Interviewed by Gabriella Gricius
Fatima Mohie-Eldin is co-editor for Muftah’s Egypt and North Africa pages. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Near Eastern Studies at NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center. Fatima holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University where she studied Religion and Muslim Societies.
Find more of her work here
G: Thank you so much for talking with me today Fatima. I’m so glad we could come to you live from the streets of Bucharest. Could you start by telling me a little bit about yourself. Where you’re from, and why you’re studying in Turkey?
F: Absolutely. My name is Fatima, I grew up in the Boston area, I attended Boston University. I studied abroad at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, and I’m back there this summer for a language program. My mom is Turkish so that’s what got me here but I didn’t grow up speaking the language, so I’m here to learn!
G: That’s great. Like I said, we’re in a miniseries about breaking down stereotypes and we like to aim to raise awareness by giving a voice to those who are often preemptively labelled. In that vein, how would you choose to identify yourself?
F: That’s an interesting question. I was actually talking to classmate a couple weeks ago about growing up Turkish in America, and about Americans who grow up without a connection to Turkey. I was actually asked if I identified as white. Actually no I don’t. In a lot of cases I can pass as white but I never felt fully ingrained in America because my mom is Turkish, my dad is Egyptian, and we’re a Muslim family. So it’s a very mixed bag of identities and I don’t know if any one of them really stuck the most. I always felt not fully in any one box so I guess I identify as everything all together: Turkish, Egyptian, Muslim and American
G: So like you said, none of them really take precedent. Do you feel at home in any one of them in particular?
F: I mean, there are times at least geographically in the states, I’m so used to it that I do feel like I’m at home. But there are moments especially in the past year with Trump being elected, a lot of racism and xenophobia has exploded much more publicly. That’s not to say that it wasn’t around before. I do feel at home in the states to an extent, but I do feel at home in Turkey now because I spent a year living there and I’ll always identify as Muslim - as not just an identity that I grew up in, but as one I chose for myself.
G: Things have gotten kind of crazy with xenophobia in the past year, like you mentioned. Have you felt a shift in how you are perceived?
F: Personally not so much, although I’m sure other people feel differently. If I had more of a visual marker, I think I would notice it more - however, I don’t wear a hijab. If I had something Americans perceived as Muslim concretely, I would probably feel that. And back to my point about xenophobia not being perceived earlier. I think there are people in America who felt they couldn’t be public with their sentiments earlier and now they can be. There are always stories, and those were around before. Maybe it’s increasing in intensity, but I haven’t seen any statistics.
G: I have to ask the obvious question, do you think there’s a cause?
F: The orangutan in office. But I really just think it’s a subset of people who felt marginalised or forgotten and now feel like they’re losing out in their way of life. Now they’re lashing out against anyone who is different. Muslim Americans are only one subset of people, there's also African Americans, people who are Hispanic, Asian Americans and any minority group in America
G: American history towards minorities is not the greatest. So, if you could say anything to people like that, what would it be?
F: Honestly - there are so many things that jump into my mind but not all of them get through. It’s hard after seeing videos at Trump supporters in rallies because they’re just so stuck to their opinions - so it’s difficult for them to see any other perspective. I don’t know exactly what I could say because it wouldn’t get through.