Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors


By Domenica Ghanem - Guest Columnist

If we take the time to get to know one another, we’ll find that we don’t have to live in fear.

For a South Jersey girl, my upbringing was markedly ordinary. I played soccer. I joined student council. I walked to my Sicilian grandmother’s house every day after school.

And just like everyone else in my small town of Hammonton, my summer revolved around blueberries — blueberry pie, blueberry canolis, even blueberry pizza. The blueberry season culminated in a Red, White, and Blueberry festival each July. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

When I got a little older, playtime with my cousins turned into bussing tables with my sisters at my family’s small Italian restaurant. But after the 9/11 attacks, something else changed for me, too.

I was part of the only Muslim American family in my majority Catholic town.

Before the attacks, I never felt like an outsider. But once the towers came down, friends I’d grown up playing soccer or decorating for homecoming with started jokingly referring to me as a “terrorist,” or pleading “don’t bomb me” whenever we disagreed on something.

I noticed my Egyptian father introducing himself as “Andre” to customers at the restaurant, though his name is Anwar. I have to think it wasn’t just to avoid people questioning the authenticity of his Italian dishes.

I didn’t have a name for it back then. But while I was in college, “Islamophobia” became the buzzword. And phobia was right. It was all about fear.

I’d thought that people in my town knew me. I was the short, quiet girl who brought weirdly gourmet leftovers from her family’s restaurant for lunch, and would probably let you copy the answers to her homework if you asked nice enough.

I wasn’t able to step into the shoes of my white, mostly Catholic neighbors and see that despite my feeling very ordinary, my Muslim family and our ideals had always felt a little unfamiliar to them. And after 9/11, they were taught to feel afraid of those little differences.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell my friends that I enjoyed getting my face painted at the Blueberry Festival just as much as the next kid, even if I didn’t eat a hot dog.

I’d tell them that my religious ideals include putting others before myself, working to take care of my parents when they grow older, being thankful for each day I’m granted, and loving my neighbors even if they’re unsure how to love me back.

I’m lucky because I still have the chance to have those conversations.

It’s too late for the six Muslims who were killed in a shooting at their mosque in Quebec City in January. And it’s too late for the three Muslim students shot dead on their campus at the University of North Carolina in 2015.

In fact, last year the FBI reported a stunning 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans. Many of us fear it’s only going to get worse now.

With the rise of ISIS, again people are being taught to fear innocent people from countries they don’t know. And under the new administration, policies are being implemented to ban those unfamiliar faces — many of whom are fleeing attacks by ISIS and violent wars they had no role in starting — from our shores.

But those families, banned with the stroke of Donald Trump’s pen, share many of the same values that we do. Syrian refugee children just want to go to school. Iranian doctors only want to help find cures to deadly diseases. Iraqi parents just want a warm bed for their kids to sleep at night.

If we take the time to get to know one another, instead of building physical and political barriers, I think we’d find that we’re all just striving for the universal ideals of health and happiness. And that’s nothing to fear.

The GOP Health Plan Would Make the Opioid Crisis Even Worse. States that supported Trump are going to be the hardest hit.

“We will give people struggling with addiction access to the help they need,” Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016.

We’re in the midst of the worst opioid epidemic our country has seen. More people died last year from opioid overdoses than ever before — 33,000. Opioid abuse now kills more people nationwide than car accidents or gun deaths.

The problem runs most rampant in America’s heartland — in states like Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Ohio alone, which gave key electoral votes to Trump, has three of the top 10 cities with the worst overdose rates in the country, with Dayton coming in at number one.

So why is Trump supporting a health care bill that experts have said will only make our opioid problem worse?

Specifically, the GOP’s Obamacare replacement would eliminate the law’s requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental health and addiction services. This expansion currently covers half the cost of Ohio’s medication-assisted addiction treatment. All in all, 1.3 million Americans get treatment under it.

Studies have shown that a major cause of the opioid problem is patients becoming addicted to the painkillers their doctors prescribe. Even Trump seems to understand this.

“We prescribe opioids like Oxycontin freely,” Trump said in October 2016. “But when patients become addicted to those drugs, we stop doctors from giving patients the treatments they medically need.”

And yet, that’s exactly the problem the new GOP health care bill perpetuates.

The bill would allow insurance companies to turn away drug users, causing patients to lose affordable access to lifesaving treatments like Suboxone, Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance told Vice.

The new health care plan would also make doctors more likely to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, Northeastern University law and health professor Leo Beletsky says, because their patients won’t be insured for alternative treatment options like physical therapy.

Republican senators from Ohio, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Colorado recently released a statement saying they wouldn’t support any “poorly implemented or poorly timed” change in “access to life-saving health care services.” But Trump is pushing for it anyway.

On the campaign trail, Trump also promised his rural and Appalachian supporters that he would fight for harsher sentencing for drug dealers. But piles of evidence prove that harsher punishment doesn’t stop the flow of drugs into these vulnerable communities. In fact, it only makes the drug trade more lucrative.

When all’s said and done, the health care policy that Trump supports could increase the opioid treatment gap — those who can’t get substance abuse treatment because they can’t afford it or that care just isn’t available — by 50 percent, according to a Harvard Medical School and NYU report.

That would bring the number of people who remain untreated for addiction up to 640,000.

Trump promised his voters that he would end the opioid epidemic and “make America safe again.” But it’s those same communities in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia that trusted the president to make good on those promises who stand to lose the most.

By Domenica Ghanem

Guest Columnist

Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by

Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by