When Noura von Briesen heard about the Boston bombings, her first reaction was: "Please, God, do not let it be a Muslim who did this."
Von Briesen, 18, grew up in Charlotte. Now she's a freshman at Duke University, studying mechanical engineering. And she's Muslim.
Her initial reaction, she wrote in a letter published in the Duke Chronicle, the campus newspaper, is the same one she's had following "every attack or shooting that has occurred in the United States since 9/11, and I guarantee I’m not the only Muslim who reacts this way."
In her letter, which she sent before the bombing suspects were identified, von Briesen also joined with "the millions of people across the country in praying for the victims of yet another horrible attack on innocents."
We now know that the alleged Boston Marathon bombers were, indeed, Muslims. And on their long list of victims – way below the murdered and maimed, to be sure – I would add Muslims such as von Briesen. They will again have to endure the harassment and suspicion of people who blame every one of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims for the evil actions of a few hateful extremists.
In her letter, von Briesen, who wears a hijab, or head covering, counted the ways she has had to pay for the terror committed by those who misrepresent her 1,400-year-old religion: "I cannot walk down a street in rural North Carolina without receiving death glares, as if I am some kind of monster. I cannot stop and pray in public without having the word terrorist yelled at me. I cannot go through airport security without being 'randomly selected' and having my hijab checked for bomb dust. I cannot hear of an incident such as this without the heart-wrenching fear that someone will ask how ‘my people’ could commit such an act."
Clearly, some young Muslims in the U.S. have become radicalized – including in North Carolina. It was Samir Khan, a Charlottean as recently as 2009, who once edited the al-Qaida magazine that allegedly taught the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston how to build a bomb.
But casting suspicion on all Muslims is like bunching Charlotte Christians with abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph or cross-burning Klansmen.
So, how can we replace fear and bigotry with understanding?
Last week, I called von Briesen – I profiled her Charlotte family a few years ago during Ramadan – and she offered some advice:
- Get to know some Muslims. Her own circle of friends includes Christians in her dorm.
- Go beyond the lurid headlines and learn something about Islam.
- And engage in dialogue. "What I wish," she said, "is that if people have questions, they would come and talk with a Muslim about it."
-- Tim Funk