OPINION: What makes America great to me as an international Muslim student

By ABDEL MO Columnist

With the election of Donald Trump, race has been a focal point in American politics. From calls to build the wall, to calls for banning Muslims from entering the country, it is clear that Americans have divided views.

As an international student who grew up in other multicultural countries, it is fascinating to witness how far America has come from slavery to Jim Crow to the civil rights movement and then to the election of the first African-American president in 2008.

As a young boy, I was always fascinated with America and the ideals of freedom and equality. They seemed appealing, especially since I grew up under monarchies in the Middle East. President Obama’s win in 2008 cemented this idea in my mind that anything is possible in America and that this country is the theater of dreams. I grew to believe that America is a place where your worth is based, not on the color of your skin, but the content of your character.

With the American dream in my heart and a love for this new America, I boarded a flight to O’Hare some five odd years ago. America, to me, was a place where a guy with a funny name like mine could aspire to be the leader of the free world. That was a beautiful thing.

Even though I still have total faith in the American people and my love for this country is undeterred, Trump’s America is not a familiar place for me. Not only that, it almost seems inhospitable.

As someone who grew up with a Muslim name, I have always experienced the collective guilt all Muslims feel when some psychopath decides to do something terrible in our name. But we always had great leaders like President Obama, Angela Merkel and even President George W. Bush defending us. They told the world that our faith and our dark skin didn’t mean we were inherently evil, nor that we have malicious intentions.

Statements of support from those leaders prevented us from being robbed of all our humanity. They made us feel like normal members of society, made us feel welcome, loved and, most importantly, made us realize that we, as members of a faith 1.2 billion strong, are not collectively guilty of all the evil actions that a miniscule amount of people, claiming to be Muslims, commit in our religion’s name.

With this new administration and president, it seems like we have lost that support. It almost seems like demonizing Muslims and immigrants is completely acceptable.

My intentions are not to paint a bleak picture of the condition of the Muslim and immigrant communities, but I do feel a lot can be done to ensure that everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

I commend the wonderful job the South Dakota State community is doing in exhibiting support for the Muslim and minority students on campus.

Statements from the president and prominent faculty at SDSU are heartwarming and deeply appreciated. What we as minority students would like to see, is more American students engaging with us on a personal level — getting to know us, recognizing the things we have in common and learning that we are not that different after all.

And for so many students who grew up in a very homogenous red state, I think getting out of their shell and making new friends by engaging with the international community, will be a great learning experience.

So, I challenge domestic students to go out and engage with their international counterparts and contribute toward developing that understanding, camaraderie and values of equality that America is known for across the globe.

Abdel Mo is an operations management major and can be reached at [email protected].sdstate.edu.