It’s hard for me to sit back and witness the utter disappointing state of US politics when it comes to Muslims and Muslim countries.
I was born and raised in New Jersey, I love a good bagel, and defend my NJ shores against the stereotyping of the “Jersey Shore” fist-pumping shenanigans. I love NJ. And to an extent, I love America.
America was the country my Afghan family found refuge in. They left Afghanistan at the brink of the Soviet War, fleeing to Pakistan for a short time before gaining entrance into the US in the late 1980s.
America is the country I waved a red, white, and blue flag every year as I stared into the sky in awe of the fireworks and how they majestically lit up the darkened sky for a few seconds. It is the only home I know, with childhood memories in almost every part of the same neighborhood I have lived in all of my life.
Then came 2001. As I looked at the TV of live images of the beautiful towers I had just visited only a few years prior, a sense of confusion came over in my 10 year-old self. What happened? Why did this happen?
I did not understand what had happened any more than my classmates who pointed out I was Muslim and a ‘terrorist’ by association. I remember seeing Afghanistan at the front page of this ‘war on terror’ term that President George W. Bush famously coined.
When I asked my dad why Afghanistan was in the news, I remember him giving a long sigh finally telling me, “There are a lot of bad people…it’s complicated.”
Looking back now, I can’t decide whether it was, and still is, complicated or not. Is choosing justice and equality such a difficult concept? Or is it the unwillingness to sacrifice power that disables equality and catapults an entire nation into lawlessness?
America was the country my family came to, hoping that their children would never have to sacrifice their childhood in the wake of violence.
And yet with each year that I studied American politics and history, I realized what my family escaped to. A country that was oftentimes the perpetrator of violence against so many families around the world who looked like me, spoke the same language as me, and celebrated the same religious holidays as me. It wasn’t just a childhood these children sacrificed; in many cases it was their lives.
I realized that no matter how ‘American’ I outwardly expressed myself, and what my birth certificate proved, my name and my appearance would always signify I was not truly American in the eyes of the mainly white, middle class America.
It seems the US feels the same way. Recent reports revealed massive surveillance under the Bush and Obama administrations of Muslim Americans across the country. They, like me, had parents who came here hoping to provide a better chance of success to their children. And what did they receive in return for their success? Distrust from the country they loved and betrayal from the country that shaped their own personal American dream.
Forget about the obvious unconstitutionality of the issue. Forget the broad interpretation of the Patriot Act that the Obama administration used to justify this surveillance and just for a moment think of the social consequences this will have for American Muslim communities across the country.
Of the hundreds, the five men who were revealed as targets were in positions of power: lawyers, politicians, activists… These are Muslim-Americans who believed in the constitution of the US and in the political structure of this country to bring justice to those treated unjustly.
And yet still, a non “American” name will land you on a mass surveillance list issued by the government regardless of the fact that you consider yourself American through and through; regardless of the citizenship you have proving this to be true.
You, rather we, are “Mohammad Raghead” to the highest officials in government. We have become targets and suspects through connotation that stems off our religious beliefs and in many cases, our cultural background. We have become guilty of something simply because we are Muslim and American.
As though the two are counterintuitive or not compatible.
Because the message of this entire surveillance ordeal aims to discredit any “American”-ness and show to all Mohammad’s and Fatima’s across the country that we cannot be American while being Muslim; that we cannot be trusted.
Because being American is a apparently a friendly neighbor that can do no harm, while being Muslim, by unfortunate connotation, is being the enemy regardless of our “American”-ness.
Which further raises the question: is America at war with Islam and all Muslims? Or just the really bad guys that the entire sane world, including Muslims, denounce as fanatical idiots?
I couldn’t tell you. But being suspicious of your own citizens who happen to be Muslim sure doesn’t send the right message. Nor does defending Israel’s right to defend itself in a room full of Muslims at a White House iftar.
How did things come this far? Actually, don’t answer that… Wouldn’t want you to land on that list either.
(Unless you are not Muslim, you can share your thoughts).