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C CAIR-FL In The News

Ormond teen, family offer glimpse of being Muslim in America

By Jim Abbott, For News Journal Online, On 26 September 2016, Read Original

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ORMOND BEACH — While most Americans are accustomed to removing shoes, belts, keys and loose change at airport security, the process invariably is more complicated for the Afridi family.

For Saleem Afridi, 52, a pharmacist with CVS, it’s not if, but when he will be singled out for a random security check when his family flies to visit relatives in New York. Often, such clearances necessitate hours of waiting for his wife, Fariya, and their two children — Abdullah, 16, and Alisha, 14.

 

And events such as Monday’s arrest of a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan as a suspect in the bombing attack that injured 29 people this weekend in New York City won’t ease security fears and negative perceptions that have affected the American dream for law-abiding Muslim families such as the Afridis, who have lived for decades in the United States.

“We condemn all these barbaric attacks,” Afridi said this week. “But you shouldn’t single out all the Muslims when it’s only certain individuals that commit these heinous crimes. The good thing about this country is that they investigate and get to the bottom of it. They will find the culprits and punish them.”

Watching his father's airport experiences inspired Abdullah, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at Spruce Creek High School, to write about his frustrations of being Muslim in America in a newsletter for Breakaway Trails, the gated community where the family lives.

“I understand that all airports and their security have the best intentions at heart,” wrote Abdullah, a competitive chess player and Science Bowl captain whose academic interests also include math. “I would rather be inconvenienced than have the safety of the airport be compromised. But I also feel that these random checks are only an extension of the prejudice Muslims are facing today.”

In the family’s living room, Abdullah talks about the reasons he wrote the essay, his lanky frame perched upright in perfect posture, long slender fingers intertwined.

“It presents an issue to the public that most of them wouldn’t encounter on a daily basis,” Abdullah said. “It’s helping other people relate to what it’s like.”

For Muslims, the reality of discrimination and even hostility is “an issue we deal with every day,” said Rasha Mubarak, Orlando regional coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. In the wake of 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, instances of Islamophobia tracked by CAIR have increased by 500 percent, Mubarak said.

 

“It’s the highest it’s ever been at any time since there’s been documentation, including post-9/11,” Mubarak said. “It has moved from the fringes of American society to mainstream.”

The Afridis emphasize that they have faced little overt hatred, although Alisha, a freshman at Spruce Creek, recalls being labeled a “terrorist” by some classmates during her middle school days. The family’s neighborhood is diverse and feedback to Abdullah’s essay has been positive, they say.

“It’s a terrifically diverse community and they have been my neighbors for eight years,” said Rosalie Bernstein, the family’s next-door neighbor. “When I read this (Abdullah’s essay), I was so moved by it. I told Saleem, ‘You should be so proud of him for putting that down on paper, and being as honest as he was.’ It hurts my heart that a 16-year-old felt that way.”

Abdullah’s father characterizes the constant airport scrutiny as a “bother,” but understands his son’s frustration. On one occasion, the extra screening took long enough that Saleem was unable to join the rest of the family on their flight out of Daytona Beach. Instead, he had to take a taxi to Orlando for a later flight, while his family waited hours for him at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

“It’s upsetting,” said Fariya, his wife. “Yes, it’s nice in this community, but when you turn on a TV, read a magazine or newspaper, you realize that just because of the actions of some people it’s being generalized that an entire religion is bad.”

Both Saleem and Fariya, 48, were born in Pakistan. He moved to the United States in 1984, at age 20, graduated from St. Johns University in 1992 and started his pharmacy career. She went to medical school in Pakistan, moved to Florida in 1995 and now works as a licensed psychiatrist at Halifax Behavioral Services in Daytona Beach.

“We love this country,” Saleem said. “What we’ve accomplished here couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We’re in the best country in the world right now.”

 

Backlash against Muslims and minorities, an issue that has found its way into the presidential campaign, isn’t new in America, said Leonard Lempel, professor emeritus of history at Daytona State College.

“We’re seeing a similar kind of thing to what happened with the Japanese in World War II,” Lempel said. “They were seen as the enemy because they attacked us at Pearl Harbor. It also reminds me of the 1950s and McCarthyism, the fear of communism. It’s not exactly history repeating itself, but you see these recurring trends.”

Abdullah is optimistic that time will yield solutions to the issues that inspired his essay:

“Because it’s a melting pot, I think people are forced to re-evaluate their own stances on others,” Abdullah said. “It’s inevitable that minorities are going to achieve more and more. People won’t be able to push aside our presence and say that we are deserving of being called lesser.”

My Story: A Teenage Muslim American View

Here is a copy of the essay written by 16-year-old Abdullah Afridi for Breakaway Life magazine.

Whenever I take flights with my family, my father is inevitably “randomly” stopped by security and patted down. This has happened to many Muslim Americans everywhere from Breakaway Trails to the West Coast; there isn’t any escaping your name or what you look like to hide from this. My father tried contacting the TSA via email to do something about this because sometimes, when he’d be held for questioning or investigation of his suitcase, it would take over an hour. Yet, his efforts were fruitless. Although the TSA gave him a special number to present to the airport, most airports don’t know what to do with it. The clerical staff has to contact the managerial staff, complicating the process even more. Personally, this leaves me scared. In the future, will I have to go through this just to travel? Will I face the same inefficient system?

 

I understand that all airports and their security have the best intentions at heart. I would rather be inconvenienced than have the safety of the airport be compromised. But I also feel that these random checks are only an extension of the prejudice Muslims are facing today. Although I cannot currently comprehend the entirety of the TSA safety system, I do know that the current system in place is not effective. The Department of Homeland Security conducted an investigation on the effectiveness of the TSA and found that the TSA failed to find mock weapons 95% of the time. (This is according to NBC news, 6/15/15.) I propose more focus on intelligence agencies would help solve the problem. I believe it would be safer and more effective to try and stop malevolent people beforehand, because once they reach the airport, where the public is most vulnerable, our airport screening measures should be the last line of defense, not the first.

My point isn’t solely about airport security though; today, stereotypes about Muslims are held by many people. Recently, a boy from my sister’s school blatantly stated that Muslims are terrorists. Although this is only one young person’s point of view, the fact that this type of a stereotype is perpetuated astounds me, my family, and the Muslim community in Breakaway. Teenagers, especially, could stand to learn a lot about the different people in the world, and it is for that reason that I encourage all of my fellow teenagers to do some cultural research or interact with someone different.

I believe that to end this, we need to further educate people, and explain the true values of our religion to create a more tolerant society. The fact that people think religion or race detracts from patriotism and leads to terrorism is rooted in extremely rare cases. Returning to the topic of airport security, what Muslim Americans are doing is exercising their First Amendment rights. All they want is equality; what’s more American than that?

Editor's note: Fariya Afridi attended medical school in Pakistan, and not as originally reported.