By Marivir R. Montebon
(This article was first published in www.uts.edu)
“There is a need to stop the negative stereotypes and reductionist thoughts in the US. Muslims are as diverse as Christians are, because of different cultures.” Munira Ahmed
New York City – On a chilly midweek evening, photographer and social justice advocate Munira Ahmed was asked if the White House rhetoric against Muslims has had a negative impact on her and other Muslim women.
The ‘We the People’ poster model readily said no, rhetoric won’t destroy them that easily she said. “Muslim women have gone through so much. Rhetoric won’t really destroy them. There is a lot of educating and reaching out to do instead,” she said during the last of the Speaker Series sponsored by UTS on November 29, 2017.
Munira is an American, born in the USA in 1984. Her Bangladeshi parents immigrated to the USA in the late 1970s and she grew up in Jamaica, Queens, NYC.
She is a travel writer and photographer and perhaps is best remembered having modeled the poster that showed her donning the American flag as hijab. Created by Shepard Fairey for the women’s march, it sold over $1 million in sales as the brand for “We the People,” surpassing its goal of $60K in crowd source funding.
The day after the inauguration of President Trump, the poster was widely used and circulated. “It was the first time that the Muslim woman was portrayed positively. This poster resonated with people, as they felt it represented them too. That was really something for me,” she said.
As a Muslim-American, Munira said that she could not help but wonder after the recent presidential election, if people hated her for being Muslim. After the presidential elections, this seemed to be what she felt. However, the overwhelming response of the women’s march was, to her, an indicator that people shared the similar concerns about religious and gender discrimination.
“There is a need to stop the negative stereotypes and reductionist thoughts in the US. Muslims are as diverse as Christians are, because of different cultures,” she noted.
Munira said she had grown up in the US not seeing any representation of Muslim women and children on TV or in movies, but being young, it did not bother her.
The bombing of the Twin Towers was her turning point, at the time she was already in her 20s. “It was as if there were no Muslims who died during 9/11,” she quipped.
Munira cited how hatefulness and prejudice has scarred even a first-responder to the 9/11 World Trade Towers attack. Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an EMT paramedic from Bayside, Queens went out of his way to rush to the towers after the planes hit. At first the investigation into his actions were suspicious of his motive. Fortunately, he has now been recognized as a hero.
Munira said that it takes concerted community effort to change stereotypes and prejudice. She said that in Great Britain, it took hundreds of years for culture of acceptance for Muslims. Therefore in the US, she said, persistence in human rights work is needed.
(Featured photo is Ridwan Adhami’s “I Am America” photo next to Shepard Fairey’s “We The People” illustration. Photograph: Ridwan Adhami, Shepard Fairey)