In a new opinion piece published in Al Jazeera, Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, Associate Professor of Practice in TC’s Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis, draws on her teenage years amid the genocide in 1990s Bosnia and Herzegovina to sound an alarm about the dangers posed by white supremacy in the United States today.
As she does in her recently published memoir, The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, Sabic-El-Rayess, who is Muslim, describes traumatic experiences that range from betrayal by a Serbian friend to a bomb striking her family’s home. Though she survived while many did not and made her way to the United States, she says that those experiences feel more relevant than ever as America grapples with its own rising racial tensions and concerns about white supremacy.
“I know first-hand the horror that this kind of hate can bring,” Sabic-El-Rayess writes in Al Jazeera. “I survived and came to the U.S., where I thought I would be safe from genocidal ideas forever. Now, I am terrified by the parallels I see between today’s America and my homeland.”
I know first-hand the horror that this kind of hate can bring ... I survived and came to the U.S., where I thought I would be safe from genocidal ideas forever. Now, I am terrified by the parallels I see between today’s America and my homeland.
Sabic-El-Rayess warns that religious violence and racial violence are inherently related, and that white supremacists in the United States are borrowing from and leveraging the violent tactics and nationalist and Islamophobic narratives employed by Serbs in the Balkans to serve their own purpose.
“Like those who partook in the executions of ordinary Muslims in Bosnia,” she writes, “white supremacists in America today look at Muslims – along with Black people, immigrants, gays, Jews and all other minorities – through the imagery of the Crusades and see all minorities as an existential threat to their ethnic purity.”
She references this election year's first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, in which Trump “directed the far-right organization Proud Boys to ‘Stand back and stand by,’” as “loud and clear” evidence that “more violence is to come.” The only remaining question, she asserts, “is whether the military will take sides should violence escalate.”
“This is why now — as a Bosnian genocide survivor — I do not want to just warn Americans but I want to scream from the rooftops that if we continue to dehumanize each other and opt for hate over social cohesion, we will soon find ourselves headed to an abyss on a suicidal train with no return ticket.”
[Sabic-El-Rayess's opinion piece was ranked by The Week among the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media. Read the full op-ed here, and read an interview with Sabic-El-Rayess and a story about her book.]