Stand Up Against Islamophobia, a message from Raechelle Baghirov

Dear fellow RPCVs,

This message is long overdue… RPCV Friends of Azerbaijan community has been seeing an increasing number of posts from many in our RPCV community in the last few weeks (and months) attempting to show support and combat Islamophobia. We have yet to post a political statement in this group, but in light of the increase in violence against Muslims in America, and the good works many of us are doing independently, we feel it is time to organize our efforts. First and foremost, we would like to thank each and every RPCV affiliate group who has stood up and spoken out against Islamophobia and the growing racism in this country. It is people like us that will make a difference for those who are on the fence. Our stories, efforts, and words, will not go unnoticed. If we can reach even a few who will join us, our efforts will be worth the work.

As both an RPCV, and the wife of an American-Azerbaijani, I personally feel that it is my duty to speak out against the hateful rhetoric and the intolerance of Muslims in our communities. When we joined the Peace Corps we took an oath. One of the things we swore to do was to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. The first Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of religion (to practice or not practice). Our third goal obligation to teach about the people we worked and lived among is an obligation that many in our group takes seriously. I would be remiss if I did not state that the weight of this responsibility has been personally crushing lately, which is why I am reaching out to all of you today to unite, stand up and help us fight back. Fight back against Islamophobia in your communities, homes and online. I am writing today to advocate for the coordination of 3rd goal efforts as a collective community, to support the 1st Amendment rights of Muslims in America, and to coordinate a political effort to combat Islamophobia in our government.

You all sacrificed 2-3 years (or more) of your life to the Peace Corps. It is time that we take the lessons we learned, and put them to work. The power of our united actions will help combat the myths and fear that are spreading rampantly throughout our nation. If you have not already done so, we would like to encourage you to please help the RPCV Friends of Azerbaijan by taking the following steps:

1. Reach out to Muslims in your community. Show them the love and support that many of us felt when we were abroad. Find out if any in your neighborhoods may need someone to help escort them safely, if any are in need of resources you can help with, or if you’d like, if any of them would be willing to meet with you so that you can express your support. Sometimes just hearing that there are people who support them can make a significant difference.

2. Call out Islamophobia when you see it. We know that this is hard. I too have family members who are misinformed, and friends who buy into the media misinformation and political rhetoric. Many of you are already doing this. Thank you! We appreciate the respectful, fact-based, logical responses we are seeing. It is heartening to see so many of us working individually to combat the racism in our own social sphere.

3. Vote. The political process in each state is different, but voting in your primary or caucus is one of the most important things we can do to show support for a different path. If you have friends and family who are not registered, this would be a great time to help people sign up to vote.

4. Share your Peace Corps stories. Let people know your experiences, and for those that served in a Muslim community, remind Americans that you know hundreds of Muslims personally. Many of us are doing this, and those stories make a big difference! It’s easy for people to believe lies of those who don’t know a single Muslim, but a lot harder to ignore the stories of those who know hundreds!

5. Contact your representatives. Local, state and federal. Ask them to speak out against Islamophobia and to support the Muslim community in America. Our collective voices made a big difference for human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, our voices need to be heard again to support human rights for Muslims in our own country.

Our group has not been political in general up until this point (with few exceptions). As your fellow RPCV, I understand that some of you would prefer to not be political or involved in such sensitive matters. However, it is the vision and mission statement of the RPCV Friends of Azerbaijan to use advocacy to promote tolerance, respect and unity. Apathy and inaction are tantamount to condoning this type of rhetoric and behavior. We believe if we take action and unite to support this Muslims in America, that we can make a significant difference in this ongoing dialog.

The RPCV Friends of Azerbaijan will be forming a committee of volunteers to create social media posts targeted at combating Islamophobia and promoting a better understanding of the people we served. I would like to open the dialog to other NPCA affiliate groups for ideas on how to help combat Islamophobia and help our Muslim-American community. If anyone would like to join me in this, please send me a private message or reply below. All feedback and comments are welcome.

Please read this message I have been authorized to share.

Wishing you all Peace,
Raechelle Baghirov
RPCV Azerbaijan 2007-2010
Group Administrator/NPCA Liaison