It is time for the silent majority in America to stand up against the power of men like Donald Trump.
My favorite picture is of my best friend and I in 2002, arms around each other and in the tacky gym shirts worn by American high school students. We’re both grinning widely, her dark blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, my black headscarf wrapped around my neck.
Behind us, you can see our shared senior locker, strewn with pictures from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek. My skin is dark, hers light. I am clearly Muslim, she is clearly not.
Yet I remember every year when our predominantly white high school did a cultural show, she would dress up in Pakistani clothes and come on stage with me to talk about Islam.
I remember my history teacher, who smiled at a frightened 14-year-old who had accidentally ended up in an honors class. I remember the dozens of recommendations he wrote for me when I applied to universities, his pride when I was accepted, his unrelenting faith in me.
I remember our friendly little mosque, where we first began doing taekwondo as a group of young, motivated girls in scarves.
I remember frigid December nights, when my father and I would drive to the local middle school in our creaky Plymouth van to pray in their cafeteria because the mosque didn’t have enough space.
I don’t return and visit often, for reasons I hesitate to discuss. Perhaps it is because it was there, in that lovely, leafy suburb where I had always felt safe, that I was first told to “Go home.” It was September 11, 2001. I was 17.
My father always told me, rather pessimistically, that I could never make friends with “real” Americans. His viewpoint, as a Pakistani immigrant, was that I would always struggle with an identity crisis—I would always be half of one, half of another, a mutant unable to assimilate in either culture and lost to both.
I disagreed. Only after 9/11 did I realize that no matter how Americanized, normal, aspirational, educated or non-threatening I looked, I would always be an “other.” I would always be seen, by certain segments of the population, as an alien.
In self-imposed exile, I moved to Boston to attend university. These years were restless, as were most of my 20s: I went wandering around Roxbury, studied Islamic History in between English courses, went to study circles at local mosques, was the co-president of our Muslim Students Association. I went to London, seeking out young Muslims there, visited mosques in Paris, the Alhambra and the Mezquita in Andalusia, found donor kebabs on the streets of Italy.
Finally, after living in Istanbul, the last glorious gasp of what the Muslim world likes to call its Golden Age, I came home again to America. I couldn’t help it—after a decade of wandering and exhaustion, looking for myself and my identity, I came back because, however I like to paint it, this is home.
Here, I unpacked my things, bought a car and abruptly found myself and the rest of the American Muslim community facing the rising hysteria fueled by the likes of Donald Trump.
I knew, after 9/11, that it would eventually come to this.
We did point out that Islamophobia would become dangerous. We did say that with the stereotypes in Homeland, in American Sniper, with the rhetoric against Muslims fueled by political parties and capitalist interests that this would eventually lead to the kind of speech that sounds like Adolf Hitler reincarnated. I think we knew that eventually, our visibly brown children and their visibly covered mothers might be in danger and that our mosques would be burned.
Now, we are all afraid.
Much like the rest of America is afraid of us, we are afraid of “lone wolf” shooters. Much like Fox News says that we don’t know who the ISIS-sympathizers are in our population, we can’t identify the Trump supporters who cheer on his attempts to label us in a shameful Nazi farce. More and more Americans die in gun deaths every year, and we are aware that it only takes one person, one gun, one mad moment of bigotry for our lives to be in danger.
For those who say that Muslim countries are more dangerous, that ISIS or Daesh would kill you there, remember many of our parents and grandparents came here to seek a better life. We grew up here, not in the territory claimed by Daesh or the Taliban. We are contributing members of this society: doctors, lawyers, teachers.
Our worst fears are being realized as the America that treated most of us well, as the children of immigrants, shows the darkness many of us have only recently begun to acknowledge.
It is the darkness that exterminated and marginalized America’s indigenous tribes, erasing a history resplendent with stories, culture and nuance and replacing it with Thanksgiving turkeys. It is the darkness that allowed the inhuman practice of slavery and then whitewashed it in textbooks as being economic immigration. It is the darkness that allows the brutality against black skin that we all now witness on police tapes and in protests.
It is the darkness of the school-to-prison pipeline, the overflow of our prison system, the appalling treatment of our war veterans, the crushing poverty and workload forced on most by a society that tempts us with 50 different types of Oreos.
It is the darkness of knowing that the public school system is a shamble in many places but that no one cares enough to actually do anything about it besides build charter schools. It is the shame of Hurricane Katrina, the Sandy Hook shootings, the drones that we continue to drop on other countries and the children that we dismiss as collateral damage. It is in the appalling response of governors and those who compared Syrian refugees fleeing from Daesh to poisoned grapes or M&Ms.
This is the America we are beginning to see: a bloated giant reeling from cognitive dissonance and screaming awareness of its own wounds.
This is Our House, Too
Silent majority of Americans, I have sat next to you, held doors for you, babysat your children and taught them in English class. We share particularly American traits of being too earnest, smiling too much, a distinct love of apple pie.
I couldn’t deny our relationship with you even if tried, because my story is entwined with and built on America and Americans. They are the people who have existed in my life since kindergarten, forming most of my memories: the friend who hung a Christmas stocking for me and still stocks her fridge with halal meat when I visit. The musician who I shared pumpkin spice lattes with in college, the reverend who blessed my marriage, the fellow teacher who edited my Master’s thesis, the blue-eyed best friend who helped me start my own nonprofit.
They are my odd, hodgepodge family. You are my family.
I’m concerned, as my father warned, that you think I am a mutant. I’m concerned that you think I will turn on you.
I will tell you this honestly: Yes, Muslims are my family too. And the Muslim world is reeling from its own darkness: the sectarian wars and hegemony of major Gulf powers; the shameful extermination of groups of people in Turkey, in Bahrain, in Pakistan. The terrible degradation of Shias and other minority sects; our American Muslim disregard of our African American brothers and sisters who have been here far longer than we have. Our struggle to deal with abuse, FGM, women’s rights, radicalization, the LGBTQ community and open spaces in mosques.
We watch Muslim countries struggle with poverty, violence, war, drones, sectarianism, dictators and corruption. We watch Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Somali children flee from war and drown.
We know, as Muslims, what it is like when a screaming group with terrifying convictions tries to destroy our family. We understand the difficulty of watching extremists dominate our discourse; we know the remorse of not being able to do more to prevent this from happening. We are trying.
I cannot speak for everyone, but if we have not done enough to show you that we are on your side, I am telling you now. Our Islamic faith, our Muslim family, does not mean we have a trigger switch that will make us into mutant terrorist Hulks.
We are not torn in our allegiance. We are here beside you, condemning every act of violence in this country, over and over again. Despite what talking heads on cable television will tell you, we do not see a divide between the Muslim and the American in our identity.
This is our house, too.
I apologize if you think we have been a silent Muslim majority and if that has helped lead to this, now. Please, help us against the power of men like Donald Trump and other fear mongers. Help us stop our country from walking down a very frightening road. We are only 1% of the population—we cannot do this alone.
Please, do not allow the hysteria to continue without saying something. In the end, we are fighting the same battles against extremism and violence and hatred. In the end, if we all give in to the terrorists on both sides, those who bomb children and those who show up at mosques with machine guns, none of us come out alive.
We know what America could be—our strength is in our patchwork of immigrants, our kindness, our unity and our ability to have dual identities without compromising either.
Please, do not keep silent in the face of such blatant, horrifying bigotry. Please, say something, stand with us and next to us, help us feel safe with you as our neighbor. We are desperately trying to do the same, but our narrative is drowned out by the cheers of those happy to fiddle while America burns.
Inevitably, we will disagree; that is what family does. But please stand with us.
We are with you.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.