Defining Normal with Rev. Jesse Jackson

I had the honor of sitting in a room with Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier today. The premise of this small meeting was to speak about the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States, specifically in regards to how Islamophobia affects refugees. As people from around the room (about 25 people) were conversing with Rev. Jackson, common threads of thought came out.

Imam Abdullah Elamin suggested that we need people from different ethnic and religious groups to stand together for what is morally right. Rev. Jackson fully agreed to Imam Elamin’s statement, adding, “when we are in it for the right moral reasons, we are all allies.”

Continuing this strain of thought, another man pointed out that Rev. Jackson is an international reknown ally to vastly different groups, because he has always held to acting on what is morally right – regardless of politics, religion, race, or ethnicity.

If we stand by ourselves, we’ll be attacked by ourselves. We need to present a united front.” Rev. Jackson explained.

All minorities face a struggle, and those unique struggles often share many characteristics. One of the glaring similarities that the African American, Arab, and Muslim communities are facing is media bias. The discussion moved to the recent shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic, and how differently the media portrays white, Christian shooters than Black, Arab, or Muslim perpetrators.

We pay a bigger price per capita,” said Rev. Jackson, “every time there is a shooting, we tense up and hope he isn’t Black because it will come back on all of us.

The same sentiment goes towards Muslims and Arabs, who are held collectively responsible for the actions of a small minority of people who insert themselves into those groups. This brings me to the refugee problem. During this meeting, two things were made very clear:

  1. Refugee resettlement is a Federal program, and state governors cannot control the immigration process.
  2. Blaming the refugees for the Paris attacks is illogical, in all senses.

There are multiple religious groups that are practicing civil disobedience in their states by continuing to welcome refugees, even on a larger scale than before. This is important, because even if it is just for face-valued politics, if they are putting their time and money into solving this problem, it will help those in need.

Blaming the refugees for the Paris attacks defies all common sense. First off, the perpetrators of the Paris attacks all held EU passports. This means that these men could have easily entered the United States on a visa waiver program, which is eons simpler than the 18-24 month refugee application process. Blocking refugees is not making the country any safer, and is adding fuel to a humanitarian nightmare.

Near the conclusion of the discussion, a young man asked Rev. Jesse Jackson what we as Muslims can do to make people less afraid of Muslims. He said, “I talk to my friends sometimes and invite them over to my house to eat tabbouli or something. They seem to understand, yet they aren’t strong enough to go back to their parents and stand up to them.

Rev. Jackson’s response hit home. I wish every Muslim in the United States could hear these words and take them to heart:

“Everybody must stand up and not be shy about saying, ‘I am a Muslim.’ It undermines their argument when you define normal.”


Me, sneaking into the frame of a picture with Rev. Jesse Jackson.


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