Have you noticed your boss, supervisor or co-workers have been having a hard time looking at you straight in the eye in the last few days? Has the war on Iraq, which has just begun, been causing problems for you as a Muslim in your workplace?
If they have, you're not alone. Many, many Muslim Americans are going through the same thing. While in extreme cases, harassment may occur, most of the time, bosses and co-workers are at a loss in trying to relate to their Muslim American counterparts.
Don't be offended by it. Take it as an opportunity. While it's tempting to hide out in your cubicle and avoid contact and communication, this is the worst thing you and Muslim employees can do. It is now, more than necessary to be pro-active and vocal.
Here are a few things you and Muslim co-workers can do to alleviate the tension at your workplace:
1. Send a thoughtful memo to everybody at work
Send a memo to all, including your boss, supervisor and all employees. It could be a thoughtful prayer for peace. Or you could send out a message of concern, hoping that all co-workers and their families remain safe. The point is to communicate.
In addition, if you have a company newsletter or some other publication that is published weekly or daily, get this message published on behalf of all of the Muslims at your workplace. You can also post the message on all of the company’s bulletin boards, if you get permission to do that.
Make sure to respect the rules of the publication (i.e. the word count of messages, the deadline to get the piece in by, etc.).
2. Organize a session at work to talk about it
Many people are keeping their emotions bottled up or quietly discussing it amongst friends at work. Talk to your boss about having a session for all employees with a counselor or therapist to discuss the fears relating to the war and possible terrorism. This can help you and your co-workers process your feelings about it. If possible, arrange to pay for this yourself so that all employees can benefit from the session.
3. Talk to your coworkers about how they are feeling
On an individual level, discuss with co-workers, one-on-one, how they and you are feeling. By opening up to you, your co-workers will not only appreciate the opportunity to discuss something they feel afraid and concerned about, but they will also be able to connect to you. By connecting to you, you become a friend, not "the other".
4. Encourage people not to generalize
It is expected that some individuals may generalize and try to lump all Muslims as "pro-Saddam" or "pro-terrorism". If you find this attitude in a co-worker, calmly explain this is not true.
5. Avoid discussing your anti-war views
The war on Iraq has produced much heated discussion between members of both sides of the debate. In order to maintain your safety and a pleasant work environment, avoid confrontation, as this will only lead to further problems, not understanding.