Before leaving Pakistan, my grandparents told me to be careful at Stanford. I laughed it off and told them that things had changed- being Muslim on campus was not such a big deal anymore. I told them there was no need to be afraid. I wasn’t going to live in fear.
But when the first thing I saw while walking downstairs to get breakfast was the flyer for Robert Spencer’s talk “Jihad and Radical Islam,” I was afraid. I didn’t know what this meant for me, a Pakistani Muslim girl who covers her head.
Robert Spencer is a self-proclaimed expert on “Radical Islam” who co-founded “Stop Islamization of America.” He has often been criticized for causing a divide between the West and Islam, and is known to promote a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda. In short, he’s not my biggest fan.
I talked to other people in my dorm regarding their opinion on the decision to bring Spencer to campus. Many thought it was okay, a simple exercise of the the right to free speech.
But when do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? When does it become acceptable for a guest to this campus to tell my fellow students that Islam is radical and hate-driven? When does it become okay for someone to tell those that I live with that we need to get Islam out of America?
When many Western media outlets are already spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric, my tuition fees paying for a man to speak against my very existence in this country feels like the final knife in the heart. I worked hard to get into Stanford and my father worked even harder to afford it…for what? To come here and see that I am not wanted?
I’ve put up with the microaggressions I’ve faced on a daily basis -- jokingly being called a terrorist or a member of the Taliban because of my hijab. I’ve ignored them and sometimes confronted them. But an organized, university-sponsored event is difficult for me to ignore or fight back against. It’s a whole new battlefield; and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
A friend suggested tearing down all the flyers. I don’t feel like that is the answer. Is it my right to tear down the posters someone else put up? Am I allowed to take down a poster that feels like an attack against my identity? Am I allowed to feel hurt? Or do I just ignore it in the name of free speech?
I considered attending the event. I want to know what he has to say. I want to hear him tell me Islam is evil and radical. I want to hear him tell me that the religion that has only taught me to be loving and kind is the religion of hate. I want to hear him tell me that “Jihad” means “Holy War,” when it actually means “to struggle."
My jihad, my struggle, is not killing people. My jihad is holding my head up high when there are people who believe that I shouldn’t be allowed in the country.
But I am not welcome at the event. I would be afraid to join a crowd where people believe that Islam should be eradicated from America. Beliefs translate into actions, like the travel ban, against Muslims like me, my family, and the 3.35 million Muslims that live in the US.
I’m not asking for the event to be shut down. I’m not asking for reassurance that I am wanted at Stanford. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I belong in America. But I do want everyone to know that this event has reminded me that no matter how hard I try, I can never fully belong to the Stanford community. There will always be someone who believes that I don’t deserve to be here because of my religion. My Muslim identity was always my strength, but today, it feels like my weakness.