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  • What do you think when you look at me?

  • A woman of faith? An expert?

  • Maybe even a sister.

  • Or oppressed,

  • brainwashed,

  • a terrorist.

  • Or just an airport security line delay.

  • That one's actually true.

  • (Laughter)

  • If some of your perceptions were negative, I don't really blame you.

  • That's just how the media has been portraying

  • people who look like me.

  • One study found

  • that 80 percent of news coverage about Islam and Muslims is negative.

  • And studies show that Americans say that most don't know a Muslim.

  • I guess people don't talk to their Uber drivers.

  • (Laughter)

  • Well, for those of you who have never met a Muslim,

  • it's great to meet you.

  • Let me tell you who I am.

  • I'm a mom, a coffee lover --

  • double espresso, cream on the side.

  • I'm an introvert.

  • I'm a wannabe fitness fanatic.

  • And I'm a practicing, spiritual Muslim.

  • But not like Lady Gaga says, because baby, I wasn't born this way.

  • It was a choice.

  • When I was 17, I decided to come out.

  • No, not as a gay person like some of my friends,

  • but as a Muslim,

  • and decided to start wearing the hijab, my head covering.

  • My feminist friends were aghast:

  • "Why are you oppressing yourself?"

  • The funny thing was,

  • it was actually at that time a feminist declaration of independence

  • from the pressure I felt as a 17-year-old,

  • to conform to a perfect and unattainable standard of beauty.

  • I didn't just passively accept the faith of my parents.

  • I wrestled with the Quran.

  • I read and reflected and questioned and doubted

  • and, ultimately, believed.

  • My relationship with God -- it was not love at first sight.

  • It was a trust and a slow surrender

  • that deepened with every reading of the Quran.

  • Its rhythmic beauty sometimes moves me to tears.

  • I see myself in it. I feel that God knows me.

  • Have you ever felt like someone sees you, completely understands you

  • and yet loves you anyway?

  • That's how it feels.

  • And so later, I got married,

  • and like all good Egyptians,

  • started my career as an engineer.

  • (Laughter)

  • I later had a child, after getting married,

  • and I was living essentially the Egyptian-American dream.

  • And then that terrible morning of September, 2001.

  • I think a lot of you probably remember exactly where you were that morning.

  • I was sitting in my kitchen finishing breakfast,

  • and I look up on the screen and see the words "Breaking News."

  • There was smoke, airplanes flying into buildings,

  • people jumping out of buildings.

  • What was this?

  • An accident?

  • A malfunction?

  • My shock quickly turned to outrage.

  • Who would do this?

  • And I switch the channel and I hear,

  • "... Muslim terrorist ...,"

  • "... in the name of Islam ...,"

  • "... Middle-Eastern descent ...,"

  • "... jihad ...,"

  • "... we should bomb Mecca."

  • Oh my God.

  • Not only had my country been attacked,

  • but in a flash,

  • somebody else's actions had turned me from a citizen

  • to a suspect.

  • That same day, we had to drive across Middle America

  • to move to a new city to start grad school.

  • And I remember sitting in the passenger seat

  • as we drove in silence,

  • crouched as low as I could go in my seat,

  • for the first time in my life, afraid for anyone to know I was a Muslim.

  • We moved into our apartment that night in a new town

  • in what felt like a completely different world.

  • And then I was hearing and seeing and reading

  • warnings from national Muslim organizations

  • saying things like, "Be alert," "Be aware,"

  • "Stay in well-lit areas," "Don't congregate."

  • I stayed inside all week.

  • And then it was Friday that same week,

  • the day that Muslims congregate for worship.

  • And again the warnings were, "Don't go that first Friday,

  • it could be a target."

  • And I was watching the news, wall-to-wall coverage.

  • Emotions were so raw, understandably,

  • and I was also hearing about attacks on Muslims,

  • or people who were perceived to be Muslim, being pulled out

  • and beaten in the street.

  • Mosques were actually firebombed.

  • And I thought, we should just stay home.

  • And yet, something didn't feel right.

  • Because those people who attacked our country

  • attacked our country.

  • I get it that people were angry at the terrorists.

  • Guess what? So was I.

  • And so to have to explain yourself all the time isn't easy.

  • I don't mind questions. I love questions.

  • It's the accusations that are tough.

  • Today we hear people actually saying things like,

  • "There's a problem in this country, and it's called Muslims.

  • When are we going to get rid of them?"

  • So, some people want to ban Muslims and close down mosques.

  • They talk about my community kind of like we're a tumor

  • in the body of America.

  • And the only question is, are we malignant or benign?

  • You know, a malignant tumor you extract altogether,

  • and a benign tumor you just keep under surveillance.

  • The choices don't make sense, because it's the wrong question.

  • Muslims, like all other Americans, aren't a tumor in the body of America,

  • we're a vital organ.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • Muslims are inventors and teachers,

  • first responders and Olympic athletes.

  • Now, is closing down mosques going to make America safer?

  • It might free up some parking spots,

  • but it will not end terrorism.

  • Going to a mosque regularly is actually linked

  • to having more tolerant views of people of other faiths

  • and greater civic engagement.

  • And as one police chief in the Washington, DC area

  • recently told me,

  • people don't actually get radicalized at mosques.

  • They get radicalized in their basement or bedroom, in front of a computer.

  • And what you find about the radicalization process

  • is it starts online,

  • but the first thing that happens

  • is the person gets cut off from their community,

  • from even their family,

  • so that the extremist group can brainwash them

  • into believing that they, the terrorists, are the true Muslims,

  • and everyone else who abhors their behavior and ideology

  • are sellouts or apostates.

  • So if we want to prevent radicalization,

  • we have to keep people going to the mosque.

  • Now, some will still argue Islam is a violent religion.

  • After all, a group like ISIS bases its brutality on the Quran.

  • Now, as a Muslim, as a mother, as a human being,

  • I think we need to do everything we can to stop a group like ISIS.

  • But we would be giving in to their narrative

  • if we cast them as representatives of a faith of 1.6 billion people.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • ISIS has as much to do with Islam

  • as the Ku Klux Klan has to do with Christianity.

  • (Applause)

  • Both groups claim to base their ideology on their holy book.

  • But when you look at them, they're not motivated

  • by what they read in their holy book.

  • It's their brutality that makes them read these things into the scripture.

  • Recently, a prominent imam told me a story that really took me aback.

  • He said that a girl came to him

  • because she was thinking of going to join ISIS.

  • And I was really surprised and asked him,

  • had she been in contact with a radical religious leader?

  • And he said the problem was quite the opposite,

  • that every cleric that she had talked to had shut her down

  • and said that her rage, her sense of injustice in the world,

  • was just going to get her in trouble.

  • And so with nowhere to channel and make sense of this anger,

  • she was a prime target to be exploited

  • by extremists promising her a solution.

  • What this imam did was to connect her back to God and to her community.

  • He didn't shame her for her rage -- instead, he gave her constructive ways

  • to make real change in the world.

  • What she learned at that mosque prevented her from going to join ISIS.

  • I've told you a little bit

  • about how Islamophobia affects me and my family.

  • But how does it impact ordinary Americans?

  • How does it impact everyone else?

  • How does consuming fear 24 hours a day affect the health of our democracy,

  • the health of our free thought?

  • Well, one study -- actually, several studies in neuroscience --

  • show that when we're afraid, at least three things happen.

  • We become more accepting of authoritarianism,

  • conformity and prejudice.

  • One study showed that when subjects were exposed to news stories

  • that were negative about Muslims,

  • they became more accepting of military attacks on Muslim countries

  • and policies that curtail the rights of American Muslims.

  • Now, this isn't just academic.

  • When you look at when anti-Muslim sentiment spiked

  • between 2001 and 2013,

  • it happened three times,

  • but it wasn't around terrorist attacks.

  • It was in the run up to the Iraq War and during two election cycles.

  • So Islamophobia isn't just the natural response to Muslim terrorism

  • as I would have expected.

  • It can actually be a tool of public manipulation,

  • eroding the very foundation of a free society,

  • which is rational and well-informed citizens.

  • Muslims are like canaries in the coal mine.

  • We might be the first to feel it,

  • but the toxic air of fear is harming us all.

  • (Applause)

  • And assigning collective guilt

  • isn't just about having to explain yourself all the time.

  • Deah and his wife Yusor were a young married couple

  • living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,

  • where they both went to school.

  • Deah was an athlete.

  • He was in dental school, talented, promising ...

  • And his sister would tell me that he was the sweetest,

  • most generous human being she knew.

  • She was visiting him there and he showed her his resume,

  • and she was amazed.

  • She said, "When did my baby brother become such an accomplished young man?"

  • Just a few weeks after Suzanne's visit to her brother and his new wife,

  • their neighbor,

  • Craig Stephen Hicks,

  • murdered them,

  • as well as Yusor's sister, Razan, who was visiting for the afternoon,

  • in their apartment,

  • execution style,

  • after posting anti-Muslim statements on his Facebook page.

  • He shot Deah eight times.

  • So bigotry isn't just immoral, it can even be lethal.

  • So, back to my story.

  • What happened after 9/11?

  • Did we go to the mosque or did we play it safe and stay home?

  • Well, we talked it over,

  • and it might seem like a small decision, but to us,

  • it was about what kind of America we wanted to leave for our kids:

  • one that would control us by fear

  • or one where we were practicing our religion freely.

  • So we decided to go to the mosque.

  • And we put my son in his car seat,

  • buckled him in, and we drove silently, intensely, to the mosque.

  • I took him out, I took off my shoes, I walked into the prayer hall

  • and what I saw made me stop.

  • The place was completely full.

  • And then the imam made an announcement,

  • thanking and welcoming our guests,

  • because half the congregation

  • were Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists,

  • people of faith and no faith,

  • who had come not to attack us, but to stand in solidarity with us.