Michael Brown, Gaza, and Muslim Americans

By Dean Obeidallah

August 20, 2014

The Muslim-American community of which I’m part hasn’t been great in standing up with and for African Americans. A lack of empathy and racism are the main culprits. What makes this especially astonishing is that 30 percent of the Muslim-American population is African-American. You would think that there would be natural alliances, but that hasn’t been the case. At least not up until now.

The shooting of Michael Brown and the heavy-handed response by the police that followed has struck a nerve among Muslims. It has motivated American-Muslim leaders to speak out publicly in ways we hadn’t seen before on police misconduct directed against African Americans. 

Why? A few reasons. But one that can’t be discounted is Gaza. More specifically, young Palestinians who commented on Twitter about the shooting of Michael Brown drew direct connections between the two.

For example, Inas Safadi, a Palestinian living in Gaza, tweeted: “Revolution of#Ferguson, can’t be prouder of these people who won’t let their son’s blood go for nothing #MikeBrown.” Another tweeted a photo of himself holding a sign that read, “The Palestinian people know what means to be shot while unarmed for your ethnicity” #Ferguson #justice.”

Other Palestinians, including a doctor, even offered advice via Twitter to the protesters in Ferguson on how to deal with the tear gas being fired at them based on their own experiences with Israeli security forces. Comments included, “Don’t keep much distance from the police, if you’re close to them they can’t tear gas. To#Ferguson from #Palestine.” Another tweeted: “Always make sure to run against the wind/to keep calm when you’re teargased, the pain will pass, don’t rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity.”

The support by Palestinians for Brown and the protesters is not surprising. Oppressed people often stand together in solidarity. That’s why it has amazed me and so many other Muslim Americans that we don’t see broad support in our community for the broader struggles of African Americans. Instead, I have personally heard, from Muslim friends who are black, tales of racism directed toward them by other Muslims, such as being made to feel unwelcome when visiting a new mosque or not having more leadership positions in national Muslim organizations.

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