What that emergency alert after the Chelsea bombings meant for Muslim Americans

Mihika Srivastava | SIPA Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy, Class of 2018

On September 17, New York’s Chelsea neighborhood was rocked by a bombing which left 29 people injured and an entire city feeling angry and vulnerable.  Two mornings later, the entire city woke to an emergency alert which read, “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.” Two days later, on September 21, Rahami was charged with the Chelsea bombing and a twin explosion, which took place in New Jersey.

The alert was praised by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who called it “a very valuable tool” that created “a lot of focus and urgency.” And yet, the alert did something else, too. Something perhaps unintended, but just as powerful. The alert put a target on the back of every Ahmed, every Khan, every Rahami and every Muslim in New York City.

We cannot put blame on the emergency alert system itself, whose goal was to get the message out to all New York residents as fast as possible. Yet, inadvertently, it contributed the Anti-Muslim rhetoric that built up immediately following the bombing. In fact even before Rahami had been identified as the suspect, social media was flooded with Anti-Muslim messaging and a Twitter campaign originally designed to stand in solidarity with Muslims was instead co-opted and used to divide.

For Muslims both in America and all over the world, this has unfortunately become a new norm. A terrorist attack hits and Muslims prepare themselves for endless, ruthless backlash both from the community around them and from law enforcement officials. In every instance, moderate Muslims have also come together to speak out against terrorism and hate. But, it is unfair to continue putting the burden on Muslims this way; to keep allowing entire communities to take the blame and responsibility for the acts of individual madmen.  Instead, let us find ways to uplift our Muslim friends and colleagues and fellow citizens and be reminded of the courage and resilience with which they must face life every single day.

Hanif Yazdi, a graduate student in city planning at the Pratt Institute, said it best in his poem published on September 19:

“Shout out to all the Ahmads

and the Khans and

Rahamis today,

in the cabs and the foodcarts,

in the masjids and the clubs,

in the doctors offices and waiting rooms,

and all the little places in between,

in our most beautiful of cities,

trying to stand tall,

trying to stand clear of the closing doors,

getting alerts in the morning,

looking down at their phones

to see their own beautiful names

on a thousand tiny screens,

and slouching, perhaps

a little further in their seats.”

 

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