Should I be worried about my relatives in the US?

Hate crimes targeting innocents have been on the rise all over the world, with a series of distressing incidents occurring across the US. (File Photo: Reuters)

Ever since my cousins and I moved abroad for university or work, my grandmother manages to find time every day to follow the news and weather in the country we have moved to. She checks the weather in Dubai and then calls me expressing alarm over the heat making sure I take an umbrella to work and use sunscreen to shield me from the sun.

However, with my cousin working in the United States, it is now a different story. Never have I seen her so involved with the news unfolding in that country. She is worried about my cousin who lives in California – not because of the Los Angeles heat – but the rise in hate crimes across the region. She feels it necessary to call him every week making sure he doesn’t stand out “like a flower in a sea of thorns”, as she likes to put it.

The recent murder of Khalid Jabara sent a chill down the spine across the Arab region. How could an ordinary Christian American of Lebanese origin, living in the quiet city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, be shot in broad daylight by his neighbor?

Hate crimes targeting innocents have been on the rise all over the world, with a series of distressing incidents occurring throughout the US over the course of the year. Terror attacks by extremist groups like ISIS, and lone wolves who have pledged their allegiance to the group, have not made it easy for Arabs and Muslims living abroad.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s speeches have been catalysts for such, igniting a flurry of hate and bigotry leading to ostracism and racism towards visiting Arabs as well as Arab-Americans, coupled with increasing levels of paranoia and xenophobia among citizens.

“While one cannot explain irrationality and evil, one thing I can explain is that indifference and inaction were major factors leading to Khalid’s death…Hateful rhetoric only begets more hate,” Rami Jabara, Khalid’s brother, told Al Arabiya English.

“When people hear public figures constantly using hateful and derogatory language it de-sensitizes all of us to it. And once we become de-sensitized, violence becomes a normal expression of that language,” he continued.

Khalid’s case is one of many, a wave in an endless series of tides of hate crimes across the country. Earlier this summer, an Emirati citizen visiting the US on a business trip was attacked and hospitalized by police after a hotel receptionist heard the man speaking in Arabic on the phone and made the conclusion that he was “pledging his allegiance to ISIS.”

An imam in New York was shot in broad daylight as he was walking toward his mosque; several Muslim couples and families have been asked to get off airplanes due to their origins and background; a 14-year-old was arrested in Texas after his teacher thought a clock he had built was a bomb. The list goes on and continues to mount.

Even if one calls these incidents as isolated ones, there is no denying the pattern of hate rhetoric. “He repeatedly attacked our ethnicity and perceived religion, making racist comments. He often called us ‘dirty Arabs,’ ‘filthy Lebanese,’ ‘Aye-rabs,’ and ‘Mooslems’,” Jabara, who comes from a Christian family, said.

Such racist slurs and prejudices are becoming the new trend witnessed in the so-called free America, where people supposedly have the right to practice their religion freely without being harassed, assaulted, and without fearing for their lives.

With a new era summoning an upsurge in citizen journalism and social media users pointing the finger at such racists, it is alarming how – with the rise in the number of religiously intolerant and bigoted people, vandalism to mosques and threats being issued – little is being done to address the menace.

The United States is a country of more than 324 million people, spanning across 10 million km². It has been a melting pot of ethnicities, races, and religions. We live in a globalized world and yet the mere use of a language strikes fear into a strangers’ hearts. This is even compelling Arabs to hide their ethnicity and roots.

These hate crimes are definitely going to add to my grandmothers’ worries, beyond the safety of my cousins. But she is by no means alone.

There are countless mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to those living in the US, checking the news constantly hoping and praying that their loved ones do not become another statistic in the #WeAreAll… hashtag trending worldwide.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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