Lessons of 9 /11 – Not In My Name

We are now “the other” .

I was saying to my husband that in ten years time our children will be in college and we won’t have to worry about school districts and can get a large home, with a sprawling yard wherever we can afford one. He smirked. “Don’t worry. In ten years time, we’ll be living in concentration camps.” Scary, but it could very well be true. As a Muslim, I now have to think twice before shooting off a letter to an editor decrying one of Bush and Co.’s latest antics. I wouldn’t be surprised if I discovered Big brother was reading my emails, listening to my phone calls. Now when I watch movies like Vendetta or Even Batman Begins, I invariably see parallel’s between today’s America and the fiction unfolding across the screen. I’ve stopped giving to Muslim charities because of the consistency with which the government has been freezing their assets and calling those who’ve donated to them as people aiding and abetting terrorism. Never mind the fact that umpteen investigations have revealed no ties between charitable organizations in the US and terrorism.

But despite the labels, be it Islamic terrorists or the latest, Islamic fascists, I refuse to be cowed down as a representative of my faith. I intend to live my life, practicing the teachings of my faith, being my brother’s keeper. Undeterred, I continue with my volunteerism, my grass-roots activism to improve the community I live in, my role in my child’s PTA, all the while building friendships with Americans of all hue and shade.

I am a Muslim American and I want the same things for my children as any human being. We choose good neighborhoods to live in so that the kids have good role models and peers. We hope our kids grow confident by having them explore and experiment with different things be it food or music or places to visit. We contribute to their intelligence by reading to them, conversing and playing with them. We teach them to be loving and empathetic, by being that way with them and others around them. We have them mingle with a variety of people and cultures so that they grow comfortable interacting with others and have a place to practice the manners we teach them.

Embracing friends of another culture isn’t only about doing the social thing, it’s about learning to appreciate differences, it’s about opening your heart to aspects of life that are outside our original comfort zone. Post 9/11, for Muslims, these interactions have taken on even greater significance. We can’t let the fanatics speak to our neighbors and our communities for us, we must let our actions and our intentions speak for us. Only when others know who I am on the inside, will I earn for Muslims the trust that 9/11 has so eroded.

There is no denying that 9/ 11 has been the catalyst forcing America Muslims to get out of their little worlds and collaborate meaningfully with the rest of society. Hand-wringing is what we could have stopped at, or venting could have been the solution. But it’s putting your head where your heart is that makes for change. Now, when a Muslim volunteers in an organization outside the Muslim world, it’s putting a face to a Muslim sounding name. It reflects on all Muslims.

9/11 also became a call to America Muslims to take a look at things besides our bank balances. Traditionally, Muslims have chosen Medicine and Engineering, and more recently IT, as careers – more or less stable, lucrative career paths. It was time for us to join the ranks of teachers, journalists, counselors, political activists and writers. These are the people who define the manner in which America, and hence global society, thinks. It was time the moderates amongst Muslims joined the circles where we could influence the discourse. What’s more, we’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be a topic related to Muslim issues alone, for us to get involved.

Our choices were clear. The alternative was allowing the propagation of the stereotype of Muslims as backward, violent, trouble-makers – both past and present – brutes who’d forced the ‘sword of Islam’ into the lands they conquered. We could become pariahs or we could become ambassadors of our faith. Passivity had already cost the silent, peaceable majority dearly. Five years later, silence is still not an option.