The Muslim on the airplane | Amal Kassir | TEDxMileHighWomen
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The Muslim on the airplane | Amal Kassir | TEDxMileHighWomen

September 11, 2019


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Whenever I travel, I carry a little metal box
of Altoids mints because after a four-hour,
7 AM flight, everyone has bad breath, so almost anyone
is willing to take the mint from the Muslim on the airplane. (Laughter) And I know I’ve been successful
when my neighbor turns and asks, “So, what’s your name?” You see, even if there was
an elephant in the room, I’m still the elephant in the room. (Cheer) Yeah! When an elephant
offers you mints on an airplane, I’m fully aware that
it’s not always easy to accept, so when the courageously curious
do pop the what’s-your-name question, I try to make it worth their while. (Laughter) My name is Amal. It means ‘hope’ in Arabic. Most days my name is waitress
at my family’s Damascus restaurant, full-time university student
and then some, pre-law, world traveler, 11 countries. My name is I’ve performed poetry
in eight of those countries. (Cheers) (Applause) International spoken word poet,
unapologetic Muslim woman. Syrian, American, hijabi,
activist, social justice advocate. My name is writer, teacher,
Colorado-born Mile High baby! (Laughter) (Applause) But at the airport,
my name is random search. (Laughter) And on the street, it’s terrorist, sand nigger, raghead, oppressed, and on the news, it’s ISIS, jihadi, suspect, radical. My name is, “Could your Muslim
neighbor be an extremist?” My mama, who wears the hijab,
the Islamic headdress, is often referred to as
“Go back to you country,” but she’s from Iowa! (Laughter) And her nickname is Lisa Pizza. (Laughter) And it does not take more
than a couple questions to figure out that her country
is the Council Bluffs cornfields. (Laughter) But, how would someone
know this without asking? They say the shortest distance
between two people is a story. Well, I elaborate on that to say
that the greatest distance you can travel in the shortest amount of time,
is by asking someone their name. The way we name ourselves
is a reflection of who we are, our declarations, family histories,
the things we believe, the morals we abide by,
our homes, cultures, transformations. Like a Mohammed turned Mo,
or a Lisa Pizza turned Iman. And how we name others, and how,
if, we allow others to name themselves is a reflection of our own declarations, of our courage, and our fear. The malleability of a person’s story
must be self-determined, coming from the lips of the storyteller, not the anchorman, not the megaphone, not even the scarf on her head
or the melanin in his skin, because no one can speak
the names of billions in one breath, unless it’s in prayer, and oftentimes when we generalize,
it isn’t because we’re praying. And when we don’t ask someone their name,
we’re not asking for their story. In the world of mass media
and rampant misinformation, it is hard for anyone, including myself, to deconstruct all these
terrifying stories that we hear. Sometimes, instead of isolating them,
individualizing them, we tend to paint a group of people
with a broad brush, until suddenly, everyone with a hijab on
is a raghead that needs liberating, or everyone with white skin
is a racist cracker, or everyone with black skin
is a fatherless nigger, or everybody who looks like my father
is going to blow up the airplane, or if the killer had a light complexion,
he’s just a mentally fragile lone wolf. And we come to this point where we feel like we don’t even need
to ask people their names because we already gave it to them. In Europe right now,
a monumental name change is taking place that has completely transformed
a humanitarian responsibility. Countries are deporting refugees, but when you watch news coverage, these refugees
are being referred to as migrants. Because let’s face it, deporting migrants
sounds way more reasonable than deporting individuals
who have been forced to flee their country because of persecution,
war, and violence – the United Nations definition of refugee. (Applause) And in naming these people this way, we’ve attributed to them a choice
instead of a circumstance, some economic gain instead
of a desperation to flee a war zone. These little ones
are refugees, not migrants. I took this photo last year
at a refugee camp on the Syrian-Turkish border,
and contrary to popular belief, they aren’t poisons. They’re not here to steal our democracy
or to take over our neighborhoods. They’re people, families who wish that they could go home but have had to make
that home somewhere else. And we’ve come to this point,
where the word ‘migrant’ essentially means piles of brown,
foreign-speaking people, and we end up forgetting
that there was a point where some people would’ve considered
those who looked like this to be migrants as well. (Applause) Right, though? (Applause) And it is in this forgetfulness
that we assume, monopolize on people’s stories,
attribute their race, social class, religions, clothing to the names
that we chose for them. Terrorism is a fine
modern-day example, unfortunately. In the past few years, so much violence
has just spread across our country, but when you watch the news,
there’s always a specification as to whether or not
terrorism was involved, which I think we all know
means the killer looked like this. [Arab dude] Which… (Laughter) He’s a babe! Which must mean… (Laughter) Which must mean that the killer,
of course, pledges his allegiance to this. [ISIS] Right? But correct me if I’m wrong, news coverage
does in fact tend to be a little different when the terrorist looks like this. [Robert Dear, Planned Parenthood Shooter] (Applause) And it ultimately
has us forgetting that terrorism, by definition of terrorism, has always come in all shapes [Ku Klux Klan] and colors. [Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City Bomber] (Cheers) (Applause) And what happens when we confine
certain names with certain depictions, wrongfully excluding some
and including others, we end up caging masses of people
under a name that says ‘dangerous,’ even if they’re nowhere near it. Like when we say ‘thug’
instead of 17-year-old black child. [Trayvon Martin] When we say ‘alien’
instead of ‘immigrant.’ When we say ‘lazy poor people’
instead of ‘unequal wealth distribution.’ When we say ‘bomb’ instead of ‘clock.’ [Ahmed Mohammad, clock inventor] (Applause) (Cheers) This man’s name is Craig Hicks. He’s often referred to
as a parking dispute, but his real name is a man who shot
and killed three Americans in their homes, in their heads, execution style
because they were Muslim. His name is hate crime. Their names are Deah, Yusor, and Razan, a 23 year old, 21, and 19. Deah and Yusor were just named
husband and wife, newlyweds, and the three were known
by their loved ones as sons and daughters, brothers,
sisters, students, activists, Instagrammers, tax payers, Americans. But now, their names
are too young to have been taken, their names are rest in peace,
Allah Yerhamo. Hicks did not ask them their name. He assigned it to them
when he assigned them each a bullet, named them a threat to his America,
and as a result, took their lives. This is a photo
on Deah and Yusor’s wedding day. It’s so beautiful. They were killed
before they could even see this. Studies show that during
breaking news coverage, the first story is the one
that sticks, even if it isn’t true. Like during the Paris attacks, when there was talk
that refugees were dangerous because they found a passport, only to later confirm that there were
no Syrians or refugees involved. But when we have such
a huge habit of misnaming people, it’s easy to overlook
these kinds of mistakes. And this is exemplary
of what happens in a culture of fear. In a society that doesn’t ask
one another their names, you end up with the mouth of an anchorman or the mouth of a gun
doing all the talking. On September 11th, 2001, I attended a private K-8 Islamic school, and within the first hours of the tragedy, my school received two bomb threats. The word ‘terrorist’
was not on my spelling list, but all of us kids picked it up
pretty soon after. And in naming us terrorists
amidst this mass tragedy that affected us as Americans too, in the words of Dalia Mogahed, we were not just mourners,
but we were suspects as well. But, a few months ago, me and my very handsome,
white-boy-looking brother named Usama were at the museum
buying planetarium tickets, and an elderly white man
walked up to me and said, “I’m sorry about everything
you must be going through right now. I want you to know that not all Americans
believe what these buffoons are saying.” (Applause) “Yeah, he used the word ‘buffoons!'” (Applause) And he said, “I want you to know
that we stand by you.” Now, had I not been wearing
a little piece of my identity on my head, he wouldn’t have known to tell me this. And even though he didn’t ask me
what my name was, he instead told me his. I have learned from experience
that when someone really wants to know, they will be willing to cross
that threshold of fear and find out that my name means hope. And then, they’ll have the courage
to ask the much more important questions that probably only I can answer, like, “What’s that thing on your head? Were you forced to wear it? Are all Muslims really violent people? Does the Quran
really say to kill all of us? Can you please tell me
what’s up with ISIS?” And these questions,
though seemingly uncomfortable, are how I know that I have been humanized, and are how the courageously curious
know that really, I’m only as scary
as the silence fear festers in. Upon meeting someone new,
we ask their names. We do not assign it to them. And with that name, we are given ancestry, bloodlines and dialects, books and poems, perspectives, wars, struggles,
and survival stories. “What’s your name?”
is such a short distance to cross, but when you ask me, oh, buddy! I will take you from Kuala Lumpur
to Barcelona to Beirut. We’re going to go to Damascus,
to Sydney, to Trinidad and Tobago. I will show you Mecca, my closet with 70-plus
international scarves, the graves of my 31 family members
who’ve been killed in Syria, the coffee shop that I hang out at
and do my homework. But we must have the courage
to claim our curiosity, to go beyond anything we ever knew,
anything we ever feared. But it takes two: the elephant who offers the mint and the one who takes it. (Applause) (Cheers)

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  1. I wonder if you can even talk publicly in Syria. Let alone talking like this. I think you shouldnt complain. Youre lucky. Lucky enough.

  2. ONLY USING CAPS FOR ME TO SEE BETTER – HIJAB DOES NOT MEAN THE SCARF A MUSLIM WOMAN WEARS. NO WHERE IN THE QARAN IS IT A REQUIREMENT FOR A MUSLIM WOMAN TO WEAR A HIJAB OR BURKA.

  3. Mile high club? I bet the people in the twin towers, for a moment, literally wished those planes were a mile high.

  4. Who knows? If Muslims are on airplane on sky at the Islam prayer time, then should they still sit in their seat for prayer, , or they must remove their seat belt, and then bend their head on the airplane floor and raise up their feet to sky … for a proper Islamic prayer?

  5. Funny how most of those commenting here are Muslims themselves. Do we see a bias here? Then there are others who are enchanted by her smile and the way she speaks – fair enough. She also showed a picture of children, who she very rightly said are "refugees, not migrants". But she never elaborated once, why they were refugees. They are fleeing from their own country from their own people because of the doctrines they pursue. She makes her point in a very pleasant way – but her point remains half-baked and sadly biased to her own advantage and of the advantage of some, portraying herself and some others as victims – Which appears as a ploy to exploit the emotions of the gullible. In all fairness, as mentioned in most of the comments here, she is charming and a decent speaker but facts should be spoken as it is and should not be hidden behind charm and charisma.

  6. If you decide to dress yourself like the members of a religion which states: Quran (2:191-193) – "And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun(the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)" I don't think you ought to be asking others not to fear you. That's your choice to me a muslim, and yes I fear an ideology that would want to kill me. -Proud Kafir.

  7. ''Media potrayed refugees as migrants cause let's face it,deporting migrants sounds much better than deporting people who were forced to leave their homes cause of unprecedented war and violence'' hits right at home!

  8. Karı amerikan bayrağından türban yapmış yaa şaka gibi😂allahı abd olmuş millete din satıyor saftirikler de buna kanıyor😅

  9. Isn't Amal means ambition? And hi in case u r wondering my first name translated as Commendable Submission.

  10. Ask anyone about his name, and he will take you in the longest journey in your life.☺️☺️☺️❤️
    Don't judge me without hearing my story.

  11. I am not in favor of women wearing hijab. But The point of wearing hijab and burqa is to hide the body mainly head and chest from other man which may feel aroused by looking at women(I hope I understand it correctly). So basically it's descriminatory. So when women in hijab talks about stereotype it doesn't ring much of bell.

  12. There are 23,000 'persons of interest' registered with counter-terror agencies in my country, most of them are Muslim.

  13. It's more than hundreds time that I'm watching this speech, now. And still I'm not bored. Each and every word has inspiration for millions. May Allah bless to sister and her hope ♥
    Aamin.

  14. And this dear people is how a speech sounds when one speaks straight from the heart without a double agenda like most politicians do.

    Oh God please get me a wife that's like Amal.

  15. A hijab some may see as a religious choice, but its not for many women. It represents oppression, abuse and subservience to men. The fact that some free western multicultural Muslims can justify and choose freely tp wear a Hijab doesn't change that fact.

  16. Oh, geeze. So mohammedans conquer North Africa, Southern/Eastern Europe and the middle East by violence and war because that's exactly what their holy book/qur'an and the example of their so-called prophet commands. Then when they start doing it again in the 21st century, they get all upset when we call them out on the evils of committing war and violence? Drop the rag around your head as a political statement and we'll talk.

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