About five years ago, my life was altered utterly when my father decided to move to the United States along with my family. Although different, everything was structured and simpler than back home in Jakarta.
However, I was still a minority with attached stereotypes.
The fact that I am a Muslim might have caused problems if my classmates had known, which they did not.
This opinion was formed because of what I gathered from the media and personal encounters. It came to the point where I was reluctant to show any sign of my "Muslim-ness".
I do not like how my religion is being portrayed in the media, but I also do not feel I have enough knowledge to refute the stereotypes already formed long before I was even there.
I heard stories from close friends that they had to sit through prolonged checks at the airport if one's first name was Mohammad.
Also, my mother's fingerprints were taken at the airport, while my sister, brother, father and myself got through security easily.
"It's just a random check," the official said. What a coincidence; it was my mother, who wears a hijab, who got checked.
At the time, news about Muslims in the mainstream media was revolving around 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the Beslan hostage massacre and everything violent.
Muslims were shown to be these lunatics running around with weapons, demonstrating chaotically and dressing weirdly, according to Western standards.
It seems as if the Western media have an agenda to make all Muslims look petrifying.
A friend once told me, unaware that I am Muslim, that he was extremely nervous about boarding his plane because an Arabic-looking guy was in the same row as his.
Today, the situation, if not the same, has become worse.
The Boston Marathon bombing, which occurred in 2013 and caused three deaths and many injuries, has opened up the old wound of 9/11, as the suspects were said to be Muslims.
Many people expressed anger online, saying what horrible human beings Muslims were, and that they had grown even more suspicious towards all Muslims.
Then the Sydney siege happened in the Lindt Cafe not too long ago, carried out by a Muslim man, and two people were killed in the incident.
The occurrence sparked more buzz about how violent Muslims are in Australia and beyond.
Furthermore, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria extremist group is known for its videos of beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, and lately, Japanese hostages.
If I were in the Westerners' shoes and was presented with this kind of news every day, I would definitely think of Muslims as barbarians who love killing people and hitting their wives.
In no way am I blaming the media for what those people did, and in no way am I supporting anything they did. But if we are to talk about religion and Islam, I was taught the value of tolerance since kindergarten, and hitting anyone is out of the question, especially when it involves women and kids.
But with what the media has shown, no one would believe Islam is a religion that encourages peace.
I was also in shock that these things happened and were declared to be a form of jihad to protect Islam.
But then again, if the media said that they were only showing the facts of what happened around the world, why has the news not covered with similar intensity how the US has practically destroyed countries, killing civilians? Even when there has been coverage, the news makes the US come out as the hero.
They bombed cities with civilians living there. Countless people died as a result. Many children became orphaned, losing limbs, schools and houses. Why has the media not covered that justifiably?
Is it more sinful and morally wrong to kill people from developed countries than it is to kill those from developing countries?
Should the people living in, say, Palestine not be the ones feeling afraid whenever there are Westerners on their soil?
Journalism plays a major part in shaping public opinion about Islam. So, with the fear that the coverage of Islam and Muslims has brought about, and the limited influence of the media from developing countries, which is where many Muslims come from, we just have to endure the painstakingly long checks at the airport.
When we have the chance and time, we could explain that not all Muslims are like those on the news, just like not all Westerners are heroes. And when people say that actions speak louder than words, then show them that most of us just want to live a normal, peaceful life.
Just like all other religions and races, there are good and bad people. And the fact that we are of the same religion and/or race does not make us all behave the same way.
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