2 months ago

The Middle East took over the US

Muslims at the encampment praying Jummah prayer while students guard, April 26
Muslims at the encampment praying Jummah prayer while students guard, April 26

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Moving to another continent to pursue college education was already a huge risk. I didn't know what I envisioned my first year of college to be like but it didn't definitely include witnessing a period of radical social justice and a demand for change. The massacres in Palestine have shaken the newer generation all across the world and the reactions are evident in the encampments, walkouts, and marches occurring within college campuses here in the US. As an international student, I was heavily advised to keep my distance from such demonstrations as most would result in arrests. Regardless, I managed to capture glimpses of these political events.

The encampment at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, like on many other campuses, has been met with violence from law enforcement personnel and jeers from counter protesters. Throughout the last few weeks, students on my campus, most of whom are not even Arabs or Muslims, fought tooth and nail to make themselves heard. They even set up an encampment and declared they won't move an inch until UNC divests support from Caterpillar, Sabra Hummus and other entities complicit in support of Israel. It was overwhelming for me as an international student who was trying to end the semester and go home. It was even worse as I was in a country where I'm now a minority, and Islamophobia and Anti-Arabism was rearing its ugly head all across the nation.

I recall one incident that happened on Franklin Street of Chapel Hill, where a Hijabi woman was attacked by a person draped with an Israeli flag during Halloween and administration wouldn't report the incident to the student body until way later after the incident. This was the closest I've been to a hate crime and I was shaken deep inside and so were the rest of the members of Muslim Students Association. There was also another incident after October 7 regarding a professor where he called Pro-Palestine students who occupied the front of Wilson Library "Nazis." The professor was soon arrested but faced no further consequences.

Alas, despite all the awful things that were happening throughout the country, it was impressive to see people of various communities come together and rebel against their higher-ups. The UNC encampment was a very calm inclusive space that boasted libraries, a food court, a medical aid center, an art space, and an empty area to hold conversations regarding Palestine and other liberation related movements. On Fridays, they make space for Jummah prayer. Students set up tents (which they were ordered to remove) and tarps to occupy themselves with homework and finals. Even I managed to stay there for a couple of hours with friends.

The encampment faced no interventions until April 30 when police ravaged the encampment at 6 AM and cleared it all away. Later that day, Pro Palestine students clashed with their political opponents, which resulted in the cancellation of all classes that day. The last week before finals were nerve-wrecking to say the least.

I left the US knowing that after these past few months, not a single college would be the way it was in the years before. That should not in any way stop Generation Z however. I know that after the Black Lives Matter protests back in 2020, the younger people have become mentally prepared for anything. Now that the presidential elections are nearing and the continuing Israeli violence in Palestine is only igniting more action, demand for proper democratic leadership has never been higher. This has become the period to appreciate not only Muslim and Arab Americans, but also the young American generation as a whole.

The writer is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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