Why Ferguson is Our Issue: A Letter to Muslim America

Why Ferguson is Our Issue: A Letter to Muslim America

Dear Muslim America:

Ferguson is your issue.   Ferguson is our issue.  For a range of reasons that go well beyond passive commitment to civil rights or symbolic solidarity, Muslim-Americans are bound to Ferguson – and the shrill demand calling for an end to state-sponsored and structural violence against Black America – that reverberates from its embattled streets.

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Ferguson is a Muslim-American issue because we frequently appropriate Black imagery and ideas with no history of aligning ourselves with Black struggle.  We quote Malcolm X to counter government surveillance of our mosques, and cite Martin Luther King, Jr. to relate the struggle of Syrians to an American audience.

During the siege on Gaza months ago, we raised banners of Black Civil Rights activists ravaged by police dogs, and posted pictures of Black Civil Rights protestors violently water-hosed.  Ideas and images displaced form their original Black context, and pasted to a foreign framework in order to pronounce the plight of Palestinians.

Over and again, we borrow from Black struggle as a means to advance our political or strategic ends.  And without pause, condemn Black victims or look the other way during ongoing moments of Black crisis.  Both yesterday, and again today.

Ferguson is our issue because, before Muslim-America was “Arab” or “South Asian,” it was Black.  Enslaved Muslims constructed the first mosques, observed the inaugural Ramadans, and paved the streets and roads we drive atop today.

Although our segregated masjids won’t reveal it, Black Muslims comprise the biggest segment of the Muslim American population.  More than one-fourth of Muslims in the United States today are Black.  While disoriented as an “Arab religion” in America, there are far more Black Muslims than Arab American Muslims.  Black Muslims also outnumber South Asian Muslims, and rank as the fastest growing demographic of the faith’s domestic population.  Muslims aren’t the “New Blacks,” as many pundits stated after 9/11.  Muslims have always been Black.

Black Muslim NY rally 1963

Black Muslim NY rally 1963

Ferguson is our issue because Muslim-America has not learned from its political blunders.  Before 9/11, when racial profiling was a Black and Latino issue, few if any Muslim-American leaders or organizations spoke against it.  Self-interest, combined with ethnocentrism and anti-Black racism, persuaded us to deny solidarity meetings with MALDEF, the NAACP, and pioneer opponents of profiling.  Our seat at that table, until 9/11, was empty.  We believed then that “profiling is not our issue,” until the two planes collided into the World Trade Center.

While Muslim Americans may have forgotten, Black and Latino Americans remember our void at the table.  And more vividly, our rush to it following 9/11 when PATRIOT and FISA snuck into our homes, communities, and institutions.

Ferguson is our issue because the same structures that ruthlessly enforce anti-Black racism also execute and endorse Islamophobia.  Long before Muslims bodies were monitored for fear of violence, subversion, and security, these tropes drove the systematic surveillance of Black bodies.

Black Muslims, who sit at the intersection of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia, endure compounded mistreatment from the state and private citizens.  And most damagingly, remain largely excluded from the Muslim American civil rights and advocacy organizations responsible for retrenching racism and religious animus within our communities.

Ferguson is our issue because during 9/11 and the Boston Bombings, the crises of yesterday and those that are certain to unfold tomorrow, the state’s and society’s fury will again shift in our direction.  For those Muslim Americans who turn away from the struggle in Ferguson; argue that, “structural racism is a farce,” “Black on Black crime is the real problem;” or that the “grand jury decision was fair and not driven by racism,” I ask that you apply this mythical reckoning to your own circumstance when the heat and hate is pointed in your direction.  Because it surely will, and this shortsighted analysis will not only turn away those allies you deride today, but also expose your self-serving hypocrisy.

Samantha Grace Lewi#2102A6C

Samantha Grace/Flikr

Ferguson is our issue because we have failed our faith, falling short of its unequivocal commitment to racial tolerance and justice.  Our missteps are many, and mistakes too numerous to list.  Ferguson offers an opportunity to rebuild, and construct that missing pillar of cross-racial commitment that will make us worthy of our faith, and – one day – trustworthy to our Black brothers and sisters.

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