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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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In the courtroom that is my classroom

Muslim students are tired of defending themselves against white saviors who seem to think they know best

Stay quiet, little Suzy, and don’t think too much about what they say. Simply attempt to veil your rage. 

Barbaric backwardness and dissonance — those are the accusations they make. I hold my tongue and repress my anger, afraid of proving them right. I can’t help but ask myself: is it simple ignorance or a silent hatred? 

I am often a defense attorney in the courtroom that is my classroom, up against the prosecution that are my professors and the jury that are my peers. 

I have grown tired, having fought myself numb. Can you blame me when I have been an expert witness and attorney on this case for the past 15 years? When my embroidered fatigue dwindles into exhaustion, I plead the Fifth, though internally I scream for an appeal. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy, stay silent. They don’t need to know your name. 

Sue was how it started, around the time I was 5. Three letters encapsulating the person I used to be. The little girl who seemed so certain, yet she was deeply insecure. For them, Sue was better — Suha is one syllable and one letter too long. They sometimes even tell me that it’s prettier that way. 

Suha Noor sounds better, but maybe I’m wrong. How funny it is I don’t know my own name. 

I never minded Little Suzy or even Suzy Q — they were endearing nicknames, just meant to tease me. But it was when Suzy and Sue were no longer ironies, that their fond sentiments became my stale memories. How sad it is to see what they can take from me. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy, because they can fix you and reverse you, repair you and save you. 

I am questioned on the stand, and as I speak, a short film plays in my head. The movie starts with me at 9 years old, the first time I remember being called a terrorist. The scene shifts to when wearing a hijab almost got me kicked out of an 800-meter race. I think of sitting through a recent lecture, listening to my professor and peers debate whether the hijab is a symbol of oppression. I heard another white professor call a student of color whitewashed — this scene in particular often replays in my head. 

They tell me you’re not allowed to be an activist, no, not with your faith. It is then that the prosecution presents me with their evidence — Afghanistan and Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Case files stacked with stories of women with no freedom because of Islam, hijabs and niqabs. The jury — my classmates — agree and concur. Liberal and progressive are the words they (pretend to) claim. This jury is fraudulent and faulty. They don’t talk about the strength of the women who chose. The ones who made a choice for themselves in choosing not to show. But those witnesses are never brought to the stand. The prosecution objects. Nothing of the sort will be submitted into or accepted as evidence. 

How belittling it can be to allow others to redefine you and strip you of your being.

Stay quiet, little Suzy. Pull your scarf a little back, along with your undercap, and be sure to not make a scene. Always remember not to think that much. Don’t remind yourself that it feels obscene.

Perhaps then, if you adhere, they’ll take you more seriously. This is what the white savior, the prosecution that has mistaken themselves for the defense, has made me and made us do. We stay silent and show a little more, not by choice, but by what feels like necessity. 

I only started wearing my hijab again about a year ago. They tell me bleach blonde Suzy was more fun. I try to remind myself again and again it’s not about them, it’s for Him. I apologize to myself and God. I convince myself they don’t know better, so I sit here and pity them. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy, and do not pull away. Just shake their hand, even if it does not feel OK. 

The former propagators of consent display their own naked hypocrisy. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy. Let them call it an absurdity. Ignore the heavy weight of uneasiness.

“No” becomes an oddity. Boundaries have limits and norms. The prosecution and jury rest their cases, convinced that this one is a peculiarity. How blasphemous and abhorrent it is for me to not want to touch a man. Silly me. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy, and don’t tell your mother of all the utters and mutters. 

I, like many, don’t tell her. We tell ourselves it is nonchalant and normal, as carefree as child’s play. After all, people are on trial every day. 

Stay quiet, little Suzy, and hold yourself back. Take a deep breath and reconvene. 

I don’t have an exact date for when my lifelong trial, this never-ending case, began. Though I may have realized it four years ago, it’s been like this for two decades. But I sometimes wonder, am I the one to blame? In many ways, has my quiet state not been complicit in their game? 

In my silence, I am reminded that enjoying political science and humanities classes is a privilege. Educational institutions only teaching through specific lenses. Spaces where we’re not heard nor seen, purported to be works of charity. It is, like many things, run by the white man and woman. A scholarly realm for them, a battleground for us. 

Stay quiet, dear Suha. Just remember your silence lets them take your identity. 

Suha Chowdhury is an assistant news editor and can be reached at 



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