I almost flung my laptop across the room this summer, surprised by the sight of a hijab on an American show. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a visibly identifiable Muslim on a screen that wasn’t playing the news.
Granted, the new inmate of “Orange is the New Black” donned a prison jumpsuit in addition to her headscarf, which isn’t the most positive light for Muslim women, but it’s a step nonetheless — if you can also disregard the fact that the actress playing Alison Abdullah isn’t actually Muslim herself.
1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and we can’t even get one for a Netflix-original web series. 3.3 million Muslims in America and the Muslim community still hasn’t found a way to successfully mobilize and counteract the anti-Muslim sentiment coursing through this nation.
Funny how Trump and his supporters complain about the “influx” of immigrants, when those immigrant minorities are still underrepresented and far from accepted in America. Calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” won’t solve the problems within the United States.
In American media, a white man saved China. The only role a Latina woman will get is likely that of a hot-headed maid. And when a Muslim woman finally makes it onto a popular series, it’s played by someone who probably doesn’t know the difference between fajr and isha.
There’s more to a minority community than what is shown on a screen.
Setting “Orange is the New Black” aside, television shows (like “Homeland,” for example) synonymize Muslims with terrorism — reinforcing the narrow representation of Muslims that works against the Muslim community. While extremists do exist within the community, like they do in every religious group, that small representation should not speak for the entire community as a whole.
The KKK continues to exist. But not all Christians are racist bigots. You know this because Carrie Underwood and Tim Tebow say so. But where are the celebrities reminding you that not all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are terrorists?
The Muslim community broadly denounces the actions taken by extremists. But the lack of balanced Muslim representation in the media makes it harder for us to prove this.
I am Muslim. But I am not a terrorist. Neither are my friends. Yet, my words do little to work against the streams of media berating Muslims. Simply telling you I am not one of the extremists isn’t enough to show you that there are “good Muslims” in addition to the bad. I am one person with little influence.
There are young Muslims that take to social media, blogs, YouTube and other platforms to showcase the kindhearted Muslims who go unheard. But these efforts need to be amplified. Right now, we are attempting to put out a wildfire with a few drops of water. We need a flood of accurate Muslim representation in mainstream media that reminds the world that a majority of Muslims are law abiding, good-natured citizens.
President Obama said it best. We need Muslim representation that isn’t related to national security. When the only Muslim representation a person sees on television is someone constantly defending themselves to a Fox News anchor who’s convinced all Muslims are terrorists, the association between terrorism and Islam is reinforced — which only contributes to the fear that stops younger generations from wearing the headscarf in the first place.
No one should ever be afraid of appreciating their faith, but the trend of unfairly villainizing Muslims in popular media does little to show younger generations that they should be proud of who they are.
Zayn Malik, one of the few mainstream Muslim musicians and one who’s stolen the hearts of teenage girls worldwide, publicly removed himself from being associated with Islam out of fear of offending people. But imagine if he told those young girls that wearing a hijab is okay. Imagine if he told his Muslim fans that they shouldn’t be scared.
We need to move past the cultural imbalances and fear within the community that prevent Muslims from stepping forward. Black Lives Matter is a great example of a successful movement that has reclaimed the Black-American identity in the face of media scrutiny. We should stand in solidarity and look to them for advice on how we can also reach the same success.
Muslims need to work together as a united community and establish a presence in the media to create a platform. We need to have a famous actor, musician, Nobel Prize laureate or boxer for every terrorist report that attempts to throw us all into the same category of being evil. We need to represent ourselves accurately and show the Islamic faith in its entirety — the good and the bad — so that we can finally reclaim our identity.
The burden to overcome the negative representation and finally be accepted shouldn’t be a Muslim person’s burden alone. It’s a burden for all of us to carry. The oppressors need to stop oppressing and Muslims need to stand strong. I, like many other members of minority groups, can keep telling you that my people are peaceful, but until a celebrity screams about it on screen or sings about it on the radio, no one will care.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].