Thursday, August 10, 2006

Labels are for cans, not people.

This morning I got in my car, adjusted my rearview mirror, backed out my driveway and turned on the radio. What I heard froze me in place. I'm not sure the details but what kept reverberating like an echo in my mind were the words: airplane. red alert. somber voices amid static. The fear that lurks in my heart every day since September 11, 2001 stood at attention, white. ghostly. Relief washed over me once I learned that despite the close call, there was no attack. But still, the rest of the day has felt surreal as fear grips me, surrounding me, spilling over the brim.

Like the rest of the US I fear another terrorist attack but I also fear the blame I will take for it from my fellow Americans. I fear mass hysteria and mob mentality. I fear internment camps. Punishing me for the acts of others. Acts I DISAGREE WITH. Acts that frighten me too.

People from professors to friends have said that if Muslims are not speaking out in droves against terrorism than our silence equals complicity. There are over one billion Muslims in the world. Almost four times the size of the United States population. Most Americans don't feel the actions of a stranger in South Dakota or New York or even our next door neighbor speak for us, but as Muslims we must go out in throngs to disavow the actions of a stranger who happens to be one of 1.6 billion people who call themselves Muslim. David Koresh was Christian. The BTK killer went to Church faithfully. Should I assume Christians love the actions of these men because they did not make a public announcement ("We as Christians do not condone murder. We are peaceful as a faith. These people do not represent us")? Baraka wrote a fantastic post where she included a quote from Anne Frank's diary: " Oh it is very, very sad that for the umpteenth time, what one Christian does is his own responsibility; what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.'" Such is it now a days for Muslims.

September 11th affected my life profoundly. I read a punctuation book and see a snide remark calling Muslims terrorists, I turn on the television and someone is declaring all Muslims domestic and abroad untrustworthy and violent. On the radio this morning I was told I needed to be eliminated. What did September 11 do for me. It added more fear, more terror in my heart because now its politically correct and acceptable to hate me. To look at me and my brothers with suspicion as we order teriyaki subs from Subway. It makes me fearful of what could follow.

Maybe its just my turn. Many other groups followed this path before. There was a time when it was okay to say African Americans were less intelligent than others. There was a time when no one batted an eye when a sign on a store would say "Jews need not apply". There was a time that Bugs Bunny made fun of Japanese and the government sent them off to internment camps. Right now its okay to hate me, and people like me with a blanket label. It's okay to make fun and hurt and harass and call for our eradication. I try to remind myself its our time. Like in the past, one day people will learn you can't judge all Muslims by the acts of a few. Just not yet...

For the record, I am against violence. period. You call yourself Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, WHATEVER I am against violence as a means to resolve issues. Call it cheesy, idealistic, unrealistic but I am for peace, and love and harmony and tolerance and patience and kindness. That is my stance.

I'm striving to learn more but I am not as knowledgable as I'd like to be, so I normally stay quiet. My intention in writing this is not to stir up controversy. If you're looking for an agressive debate it's unlikely I will respond. You may see this inability to respond as a weakness and flaw.. i won't deny it... but we all are flawed.. I'm striving to improve.. these are just my feelings on the matter.

"Often times I have hated in self-defense; if I were stronger I would not have used such a weapon.” Khalil Gibran


Mohammad A. AbulHasnaat said...

i agree with you.
feels like am reading my own thoughts...
may God bless you

S said...

Yes, guess how I learnt about this? My boss at work told me this morning. "Did you hear....and I think they were from the Pakistan-Afghan border..... Aren't you from that area?". What a lovely way to start the day.

So here is one thought on this: The Jews did create a very effective lobby (through organizations such as AIPAC) that marketed their very positive image to the American public. (Did you read that article I sent you?). But where are the Muslims and where is their lobby? I think the thing we can learn from Jewish people is that they embrace every Jewish person. They are a very tolerant people when it comes to their own community.

But Muslims tend to create unrealistic standards for joining or becoming a part of the "Ummah". So many Muslims are alienated among the Muslim community itself. I think this is an important issue to understand-the inherent tension within the Muslim community itself. An interesting point to note is that the 9-11 terrorists were NOT model Muslims. They drank, smoked and frequented bars etc. The status of Muslims among Muslims is really the key to understand such perverted terrorist (to use a cliched overly tired word) behaviour of Muslims: Such aggression is directed towards fellow Muslims (perhaps more so) along with the West. The dynamic within the Muslim world is complicated. E.g. Lebanon was a very pro-West country to begin with. They even extradited the Syrian forces (read Hizbollah)last year by instrumenting the Cedar Revolution. So an average Lebanese Muslim is not a fundamentalist. Well one point is getting too long. But you see the issues.

Hey do you know about the book Londistan? Also one more thing, I do love my boss and he is great and I am sure did not mean to offend me.

momyblogR said...

Ok, this post made me want to cry. I am a white Christian woman and have never been looked at as anything other than that. I don't know what it feels like to be in your shoes or any of the others you have mentioned. I do however, have a sudden overwhelming sense of guilt a feel the need to apologize to you for the actions and attitudes of the people who are of faith. I feel ashamed.

It's not ok to hate you or anyone and I for one would stand right behind you in your stance. It's NOT cheesy, it's refreshing.

As far as the untrustworthy and violent crap....Man, that makes me mad. I have never "met" you but would in total confidence go to you house, leave BOTH of my children there and drive off for a weekend....(if you would have them) and know they would be perfectly cared for. And there are people that I know and even attend church with that I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that with.

Please know that I don't share the mentally of these others. And silence doesn't always mean weakness or flaw. It sometimes means wisdom.

pixie said...

Very good post. I'm still in shock over this and just feel thankful that it was caught in time.

Baji said...

Hello. Thank you for sharing. I do feel that those that are from more devloped and "free" lands do have a responsibility to better organize and speak out.

Do you think that there are cultural or religious traits that contribute to the fact that so many Muslims seem to remain quiet? Is it an "American" ideal that is not realistic for people from other countries or "New Americans"? I mean to say, is it an American idea to speak out and embrace freedom of speech and to organize and rally, etc?

I don't know. I so, so tired. Too tired to make sense.

Bishonno said...

this brought me to tears.. nearly! Thanks for posting this. I couldn't have expressed how I feel about this any better.

Jane said...

Very eloquent and well written, Aisha. I wish I knew what to say other than I am sorry for what others may say or do to you simply because of your faith.

boba said...

couldnt have said it better myself

Tee said...

I was thinking about this while watching CNN this morning. The reporter was noting the large Pakistani population in the UK and I was thinking, "So what? What does that have to do with this?"

As you noted, the treatment is not equal. To think this is the year 2006! Had the terrorists been Caucasian British citizens do you think the reporter would include in her report the number of other White British citizens living in the UK? I don't think so!

You need to pick up the book "Not a Genuine Black Man: Or, How I Claimed My Piece Of Ground In The Lily-White Suburbs" by Brian Copeland - The one I reviewed on my blog a couple days ago. This isn't just a book about the black/white issue. It's about racism. It's about inequality and how we treat people.

One little piece of news to be proud of. Something that you can throw in the face of others who expect you to state clearly that you codemn terrorism just to see if you're "one of us"... The person who originally went to UK authorities and said that an aquaintance was up to suspicious activities? A Muslim Pakistani British citizen. :)

mezba said...

Chin up. Move to Canada (for now). Unless we get some smart Muslims on TV this perception is gonna remain. I saw the president of some Arab organization on CBC and he looked like an idiot, raging and foaming. And I hate the fact that Muslim=Arab. But even more we ourselves fight too much over trivial stuff (roll up jeans or not, M and M is halal or makrooh and so on), and many people have too much time and too little brain - so they protest every trivial matter and get offended at things they should ignore - so when the real offensive and protest-worthy cause comes up, no one gives a damn.

mystic-soul said...

But remember...

It was a muslim, who send first tip and alerted the authority !

I am glad, he did what he was suppose to do...and saved many lives as well as a lot of complications for a common muslim living peacefully.

Aisha said...

M.A: Thank you

S: Yes the Jewish lobby is incredible. There was a book decades ago by Paul Findley called "They dare to speak out" and it was against the Jewish lobby in part. As soon as it was published the book was not being carried in most bookstores and he was ousted from congress after serving for 18 years at the next reelection. You can only help yourself. You can't expect others to do it for you. Muslims are too confused on what to do. Most of are too involved in ourl ives to do something. Some think its wrong to participate. Of those who want to participate, half are just talk, the others want to argue on who makes the decisions. This at least has been my experience. We are going through a crossroads as Muslims and its stinky that we have to stand up and defend ourselves as we are trying to figure out at this moment what exactly we are. Its an identity crisis at a most unfortunate time. What do you think? And Sonia you raise a great a point: the 9/11 guys were not ideal muslims. Have you seen "Paradise Now" yet? Your comment on this topic of the 9/11 hijackers makes me think you will realyfind that movie interesting.

Mommyblogr, thank you so much for having that much trust in me! Its people like you, friends of different faiths who are good and kind and not labelling... it gives me hope. I also hope that people like Bill O'reilly etc. are extremists and their views dont reflect the majority. There are polls that say that the views of such people are infact the majority, but still, I can only hope that that will change soon. Thanks again.

Pixie, yes, me too. Alhamdullilah.

Baji you raise REALLY good points. We talked abotu this in one of my law classes as to why Muslmis are so quiet. I think some of it is culture. For ex. in pearl harbor era japanese did not fight for their rights or protest much. they went to the camps. they didn't even raise a ruckus later really. part of the passiveness is probably cultural. A lot of it is fear. Many of us dont understand our rights. We are afraid to voice our concerns and anger or frustration b/c we think we might get in trouble. Many of us came to the US (our families) to find work and make a living. They are so busy doing this they dont have time to become activists. A lot of it is like I said in my comment to Sonia.... a lot of those issues are very real amongst the second generation. Once we figure out who we are, only then can we know what to do. United We Stand Divided We Fall. We are quite dividing. And we are falling. And I'm afraid where our fall will rest.

Aisha said...

Bishonno, welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting.

Jane, like I told Mommyblogr, peoplel ike you give me hope.

Boba, thanks

Tee I will have to buy that book. lol man I buy at least three books a week thsi summer and right now I've read only three! School starts soon I dont know where i'll find the time. but anways, you are right about the fact that it was a Muslim who turned these guys in. But you know they dnot mention this AT ALL. I wonder if it had been a white nonmuslim neighbor who heard if this person would be getting a prize. or at least "a concerned neighbor reported suspiciuos..." Honestly the news reports i've been hearing are all just that "authorities intercepted" I mean if the media wanted to be at ALL responible they could point out this fact a bit more to help counter the bias and the hatred. Why would I expect that though?

Mezba what is the atmosphere in Canada like right now? Was it any diff after 9/11? I heard that Canada is very racist towards Pakistani particularly in the Toronoto are.

Mystic yes... even if the media wont announce it like they should at least I know I can point this out.

Mia said...

You know what gets me Aisha that you'd figure that here in NYC after 911 we'd be the ones projecting all of this hate and ignorance towards the Muslim community. Yet it's not so. Sure there's a few ignorant asses here and there but for some reason the further you get away from NYC the more intolerant people are. They see Muslim people and assume the worst. People forget that many Muslims were murdered as well when those planes hit the WTC. They forget that those ignorant and intolerant extremists are not the norm within Islam. When I heard the news yesterday my first thought was that of family members who were supposed to be arriving yesterday from London. I can only imagine the looks they got at Heathrow when the announcement of the plot was made.

momyblogR said...

Well, that just tells me the majority of people are ignorant and closed minded!

Gosh, how sad are THEY?!

momyblogR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
doshar said...

May God help you through this Aisha... I have my cousins living in the states and they wear the veil, so everyewhere they go they might get looks... but they are coping.

I guess what really needs to be done is that muslims should speak up more... not to condemn these acts whenever they happen. yes they are wrong.. but I am not one for double standards... if we as muslims are required to stand up and vocally condemn everytime someone blows something up and say "Allahu Akbar", then at least everyone else has to condemn what ever the reasons these extremists emerged in the first place. the double standards the US is applying enrages every muslim. it is unjust...

muslims have to speak up to stand against this discriminiative behaviour.. the word "Islamic Fascist" used by Bush for instance. Also to show the world that we care for each other and then we would be respected and no one will treat us with slight.

it does not take much to join the ummah... there is no quota that you have to aquire. faith is in your heart.. and only God is judge of that... I do wish a day would come soon when all muslims would stand together and show the world the real beauty of Islam.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about you yesterday. I obviously can't understand because I don't experience the questioning looks or comments, but I am truly sorry that it is happening to you.

It is sad to me that the media and our president continue to spout these labels, as you call them. They are truly inaccurate and unfortunately very damaging. Even within the Christian church there is so much diversity of belief and values, that it seems odd to even use those labels anymore. I shudder to think that because I am a Christian people might place me among the "religious right" - right next to James Robertson or Jerry Falwell. Eeeeek... we are truly not the same, even if we might fall under the same label of faith.

But, I for one, want you to know that not everyone looks at the label - I see your heart and would never even dream of placing you in the same category. I do wish that there was a solution for this... you are in my thoughts.


Baraka said...

Salaam Aisha,

Great post.

I think you're right, it is our turn.

We have to wrestle with hijackings of planes (and the resultant xenophobia that created) and of our religion by co-relgionists for many decades, now coming to its fruition.

And some of the silence is indeed cultural as you & Baji said - but I think it's also the all too human characteristic of just being too busy in one's own life to believe it will effect us personally.

Lots of factors but looking at it as an opportunity to clean house is good...I just worry about this language that is being used getting out of hand as it has a tendency to do.

Great Gibran quote too.


surya said...

hey grt thoughts n nicely writen...

mezba said...

Aisha, if people in Toronto are racist towards Pakistanis I have not heard of it, then again I am not a Pakistani. On the whole I would say the Pakistani community is well represented and catered for in Toronto, rather the whole South Asian community is - there's just so many of us. In fact, the 'Special adviser on South Asia and the Middle East to the Prime Minister' is an MP named Wajid Khan, of Pakistani descent.

I think in the past 1970s or so the chants of "Paki" was heard, but now the whole place is just so diverse.

There are still some racists that I blogged on. Then again, some Pakistanis I know are racist towards each other (sorry to say) - Shia vs Sunni, Sindhi vs non-Sindhi and so on.

Shabana said...

hey you! I'm in your state now!

Bee Amma said...

In response to what someone said up there,i cant remember who, and im too lazy too scroll now, but its not that there aren't enough smart muslims, its that they dont seem to get shown on telly!!! We had a programme on here a couple of days back on channel 4 called "what muslims want" it was basically a survey of thoughts and attitudes of british muslims, like 6/10 "british muslims" believe blah blah n blah. And the muslims that they seemed to stop in the streets and talk to just made me want to smash my own telly against a wall!! Where do they get such people?! Theyre about as eloquent as ..umm i dunno i cant think of anything witty to say right now, im THAT tired of this! I know the media potrays us in ways we may not appreciate but at times i think we really don't go about doing ourselves any favours either.

Khodadad said...

Got to your blog through Sobia's, and loved this post. Very well written. If its fine by you, then I would like to suggest this post to a few friends and family members.

Aisha said...

Mia that is the CRAZIEST part to me. For example a lot of the ppl who voted for Bush for reelection said they had to stand by him after 9/11. He pimped 9/11 so bad for his campaign yet the city where the terrorism occurred did not vte red. I've seen interviews with new yorkers outraged by the stereotyping and stupidity. Its refreshing ot know there are such people out there, mind boggling that others can't learn a lesson from those who truly faced the devestation themselves. Muslims died inthe WTC like you pointed out! I Had a friend IN the building on the DAY of the attack and he was Muslim. How interesting for him to have been lucky enough to survive... and then to face sukspicious eyes. Sad. Mia, did yur relatives make it here safely?

Doshar, I agree... unity is the single leading cause of our prblems.

Summer!! Thanks for commenting. Thanks for always keeping your heart and mind open. I love you!

Baraka yes the labelling is getting out of hand. I fear they are already catch phrases now. It means they will proliferate. Again the advice you ave in the comments on your blog is the best way to start to make changes.

Surya, thank you :)

Mezba thanks for explaining. I find it interesting thaty ou said there is no racism that you've experienced (pakistani, bengali, indian, its all south asian).... i will check out the link soon insh'allah.

Bee Amma!!! Will Smith once said he gets very mad at the media b/ whenever its time to interview a black person for their view they find the sle man standing without any shoes or teeth and who just utters rubbish. I find that interesting b/c its true in the way the local news portrays African Americans. Sounds similar with what they do to Muslims on that show. I'm sure tehre plenty of eloquent Muslims in the UK but they're nto as fun as the stupid ones. Whatever brings ratins right? Stupid. But whose fault is it? MUSLIMS. If you dont have anything substantial to add, keep it shut. To bad we love to hear our own voices though no matter how stupid it sounds... * sigh*

Khodadad, welome to the blog. Thank you. I would be honored if you wanted to share it with peple. Thansk.

Chic Mommy said...

this was very well written. I was contemplating writing something about this too, but I don't like debates and didn't want to stir up controversy. but you have done an excellent job without offending anyone. your writing is excellent. this is why I always come back to read your blog.

Raheel said...

when we make fun of someone like maybe jokes on sardars it is because somewhere in our hearts we like/love/enjoy their unique behaviours but when it comes to religions it is a complete different story altogether. I guess Muslims should show their strength and also publicize it because this is how this world works. Briefly, we need to bridge the gaps.

Sobia said...

Aisha, your writing is always so moving. I love your honesty and sincerity.

These are scary days, aren't they? I am just as afraid as you are. It's awful.

tahin said...

Thank you for this post Aisha.
Everything will be much more better one day inshallah.. I believe this. We just must be patient. These times will be passed..

Dynamite Soul said...

As salaamu alaikum,

Great post. One thing that is different for Muslims vs the other groups you've mentioned is the fact that we comprise of people from each background you've named. I think it is a blessing in disguise because some people in the Ummah have been affected personally from each trial. There are even Jews who are now Muslims in our Ummah, so I believe that is what could turn things around.

Someone else said the same thing I was thinking about TV. I live in Atlanta and there is a Masjid not even 5 minutes away from CNN.

When did they decide to go toward the Masjid?

When there was a terrorism suspect there.

Did they come and talk to the Muslims and ask for their opinions and positions?


Minka said...

A very interesting perspective. You are actually the only muslim that I do speak with and therefore the only one I know a bot closer. Your point is exactly right, one does never represent an entire group. Each individual should be held responsible for their actions and their actions alone.
But people are afraid, and when fear sets in, the body takes over the brain. You act to what your body tells you, you protect yourself and those you love by the utmost means possible. It is not right, not is human. "To err is human".
It is no excuse just an explanation.
I wish for you and me and everybody, that the world one day will be as perfect as we want it to be...

Aisha said...

Chic, Raheel, Sobia, Tahin thank you. These are indeed tough times. I'm glad that you understood and could relate. Thanks.

Dynamite, are you talking about Al-Farooq musid? You are right, there are people from every culture I discussed (Japanese, Jewish etc) who can actually identify with bein Muslim. Yep they dont even let Muslims tell their views on things. Though sadly there *are* indeed Muslims who would say things truly stupid. Its sad.

Minka yes, i guess this is the animal element of us to just act on gut and fear. However though humans are flawed we are humans with the ability to think. And as governments and insitutiotns set up to protect us and use reason to think for us.... when tey also fall into this thinking or allow people to continue to feel that way. That is wrong. Though its "natural" and we must accept this human tendency its something we need to strive to improve on, not justify and remain at status quo.

Enyur said...

Oh my God Aisha! Same here! I was leaving for work that morning, in my car listening to the news station, when I heard the words 'terrorist' 'plane' and Heathrow airport' at that point, I just shut my eyes and wished to God it wasn't another 9/11 disaster!

Thank God I haven't really experienced any direct racism, but sometimes I can see it in the eyes of 'some' people. After 9/11 I almost felt 'guilty' but then a good friend and colleague of mine (who is a non-Muslim) said "Just because some idiots choose to kill in the name of Islam, doesn't mean it's YOUR fault or that you should be ashamed of being a Muslim." I had also only read about the hatred people of other races had to endure. After 9/11 (although nothing direct), I did indirectly feel what it must have been like for the Jews, African Americans and the Japanese. It's a terrible feeling.

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