I have a confession to make. When I was a teenager, I lied to my parents. This may not seem like a shock. I was definitely not the only teenager to have done it. My reasons for lying usually were to hang out with friends. I never really saw it as a big deal. I wasn’t hurting anyone. Now, as a parent I can understand why that’s not true, of course. But when I was a teenager, there were no camera phones documenting my every move and no social media platforms to make my lie go viral. If I got away with it, I celebrated alone and if I got busted, well, I got punished alone. Maybe a phone call to my best friend when the house phone was free. For the most part, it didn’t go beyond our house.
Nowadays, however, everything is aired on social media and tried by the public. But not all trials get the same due.
Recently, Yasmin Seweid, an 18 year old from New York, reported that “three white men, who appeared to be intoxicated, tried to pull off her hijab…called her a terrorist and told her to ‘get the hell out of the country’”on the subway, while bystanders watched and didn’t help. The police investigated her report and found that the story wasn’t true. According to reports, Seweid may have made up the story to avoid getting in trouble with her parents for being out late. Seweid was charged with falsifying a report and when she attended her court hearing it was with a shaved head and no hijab. When googling this story, the first page results are news outlets reporting the stories but a majority of search results are Islamophobic sites like Breitbart and Jihadwatch. All of these sites had stories in FULL ON CAPS decrying THE HOAX!! They couldn’t wait to prove that another Muslim was lying about Islamophobia in America.
It is sad to note that Seweid’s story comes at a time when other attacks on Muslim women have been proven to be false: reports like a woman being harassed in a Walmart, being slashed in the face, being robbed and threatened to being set on fire. All of these reports raise serious questions for us in the Muslim community. We need to try to understand why these women are making these claims. The knee jerk reaction is that it’s for attention but that isn’t always the case, nor is making that assumption helpful.
In all the articles that I have read researching this post, the only suggestion as to why was offered by RobinaNiaz, founder of Turning Point for Women and Families, an organization for Muslim women and girls based in Flushing, New York. She says that:
“the pressure on Muslim women and girls, especially those who wear head coverings and are visibly Muslim, is enormous, especially since Trump’s election.” She goes on to say “To be a teenager is difficult as it is. Add to that peer pressure, that comes from their non-Muslim friends and classmates who wonder why they can’t drink, or date or be out late, or why as adults they still stay with their parents.”
Going back to my confession, I literally wrote my college essay on this very topic. Walking the line between being the all-American girl next door and Muslim girl from a conservative Palestinian family is stressful. Unfortunately, Muslim youth, girls in particular, are not offered support in finding creative outlets for this stress. Muslims have a problem with wanting to sweep everything under the rug. A lot of that comes from the immigrant mentality of wanting to fit in without rocking the boat as it were.
These false claims of hate-crimes are all the more complicated when we think about them in the context of manyAmerican Muslims’ overall distrust of law enforcement. FBI reports have shown that Muslims don’t report crimes because they don’t believe police will follow through. After being the targets of massive surveillance, deportation, questioning and other harassment by local and federal law enforcement during the past 14 years this is understandable. Seweid’s sister, Sara, alluded to this in a Facebook post she wrote, which was later deleted, where she claimed that “The NYPD doesn’t care about us or our safety. Never did.”
The fact is, we have seen time and again police in America go unpunished when crimes are committed on tape, and this fuels the notion that the system is skewed. For example, famously, Ryan Lochte, a 32-year old Olympic athlete, lied about being held at gunpoint and robbed in Rio, Brazil to cover up that he and his fellow athlete friends were drunk and trashed a gas station. Turns out Lochte et al lied because they were afraid to “get in trouble.”Lochte returned to the US with little punishment. The coverage of the scandal was basically a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. Rio Olympics spokesman, Mario Andrada, made a statement asking people to “give these kids a break.” But a 32 year old is not a kid. Lochte was actually representing the US when he went to Rio but no one else was vilified for his actions. Google his name now and cute profiles come up about his baby announcement or Dancing with the Stars run.
Seweid’s sister noted in her Facebook post that she did not know why Yasmin lied. Yet news outlets were quick to speculate, arguing that Seweid was in danger and being abused by her parents because of her oppressive religion, read: Islam. Any stories regarding Muslims these days immediately represent the religion as a whole.
Muslims are afraid that these ‘hoaxes’ will make proving actual hate crimes that much harder. That’s understandable but that was already the case. We need to ask ourselves, as a community, what are we doing to support one another? We are living in a climate that is extremely biased toward Muslims. Hell, it can win you a Presidency or get you a six figure book deal. But that means we need to do more, not less: not to reach out to the very people waiting for us to fail but to each other. Recent events at RIS this year, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s comments about black-on-black crime, proved that more than ever.
Many questions have gone unanswered in Seweid’s case as well as the others. There has been virtually no follow-up in any of these stories about hate-crime claims that I pulled up. Are these women crying out for help? Are there conversations about abuse, or mental health or sexism and racism within the Muslim community that we need to be having? I think there are.