Muslim Discrimination Continues, Even Locally

According to the FBI, there has been a dramatic increase in discrimination against Muslims since 2001. This unfounded bias continues nationwide, more than a decade later. Just this week, an American of Indian descent, Nina Davuluri, won the Miss America pageant, prompting a firestorm of racially charged posts on social media by people who mistook her for being of Arabic descent. For example, this tweet: “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets [sic] miss America?”

Here’s the problem:  A significant number of Americans fail to comprehend that Islam and the various ethnicities that practice it comprise a massive worldview, encompassing over a billion people. To compare all of these people, whether at home or abroad, to members of extremist groups is insane.

Even in Bozeman, this discrimination persists. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Shaheen Karimian, a sophomore studying marketing at MSU.  He is the son of Iranian immigrants but an American citizen by birth. He recounted a story to me of blatant discrimination that he experienced right here in Bozeman, at a local branch of large retail chain.

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Shaheen had left work for the evening and decided to pick up some dinner on his way home. As he stood in the checkout line, he noticed cashiers eyeing him suspiciously.  When he got within earshot, he could hear them discussing the bombings. As Shaheen prepared to pay for his goods, a cashier pointed at him and whispered to her co-worker, “He looks like a terrorist!” Apparently, the cashier and her co-worker thought this was funny, since they followed the accusation with pleas to not be blown up.

Let me put this into context: Shaheen is about as normal looking as any other person on the street. How his cashier could have possibly associated him with the individuals that blew up the Boston Marathon is a sad reflection on the ignorant state of Americans. Shaheen holds no physical resemblance to the radical Islamic groups that have pledged to destroy the United States. But what if he did?  Would that have justified the comments directed at him?  The answer is no.

Ultimately, Shaheen filed a lawsuit against the retail chain for the unfortunate actions of their employees, and received a settlement and formal apology. Shaheen should be commended for standing up to such bias.  When asked of his opinion on prejudice against Muslims and Middle Easterners in America, he had this to say: “It is common courtesy to take only a few minutes out of your day, and educate yourself, so that when you see someone different than you, you can give them a chance.”

Wise words indeed.