Persecution of “treasonous” minorities during wartime is a well-known blight on American history; Japanese internment ruined thousands of lives, and anti-Communist fear-mongering rocked the Senate during the Cold War. But history repeats, and in the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks across the world, paranoia and bigotry targeting Muslims in America has become prevalent — even in a diverse city like Stockton.
“At my local mosque there was a rumor going around that people would come to trash the mosque, so there were police on duty during Friday prayer,” senior Ilyas Khan, a Muslim, said. “That was scary, knowing I could be in such danger.”
Khan also said that in public, passersby stare at his mother, who wears a headscarf, and in middle school a student was suspended after saying Khan’s grandfather was Osama bin Laden.
Violence attributed to ISIS and other extremist groups has prompted political groups to raise concerns that at first appear legitimate: a group called the Citizens Against Islamic Indoctrination professes to advocate for the removal of “religious doctrine” from school textbooks.
“These textbooks present a promotional, positive view of Islam,” the group’s spokesperson, Steve Gill, said in “The Wall Street Journal,” and went on to argue that Islam is not “a religion of peace and tolerance.”
In another incident, Virginia schools were shut down two months ago over outrage over a homework assignment requiring students to copy the shahada, or Islamic profession of faith.
However, as Arab-looking Sikhs are targeted more often than actual Muslims who may not look distinctively Muslim, suggesting that discrimination has more to do with physical appearances than actual political or religious concerns. In fact, according to Vice Principal Sarah Baysinger, though there are only Muslim and Sikh students on campus, there have been acts of discriminations against Muslim students and  against Sikhs.
“My family doesn’t really look Muslim, so we haven’t had to deal with much discrimination,” a Muslim sophomore who wished to remain anonymous said.
Sikhs Sukhraj Singh, a freshman, and Avtar Singh, a junior, said that they are frequently mistaken for Muslims and discriminated against.
“I wear a turban so [people] say I’m a Muslim, but I’m not,” Sukhraj said. “They don’t even know that Muslims don’t have long hair, but Sikhs have long hair.”
Aside from just espousing ignorance, some students have taken to violence.
“There was a guy in my bio class who tried to knock off my turban and tried to fight with me,” Avtar said. “My friends all told me to ignore him.”
To this end, Sukhraj has proposed that students attend an assembly where they will watch a documentary about Sikhs, to help clarify who they are and what the differences between their faith and Islam is.
In a nation where many people do not even know the correct pronunciation of the word “Sikh,” this may prove a challenge.
“It will take a lot of time, but it’s possible,” Avtar said. “All you need to do is get people’s attention to educate people about religion.”
In spite of any resentment they may feel, victims of xenophobia are unanimous in denouncing both the Islamic State and related terrorists, as well as politicians who consider them guilty by association.
“I hope that politicians, not just politicians, but people, see the light and do the research on Islam,” Khan said.