Our news media doesn’t just exist to report facts. It also exists to tell us stories. Real-life events are edited together to tell a certain narrative to the public. If you consume news on a regular basis, you’ve probably heard the following story about Muslims:
Muslims are evil! They hate freedom and progress. They oppress women and kill people who disagree with them. Islamic terrorism is the biggest threat to America. We can’t let Muslims come to our country. They’ll murder us and destroy our way of life.
This story about Muslims is great for cable news networks. Fear, sensationalism, and violence draw eyeballs to the screen and boost the networks’ ratings. This story is also great for politicians, who can draw in voters with promises of being “tough on terror” and “keeping our country safe.”
But while this story is popular and may even have some basis in fact, it’s not the only story that can be told about Muslims. Peace of Thread wants to tell a different story. Not all of the refugees who work for us are Muslims, but many are. They come from Iraq (the country of ISIL) and Afghanistan (the country of the Taliban). They come to the U.S. fleeing war and persecution and often find that they’re branded as “terrorists” by the American public because they dress differently and practice a different religion than most Americans. Because of their limited English and knowledge of American culture, they often don’t have the means to counteract these harmful narratives about them. They wind up suffering a cruel sort of double persecution, where they’re accepted neither by their home country nor the country that they’ve fled to.
But Peace of Thread is trying to change this situation. By loving Muslim refugees, giving them jobs, and teaching them how America works, Peace of Thread gives these women the power to tell their own stories.
On Wednesday, a camera woman from the WSB-TV network came to Peace of Thread in search of a different story that her show, People to People, could tell to the public. I had the great privilege of hearing our worker Noor* tell her story in her own words.
Noor is an American citizen and a Sunni Muslim. She and her family fled from Iraq because her husband helped the U.S. army in 2003 during the second Iraq War. As Noor put it, “A lot of people, they help U.S. army. After this, [other Iraqis] think we are not loyal.”
Her husband’s decision to help the U.S. has cost Noor and her family dearly. Some of their family members in Iraq have been murdered by ISIL. The family had to live in Jordan, where job and educational opportunities were limited, and they struggled to adjust to the U.S. when they arrived in 2009. “It’s hard when you leave everything behind you and start a new life. Even here, some people, many, they think we not good because we are a terrorist.” Noor gave an interview to WSB-TV (a tremendous feat for her because she still fears reprisals from her enemies) because she wanted her fellow Americans to hear a different story-the story of Iraqi Muslims who were branded as traitors because of their loyalty to America.
Noor also wanted her fellow Americans to know that Muslim refugees are not terrorists. When asked about ISIL(a Sunni extremist organization), Noor declared that they “are not religion.” She emphasized that refugees “are a good people. We are person of peace.” She explained that refuges want to become Americans, but they need native-born Americans to teach them. She invited Americans to come to refugees and live in community with them.
Finally, the reporter asked Noor what kind of message she had for her fellow refugees. “I have to tell people ‘It’s okay to work.’ ‘It’s okay to go outside.’ ‘Don’t be shy. We find good people. They like to help,” she said.
In the wake of terrible attacks (such as the mass shootings in Orlando, Florida and San Bernardino, California) by ISIL sympathizers who claim to be Muslims, it’s easy to conclude that all Muslims are ticking time bombs. It’s easy to say, “They’re dangerous. Keep them out!” But it’s important to remember that many Muslims love our country and have sacrificed for it. It’s also important to remember that Muslims are people just like us. They have hopes, dreams, fears. . .and the right to be treated with dignity. As our nation mourns the lives lost in Orlando and tries to figure out how to prevent another tragedy, I hope we will not give into the temptation to be hostile and paranoid. I hope instead that we will be “good people” who will welcome refugees like Noor into our country and help them to be the best Americans they can be.
*Name changed to protect privacy