Today is Veteran’s Day. I should be feeling proud and patriotic, but I’m not. Does that make me a bad American? Perhaps I should “go back to my own country” as someone calmly told me the other day. Except, I’m already in my own country, I’m proud and happy to be American, and my identity as American-Muslim is all the more stronger and faithful because of the hyphen. So what gives? Why can’t I explain Veteran’s Day to my children without feeling a bit uncomfortable?
Tonight, when Americans open their doors at the sound of “Trick or Treat!” they may be in for a big surprise: a little boy dressed up in a jihadi fighter costume! That’s right, while our planes drop bombs on the real bad guys, our neighborhood children may be dressing up like them. I know that many, Muslim or not, are offended, but I see this Halloween as especially important from a sociological perspective.
First, the usual and necessary disclosures about Halloween: As a Muslim I don’t commend or celebrate a pagan holiday with its roots in worship of the devil and fear of evil spirits. As a Muslim mother I don’t allow my children to wear costumes or go trick-or-treating, for a number of reasons which include not only religious beliefs, but also worry and fear of the times we live in. My children of course, being typically American, never take it lying down. My conversation with them on the days leading up to this year’s Halloween can be read here.
But all day yesterday and today, as I read several reports of this year’s new “genre” of costumes I slowly exited from mother mode or even Muslim mode and started thinking like a sociologist. Halloween costume companies this year are encouraging their customers to really get the crowds buzzing with items like ISIS fighters, Ebola nurses, Hazmat suits and even burka-clad Arab women. WHAT? Is this what we have come to, making fun of our biggest problems? Offending people? Taking serious things lightly? Associating Ebola or war with candy?
Credit: Creative Commons/Southbank Centre
I switched on my computer early this morning to get a lovely surprise: Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. For all those who think Muslim women are too oppressed, too quiet, or too busy being mothers and housewives, to make international news, todays’ announcement from the Nobel Peace Committee may have come as a bit of a shocker. For me, it was validation of a lot of things.
If you can’t tell from these words that I am bursting with pride, let me break it down: I am absolutely ecstatic! Here’s why:
Do you remember where you were, what you were doing that fateful morning on September 11, 2001? A Pew survey shows that 97 percent of Americans remember exactly where they were when 9/11 occurred, the highest percentage, followed by JFK’s assassination (95 percent) and Pearl Harbor (89 percent).
I certainly remember where I was when the terrorists attacked. I was eating breakfast, preparing to drive to my classes at the University at Central Florida when my husband called to tell me to turn on the television. I thought it was a cruel joke. Sadly, tragically, it was reality. Life changed for everyone that day, and the term 9/11 is indelibly inked into our collective consciousness. How we as a nation became more paranoid, more stressed, is the subject for another time and place. Countless studies show the effects of 9/11 on our health, short-term mental well-being, and so much more. But these reports often fail to address the positives.
If you live in a major U.S. city chances are that you’ve heard of Ramadan, the sacred Islamic month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan used to be a strange and unknown religious celebration in the United States a few decades ago. Now, thanks to the negative and positive publicity American Muslims have received in recent years, everybody knows when and why we are fasting. Everyone from the White House to the local church and synagogue is holding interfaith iftar events (breaking of the fast) for their Muslim friends and neighbors. I should be proud and happy that my esoteric religious ritual is no longer looked upon as an undue hardship forced upon me by my religion. That finally the American public is ready and willing to accept me, with my five daily prayers and my fasting and my hijab, as one of them. I should be attending those interfaith iftar events with happiness and fervor. But I’m not.
by: Saadia Faruqi on July 4th, 2014 | Comments Off
July 4, 2014. My dear adopted country, I am so happy to be a part of yet another celebration of independence, another anniversary of your birth! For the last fifteen years I have celebrated with you, and with each passing year I have realized how special you are to me. Many people, especially the talking heads on certain cable news networks, think that the scarf on my head diminishes in me the ability to feel loyalty and pride, but they are wrong. I can wear whatever I want, pray however I wish, and still wave the American flag high on the fourth of July. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am American Muslim I have a deep appreciation of what those two things mean in that combination.
It is indeed a joyous time: the last American POW is finally home. Who can deny that the U.S. military has indeed fulfilled its promise that it will leave no man (or woman) behind? Sargent Bowe Bergdahl has hardly been released, however, when the magnificent, wonderful story of courage and patriotism was transformed into, in Jon Stewart’s words, a complicated, clouded, controversial story. He has been called a deserter, a traitor and a coward. It seems as if even our soldiers are not guaranteed our respect after risking their lives for our freedoms.
As a Muslim, should I care? As an American, I certainly should, because my hope is that every soldier comes home safely to his or her family. The problem is, of course, that controversy inevitably follows anything even remotely connected to Muslims today. In the case of Bergdahl, who remained for five years in Afghanistan in the custody of the Taliban, there are indeed a myriad of connections that make me uneasy, but perhaps for not all the same reasons as Republicans.
True, there is the issue of the five Taliban released from Guantanamo Bay in a prisoner exchange. Who knows what they will be up to after their release? For many, that’s a serious concern. It should be, because unconstitutional imprisonment and torture is bound to make people even angrier with the U.S. government. Who knows when or where we’ll meet those five again.
Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.
As Passover ends for my Jewish friends, I join them to mourn the attack on the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Yes I am a Muslim, and the world doesn’t expect me to sympathize with Jews. But the world is wrong. We have increasingly become divided along religious lines, and Jewish-Muslim relationships have become strained because they have incorrectly become synonymous with the Israel-Palestine issue. This is neither true Islam nor true Judaism.
Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?