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How it feels being Muslim in the West in 2015

A fragmented society is exactly what the attackers want, it’s basic “divide and conquer” strategy

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

The past 12 months have been intense for Muslims in the West; Donald Trump, ISIS, the attacks on Paris, the knife attack on the London tube, are among a list of events that sparked conversation and ignited debate on what it means to be a Muslim, and what defines Muslim identity. There’s no denying that it certainly feels ‘different’ to be Muslim in the West after 2015. Yet ultimately, these events mean that the issues affecting Muslims are being discussed in various forms

Muslims suffer from the gruesome acts of ISIS every day, no matter where they live. The refugees coming out of Syria were once humiliated in their own country – they are now risking further humiliation by taking the plunge and moving to the West, a region whose media industry is constantly vilifying their beliefs, in my opinion.

These refugees are forced to defend themselves and their religion. In the U.S., a bill that restricts visa requirements for those who have visited countries such as Syria and Iraq in the past five years has recently passed. This means that even travellers with European passports, who traditionally did not require a passport, now face increased security measures and visa requirements if they visited specific countries in the past 5 years – all of these countries happen to be Muslim-majority. This bill is a representation of how the system feels about those with ties to the Muslim world. The system is inherently impeding on the civil liberties of foreign nationals because of the countries they have visited. At what point does society draw the line?

Social media has been saviour in 2015

I feel thankful for social media in 2015. It has been a saviour for many Muslims; it had an enormous impact on containing anti-Muslim rhetoric that erupted throughout the year. The year saw an overwhelming number of hashtags supporting Muslims: #IStandWithAhmed, #JeSuisAhmed, #TerrorismHasNoReligion.

A fragmented society is exactly what the attackers want, it’s basic “divide and conquer” strategy

Yara al-Wazir

Months later, these hashtags are simply hashtags that trended once upon a time. However, the impact they had at the time is significant; the fact that people from all walks of life felt strongly enough to stand with Muslims around the world speaks to the strength of the international community. Also, the solidarity shown by non-Muslims towards the Muslim community on social media is a force that must be recognized.

Likewise, social media has opened up the forum for debate and discussion to what Islam means and what it preaches.

Disappointingly, attacks against Islam are followed by a wave of Muslim condemnations and statements saying the heinous crimes don’t speak for a religion of 1.6 billion people. It is horrible that Muslims are made to feel that they are responsible – it’s truly heartbreaking, but the truth is that campaigns like "Not In My Name" are necessary. If Muslims didn’t condemn attacks that are carried out in their name, they will lose their voice. On the international table, this will leave the microphone with those who chose to encourage Islamophobic rhetoric, which would inevitably seep deeper into society. A fragmented society is exactly what the attackers want, it’s basic “divide and conquer” strategy.

Muslim integration is the strongest weapon

In 2015, the integration of Muslims into society is still being discussed as a sub-heading rather than a headline. The responsibility of integrating Muslims does not lie solely in the hands of the government, the council, the media, or NGOs. It also lies with Muslims themselves. Still, these three actors are the true superpowers in the world – together, they have the ability to integrate Muslims into foreign communities.

A feeling of inclusion, as opposed to alienation or blame, means that the Muslim community will feel like it is a part of the solution to fighting global terrorism, rather than being part of the problem. This comes from providing protection from hate crimes, support when they happen, and media reports highlighting the positive contributions of the Muslim community in society.

2015 has left Muslims struggling to feel accepted. Ultimately, this past year has created an opportunity for open dialogue within communities, albeit in the form of attack and defence. I feel disgusted that I am constantly trying to explain things to people who only want to ever hear their perspective – but that won’t stop me.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.