Hanging in a Muslim Neighborhood

Back in December, I went to see a play at the Berkeley Rep called “Disgraced” by writer Ayad Akhtar. It’s a bit hard to explain what it was about except to say that it has Muslim-y themes about religion and identity. I really enjoyed it but took it for what it was. Meaning that my own views weren’t represented but that’s fine, not everything can be about me (why not though?!).

I was a bit disappointed in the Q&A afterwards in which some people made some comments that were ignorant and out of touch. One lady even said that she didn’t get the play and wasn’t sure what to get out of it. “Is the point that Muslims are barbarians?” she asked, repeating what one of the characters said. I had already said something before so didn’t want to be that person who spoke too much so I appreciated the people in the audience afterwards that gave their take on the point of the play, i.e., “no lady, that’s not what it was about.”

I walked over to a nearby gelato place after the Q&A was finished, not quite wanting to end my night just yet. I was in line when I overheard the couple behind me talk about the play. I turned around, asked if they just came out of the play, and ended up hanging with them as we made our way through our respective desserts, talking about the play, about the audience’s reaction, and our own perspectives.

The couple asked me how it had been in general for Muslims and so I told them about how I had been feeling: there was a weird vibe for Muslims in the U.S. around that time. The attack in San Bernardino had happened recently, the anti-Muslim sentiment had increased and was almost tangible. I told them about how I’ve walked around cities by myself late at night in other countries without a second thought but that now, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings and possible issues that could happen. That night, I was actually a bit disconcerted with the fact that I would be on my own after the play, that it was going to be dark, and would it be okay for me to walk around by myself? I’ve been on my own a ton and I was in Berkeley in the Bay Area of all places and yet I couldn’t help but feel unsafe. I’m not used to feeling that way. After we were done eating and talking, the couple, bless them, offered to walk me to my car.

That feeling has increased. Time has passed since my post on Trump’s idea of creating a database of Muslims and things have gotten worse from there. Because of the recent attack in Brussels, Trump accused the entire Muslim community, saying that we don’t out the “bad” Muslims when we know them. That’s ridiculous as it’s not even true. A famous example of that is one incident in Southern California where some Muslims got pretty uncomfortable with the kind of ideology one person in their rank was espousing so they called law enforcement on him, only to find out later that he was actually an FBI informant trying to get them all to confess to something, anything. Check out This American Life’s story on it.

The worse part is in the case of the attack in Brussels, the Muslims were the ones that did call people out. Turkey actually deported one of the attackers last year to the Netherlands, with the Turkish prime minister warning the Netherlands and Belgium that he was a foreign fighter.

Of course we would all turn someone dangerous in if we knew. The number of Muslims that have been killed by ISIS are far greater than any other religious group so my community has a vested interest in this.

Not to be outdone by his rival, Ted Cruz told everyone that “Muslim neighborhoods” should be patrolled after the Brussels attack. Besides the fact that this is insulting and dangerous rhetoric, what constitutes a Muslim neighborhood? If even one Muslim is present in a particular neighborhood, does it make it a “Muslim neighborhood?” Do they look at the number of halal restaurants and halal markets in relation to the population and have law enforcement surveil those areas that meet a specific ratio? I have seen a cop in one halal fusion restaurant in Fremont from time to time but the dude is just there for the crispy chicken burger like the rest of us.

One of the issues of telling us that we’re not turning the “bad” Muslims in is that we don’t know these people. They aren’t part of the overall community, they don’t go to the mosque, they aren’t the ones to host Ramadan iftars. These people aren’t even motivated by religion. Check out journalist Mehdi Hasan’s Reality Check video below on “How religious are so-called “Islamic terrorists”?”

Reality Check: How religious are so-called "Islamic terrorists"?

Reality Check: How religious are so-called "Islamic terrorists"?Mehdi Hasan challenges the common view that ISIL or al-Qaeda attackers are devout Muslims.

Posted by UpFront on Friday, February 19, 2016

The Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia is a stark reminder that the anti-Islam views that people seem more and more comfortable with spewing is quite dangerous. Just yesterday, Radovan Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb and former general, was convicted* for his part in the ethnic cleansing, which contributed to the genocide of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in just Srebrenica in 1995 and an additional 12,000 deaths during the siege of Sarajevo from 1992-95.

In the end, I feel bad that something terrible happened in the world and I’m making it all about me right now. We could say how much these terrorists do not represent Islam all we want but many still can’t make the distinction. I’ll just say for those who are reading who do equate all the followers of a religion with terrorism, just think about it for a sec, take a deep breath, and be logical about it. Be emotionally intelligent. Don’t let others rile you up and fill you up with hate. Meet an actual, live Muslim. One of us might even be your neighbor.

*40 years? That’s it? Conviction is good but wow.

One thought

  1. 1. Population of Planet Bushra: 1 (sorry I know that’s disappointing LOL)

    2. Great post sis. Indeed, these last few months, if not weeks, I feel things have gotten much worse (Thanks Drumpf) I’m glad that couple walked you to your car. Please stay safe. But great that you were able to share your thoughts with them and insha’allah, having met you, will maybe change the view of someone who has still not met a Muslim, by the virtue of having met and interacted with you.

    My Amma and I recently attended a talk by Reza Aslan (I am aware that our fellow Muslims don’t agree with some of his views) as part of the World Affairs Council of Oregon as part of their International Speaker Series. One of the key points he made to counter the extremist message these murders in Paris, Brussels and San Bernadino are propagating to those outside of the Muslim community – building relationships. As you mentioned, many in the American diaspora (not sure that is that right word, but trying to sound smart hehe) have not met a Muslim in their entire lives (the numbers correlating that and their opinions about Muslims seems to connect those two facts – yeah, I’m looking at you Republicans)

    Reza stated that just as American Jews were once seen as the “other” and within one generation were part of the American fabric, that despite what Islamophobes or others (he said, in case, there were any of those in the crowd, “sorry guys, but it’s going to happen”) may fear, we too, will be part of the fabric, but that we just have to figure out the “how” of that journey, but that forming relationships will be a big part of making America the Beautiful.

    Scary times for sure – but I think especially as American Muslims, we have the blessing, the great duty and responsibility to help bring us out of this current environment.

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