Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Arabs are Muslim.
Those of us with a mental illness, especially those of us who have schizophrenia, or who have been living with a mental illness for twenty years or more, know what it is like to be misunderstood, we know what it is like to be on the outside, we know what it is like to feel as if people fear us. So many people still think we are dangerous.
My husband was born Lebanese. Both of my husband and I went to an American high school in Cairo Egypt. My husband has lived in the United States for over thirty years. He got his citizenship the hard way – he filled out forms, jumped through hoops, waited years, learned our history, took a test, and swore allegiance to our country.
My husband has never missed an election in which he was eligible to vote. Voting to him is a privilege and a responsibility. My husband knows more about the American government than I do, and far more than the average person on the street. My husband shouldn’t have to prove his patriotism though. You shouldn’t have to be waving the American flag in order to be free from discrimination.
After 9/11 I watched my husband get stopped at every checkpoint. I watched him get questioned at every security gate that I walked right through. Now, with the attacks in France, I fear for my husband’s safety. He can’t hide where he was born. His passport clearly states he was born in Beirut. His skin is olive. His hair is black. Our name is Arabic.
There are days that I feel so deeply tired from trying to educate people about the realities of schizophrenia. I do this so the media will stop portraying people like me as mass shooters, as criminals, or as murderers. The tired I feel is the kind that keeps me in bed with the covers up over my head. I don’t feel tired when the press doesn’t differentiate between Muslims and terrorists, or between Arabs who are Muslim and Arabs who are Christian. I don’t feel tired at all, I feel fear. I feel a fear that the person I love most in the world is in danger.
The fear I feel has nothing to do with my illness. It is not paranoia taking over my mind. My husband and I have something terrible in common. The media and many people in America think that neither one of us can be trusted. They think we are dangerous. They think we are going to commit atrocities.
Both my husband and I are peace loving people. We try to protect both animals and humans. We are the type of people who will buy a stranger who is hungry a meal to eat. We weep at the suffering in the world and do our part to ease that suffering when we can.
Those of us who get stereotyped and judged should stand in solidarity with others who are judged and stereotyped. If we don’t stand up for the people who are treated unfairly how can we expect anyone to stand with us in return?
We need to educate ourselves about other people’s struggles. We need to try to be a force for good in the world, not just with the issues that concern us, but the issues that concern others. People are more likely to listen to us when we care about their stories, their experiences, and their hardships. Let’s occasionally give up being a mouth, and try on being an ear.