Anti-muslim sentiment hits Amherst

One student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she experienced bigotry at the Spirit Haus liquor store.

“I was at the Spirit Haus getting some beer and when I handed the guy my ID, he looked at it, looked up at me and asked, ‘Where are you from?'” she said. “I thought he was quizzing me in case it was a fake, so I said ‘[state omitted].'”

“The guy got kind of an angry look on his face and said, in a much more menacing tone, ‘No, I mean where are you really from?'” she added. “My parents had warned me to be careful, so I replied ‘[state omitted]’ again. He became even more persistent and said, ‘No, I mean where are your parents from, where do you come from?'”

She said that she responded to the employee, saying,”‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I was pretty nervous at this point because the guy was getting fairly angry with me, and the people in line were all staring at me,” she said. “Finally, he just threw my ID back at me and said, ‘Whatever, you KNOW what I’m talking about.'”

The student said that she “never felt so scared here at Amherst” and that she did not intend to return to Spirit Haus.

In light of his concern about such incidents, President Tom Gerety sent an email to all students on Sept. 25 urging respect for members of the community, especially Muslims, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“In light of recent attacks, both verbal and physical, around the country on Muslims and people mistaken for Muslims, I write to affirm the College’s statement on Respect for Persons and to urge support for those members of our community who might be subject to such attacks in the wider world,” Gerety wrote.

Gerety told The Student said that the reason behind sending the email was that he “was fearful that our students would be incautious.”

“I’m mainly concerned that, either on-campus or off-campus, someone will be hurt by ignorant people,” Gerety said.

“I’ve definitely encountered people in the past who don’t have accurate ideas about Islam or being religious in general,” said Sahar Siddiqui ’02, co-chair of Noor, the Muslim student group on campus. “But I’m comforted when people ask me questions about my religion rather than internalizing the dominant stereotypes.”

During the first week after the attacks, Siddiqui said it was “scary to put myself out there as a Muslim, but that fear has lessened as I try to remain positive and hopeful by helping others survive.”

The climate on campus has been positive, Siddiqui said. “I feel a lot of support from professors and friends. The people around you don’t necessarily reflect what the media is portraying. That keeps me hopeful,” she said.

“I’ve been to mosques, and there [was vandalism] such as broken glass. You feel attacked, but the supportive atmosphere on campus has been really helpful in keeping me focused as an American and as a Muslim,” Siddiqui said.

Sabrina Saleem ’03, also co-chair of Noor, said that she has had a positive experience on campus. “I don’t see any tension. People have become well-informed about other nations, but it’s unfortunate that it took this [for them to do it],” she said.

Forogh Hakimzada ’03, an Afghan student, said that he is unhappy with the media’s portrayal of the Afghan and Muslim people.

“No one ever talked about the oppressive regime. The people of Afghanistan have no power over this, and most people do not want the Taliban there,” said Hakimzada.

Hakimzada also expressed a concern for the Afghan refugees. “These people have no homes, and the temperature will be below zero in to weeks,” he said. “Thousands of people are on the verge of starvation. The U.N. food storage places have been taken over by the Taliban. The people are the ones who will suffer.”

Siddiqui said that she believes attacks on Muslims occur because people are ignorant about the fact that not every Muslim is a terrorist.

“What really angry and desperate people do does not necessarily reflect the views of other Muslims or the teachings of Islam,” Siddiqui said. Islam places “a huge value on the sanctity of human life, as is explained in the Qur’an. It is more important to affect someone’s life in a positive way than to seek out destructive revenge,” according to Siddiqui.

The media has also referred to the terrorists as Islamic fundamentalists, which, according to Siddiqui, is a misnomer. “The terrorists that we call Islamic fundamentalists would refer to themselves differently, even though Islam might be a part of their justification for their actions. There is nothing fundamentally Islamic about terrorism,” she said.

The media has also used the term “jihad” loosely to mean “a holy war.”

“[Jihad] means a struggle in the way of God, but the word is actually more applicable to the struggles of every day life,” Siddiqui said.

“One of the many sad consequences of the attacks is that there are people who have always considered themselves Americans that are now being told that they are not welcome here. They are being alienated by a country they consider their own,” Siddiqui added.

Saleem said that her father’s job involves traveling, but he has not flown recently for fear that airport officials may ask him to get off the plane because of his appearance.

“We need to give solace and support towards any and all members of our community affected, directly or indirectly, by the complex aftermath of our great national tragedy,” Gerety wrote in his email.