, a government keeping us all under threat of surveillance, or a system that demands impunity for abuses as the price for safety, this is a cannibalizing mindset: that to have freedom, we must continuously give it up. I refuse. That is not the America I believe in. If you agree with me, join me.

To learn more about a human rights-oriented approach to national security and what you can do, check out Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights program and sign up to receive email updates today!