If you take a look at some of the articles I’ve written, you’d know I’m not shy about highlighting and calling out the discrimination and prejudices that go on in the Arab world. As an Arab myself, I think it’s important to discuss these things so that we can gain some insight and start bettering ourselves.
On the other side of the coin, though, being Arab means experiencing my own set of prejudices held against me. These range from so-called “jokes” to offensive ignorance to genuine hatred.
However, I struggle to call it racism for one reason: most of the prejudice I’ve experienced was actually islamophobia misrepresented as racism, because it seems that many people think all Arabs are Muslim and vice-versa.
That’s not true, and knowing that difference is the first step towards educating ourselves about the hate both Arabs and Muslims face.
The impact of 9/11
September 11, 2001 was a horrific, tragic event that would change many people’s perception of Muslims–and, by extension, Arabs–forever. Islamophobic hate crimes in the United States rose in number after the incident, and people generally thought they were justified in hating Muslims for what had happened.
This is where one of the first problems arises. Hating an entire marginalized group of people–who were already enduring hate even before 9/11, by the way–because of the horrible actions of one Islamic terrorist group is too generalist. It implies that every Muslim (and Arab, for those who didn’t know the difference) condones the extremist actions of terrorists, which is an unfair assumption that hurts Muslims and Arabs. Literally hurts them, as evidenced by the hate crimes against them.
Anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia
As we’ve established, not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Arab. Pakistan, for example, is not an Arab country, but over 95% of its population is made up of Muslims. In contrast, Lebanon, the Arab country I live in, has a Muslim population of around 60-65%.
That doesn’t stop people from conflating the two for the sake of their prejudice, though. To get a little more personal, I’ve experienced my fair share of offensive “jokes” from people online whom I considered my friends. After telling them where I was from, I was met with one of two responses: “What the hell is a lebanon?” or “[Stupid joke about bombing].”
Terrorist bombing is a go-to “joke” for Anti-Arab racism, I’ve learned, even though those jokes are actually aimed at Muslims to reference terrorists and suicide-bombers. But hey, tomato potato, am I right?
My own memories of Anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia
This was from almost a decade ago, but I still remember when I heard an explosion just after coming home from school one day. I didn’t just hear it, actually, I felt the room I was in shake. It turns out that a car bomb had gone off, killing several people, and it was so close to where I lived that I could feel it.
After knowing the source of the explosion, I was a little shaken. I used to walk home from school, so would I have been one of the victims if I hadn’t already made it home? My school friends texted me asking if I was okay, and thankfully I was, though a little distraught. I went onto Facebook and messaged a close online friend who lived in the US, explaining what had just happened.
Her response? Three dots, followed by “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”
See, to her, this was hilarious because she would often make bombing jokes at my expense, and then it actually happened. Nevermind that innocent people die in these situations and I was clearly upset. Bomb joke funny! At the time, I brushed it off, like I did with all the other jokes I found to be offensive because I didn’t want to be seen as humorless. I even accepted constantly being called a “sand [n-word]” by a so-called friend for that reason. (That guy managed to be racist to both Arabs and Black people with that!)
My older brother went to Australia for University, and once, when he came to visit, he recounted to me how people asked him if we have wi-fi in Lebanon, and if we get around by riding camels, and if we knew what McDonalds was.
Of course, some of these incidents are funny to me in retrospect, but they also highlight how easy it is to be ignorant of other cultures and countries in general. Not only that, but also seeing someone who comes from another world as “other” because they’re not from the West.
That’s why I urge you to please take a moment to educate yourself on the difference between Arabs and Muslims if you don’t already know. Please respect both groups and be open to learning things about our culture as much as we’re open to learning about yours. At the very least, we Arabs have got some neat dessert recipes we can share!