From Oday Aboushi to Sadia Saifuddin: The Tension of Being Young, Palestinian and Muslim in America

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock or away from the Twitterverse recently, it’s been a progressive couple of weeks for young Palestinians and Muslims everywhere. However, we shouldn’t start celebrating just yet.

Last week Oday Aboushi, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American and practicing Muslim, was drafted by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2013 National Football League Draft, making him one of the first Palestinian players to join the NFL. On Wednesday, the University of California Board of Regents confirmed 21-year-old Pakistani-American Sadia Saifuddin as student regent-designate, making her the first Muslim to hold the position.

Though on face both achievements seem like victories for young Palestinian and Muslim Americans everywhere, both honors were not received without controversy. In fact, it was not the achievements of these two individuals that got them attention in the news but rather the public’s reactions to their achievements that sparked such public outrage.

Aboushi’s commitment to the Jets was met with slanderous accusations of being a Muslim extremist and anti-Semite by both Yahoo! Sports (the link has since been removed) and FrontPage Mag, the latter accusing Aboushi of having “radical associations and a heritage that pushes him towards a destructive world of violence and hate.”


Oday Aboushi and his family (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

An outpour of individuals and organizations came to the offensive lineman’s defense. The Anti-Defamation League dismissed the accusations against Aboushi, assuring critics that there’s “absolutely nothing in the public record to suggest that Aboushi is anything other than a young American athlete who takes pride in his Palestinian heritage.”

Had any of these critics taken the time to look at Aboushi’s record, here’s what they would have found: In 2011, he joined a handful of other Muslim athletes to be honored by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Department of State for their athletic accomplishments. In college, he balanced a successful academic career at the University of Virginia with his football career, even going as far as adhering to the yearly Ramadan fast during Virginia’s training camp.

Yup, scary guy.

Similar charges followed Saifuddin prior to her unanimous confirmation Wednesday as UC student regent. Saifuddin’s critics, including the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs and conservative commentator David Horowitz, urged the UC regents to reject her appointment, citing her outspoken support of the Boycott, Sanction and Divest movement. They alleged that her support of a measure for the UC to divest from companies doing business in the Israeli occupation marginalized Jewish students on campus and made her unqualified to represent the UC system’s 222,000 students.

StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said Saifuddin’s appointment “sends the wrong message” and “defeats the Regents’ own goal of being more inclusive,” calling her support of BDS a “bigoted campaign” meant to marginalize the Jewish population on UC Berkeley’s campus.

However, regent Bonnie Reiss assured everyone that they “would not have selected Sadia if we thought she was anti-Semitic.”


Sadia Saifudden (Sureya Melkonian/The Daily Californian)

In response to the attacks, Saifuddin voiced disappointment, but not surprise.

“I think being on the receiving end of these attacks is difficult, but it’s not something that’s unexpected or unforeseen,” Saifuddin told the Daily Californian, the school’s newspaper. “It’s something that I’ll learn to deal with better every day.”

Despite the outpour of public support for both Aboushi and Saifuddin’s defense, a clear message was sent to the world: being a young Muslim or Palestinian in America is tough, especially if you’re an outspoken one.

To a young American like myself who is both Palestinian and Muslim (and yes, a tad outspoken), the message was far more succinct: Sit down and shut up. 

Why? Because so long as I’m Muslim, I’m probably linked to extremists. And if I’m in any way critical of Israel, I must be a raging anti-Semite.

Take Samantha Power’s recent appointment as the permanent United States Representative to the United Nations. Power, a former journalist and human rights activist, was initially met with controversy for her outspoken opposition to Israel’s continued settlement building and occupation of the Palestinian people. The Zionist Organization of America and several right-wing Israel advocates accused Power of being an enemy to the State of Israel and even possibly an anti-Semite.

That is, until Power began singing a different tune. During her confirmation hearing, Power voiced her commitment to opposing any Palestinian efforts to seek international recognition.

“We need to deter the Palestinians in any way we can — and we need to get their attention,” Power told the Senate.

This coming from the same woman who in 2002 advocated for investing less in Israeli’s military and more in a new Palestinian state.

Message received, world. Though I can’t personally promise I’ll sit down and shut up anytime soon, I’ll know the cost. As Saifuddin so eloquently put it, it’s something I’ll just have to “learn to deal with.”

2 thoughts on “From Oday Aboushi to Sadia Saifuddin: The Tension of Being Young, Palestinian and Muslim in America

  1. Pingback: From Oday Aboushi to Sadia Saifuddin: The Tension of Being Young, Palestinian and Muslim in America | yapoliticks

  2. Reblogged this on yapoliticks and commented:
    This piece is written by an up-and-coming journalist on balancing ethic and personal identity in a place that does not always readily accept it. Please read.

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