“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”
I am Muslim.
Faith is a very private matter, or, at least it should be. I have always been suspicious of those who proclaim their religion publicly, self-righteously putting it on display for all to see. Consequently, I have been very quiet and unassuming with my own religious convictions. They are mine and mine alone. I wear nothing that identifies my creed. I pray quietly, out of sight of others and, when I do acts of kindness or charity, I do so anonymously. I also do so out of an innate sense of goodness, not out of fear of divine retribution should I not act in this manner. I’m good with my beliefs and how I show them. After all, is not the best form of evangelization or, in my case, dawah, simply living as you should?
Today, I am breaking that rule. In some of my writings, I mention in passing that I am Muslim, the result of a decision I made some years ago after decades of interest and studies had finally convinced me that, at least for me, Islam would complement and complete my own prior commitments to my fellow men and women. I do so for a reason, a deeply heartfelt reason. The growing tide of Islamophobia in the United States, with its accompanying hysteria and distortions about my faith, have made those who share my faith targets in our own land.
I am Muslim. Let me say that again: I am Muslim. I am not writing here to defend or explain my faith. That is not necessary. Those of you with good will have multiple sources at your fingertips should you wish to know more or you can simply ask me for sources, which I will gladly provide. Those who have already swallowed the bile and distorted thinking of the Pam Gellers, Frank Gaffenys and Robert Spencers of the world and their ilk, including Donald Trump, are not interested in anything resembling the truth. I will not debate with you here. You have already chosen hatred over love, lies over truth. I will also not define for you, friend of foe, “what kind of Muslim” I am here. There is a widely-accepted precept in Islam that anyone who defines himself or herself as a Muslim is a Muslim. I believe that. Are there Muslims with whom I disagree? Obviously, but that is not up for discussion today. Besides, Islamophobes do not make that distinction. For them, Muslim is Muslim. Hence, I am Muslim.
I am Muslim. I will not be silent and I will not be intimidated. I am Muslim and I refuse to be a willing target. You see, even before I became Muslim, I was – and still am – an American. I was raised to believe in the promises of equal rights and equal protection of the law contained in our Constitution. I was raised believing that our country had shed its blood and its treasure for those rights to be guaranteed. While it is true that we, as Americans, have come up short time and time again in actually guaranteeing those rights for all, champions of those rights who are not afraid to speak truth to power have risen in every generation. The list is long. Martin Luther King Jr., Eugene Debs, Dennis Banks, Carter Camp, Mother Jones, Denmark Vesey, Malcolm X, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Ellsberg, Rosa Parks, Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day, Joe Hill, Big Bill Haywood, Tecumseh, my brothers and sisters in both the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the American Indian Movement who taught me how to struggle and how to fight back against injustice and racism, as well as many, many others – too many to begin to mention here. These are the Americans who taught me what this country should and can be. These are those who have inspired me for some 45 years to not be silent, to – as Karl Liebknecht put it – fight for the gates of heaven, to always struggle for what is right, just and good for ALL people. And over the years, I have seen those rights expand as I, too, have come to see that my own understanding of rights and equality, likewise, needed to expand.
I am Muslim. I am also a student of history. We, in the United States, have seen this hysteria before, most notably during the World War II internment of Japanese residents and US citizens of Japanese ancestry. The scenes of anxious US citizens – anxious to seize those residents’ and citizens’ property for their own selfish benefit – awaiting that internment are well known, even if conveniently overlooked. It’s no wonder that some of the most fervent voices against the demonization of Muslims since 9/11 have been those who were interned during that time and their descendants. We have seen this hysteria raised against numerous groups of immigrants, natives, political dissidents and others since before the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were enacted. We have seen this specter used against Mexicans, immigrants in general, Native Americans, Catholics, Italians, Anarchists, Communists and anyone else not deemed “American enough”, regardless of their citizenship or place of birth.... and we will, unfortunately, see it again against whoever those in power decree to be our next threat, our next “enemy”, whether they, in fact, are a threat or not.
This latest round of American Exceptionalism’s dark side has already had impacts that go beyond what we can easily see. People are afraid. There is the story of the young Muslim girl who packed a bag with her favorite things because she was afraid “they were coming to get her”. Her mother spoke publicly about not knowing how to soothe her child’s fear. Fortunately, many good Americans, veterans, publicly made the following vow to her, the daughter: “I will protect you!” How many times has this scene been repeated, where young children are frightened because of the rhetoric being directed against them and their families, but there has been no one to make that same vow to them? There is no way of knowing, but it is undoubtedly far more frequent than this one case. It is repeated over and over again. Children do not live in a vacuum. Even my eight-year-old son, living here in Brazil with me, is not immune. He is concerned. He is afraid of what might happen if the likes of Trump have their way and are successful in persecuting our nation’s Muslims. Although he is not Muslim, he is well aware that I am. He is afraid for me, of what might happen should I return to the United States. He is not convinced when I remind him that I, as a white-skinned Muslim with an English name, will probably get a pass because the same idiots who mistake Sikhs for Muslims will not recognize me as one. He also knows that I am not inclined to remain quiet. Hence, my own son is afraid for me. For his sake, I am glad that I live far away.
I am neither innocent nor naive enough to believe that only we Muslims need be concerned. While we are the most current direct target of attacks, be they murders, the burning or desecration of mosques, random senseless assaults on people perceived to be Muslims (including many who are not because their assailants are too stupid to know the difference), we are not alone. The rising howl against those of my faith has been accompanied by myriad claims against immigrants, most notably those Spanish-speakers who are perceived as “invading” across our southern border, even though more of those undocumented immigrants have left in recent years than have arrived. That “outrage” has served as well to reinforce cries against any and all refugees, most recently Iraqis and Syrians. After all, they don’t look or pray like “us”, do they? And they’re all Muslims, aren’t they – in spite of the fact that there are Christians and Jews among those fleeing the war and chaos enveloping their countries. What about the young people escaping extreme violence in Central America, the result of a century and a half of American meddling – often openly and armed , particularly during the recent wars that served only to destructure that region? That same bile and hatred has been hurled against young black men, who are decried as being “thugs” when their only “crime” is being of African descent to some greater or lesser degree. Remember that, for those of ill will, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were thugs, even though they had never been convicted of any criminal offense when they were killed and, yet, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in Charleston simply because they were black, has been called a confused young man. Those same people also dismiss Robert Lewis Dear, who attacked the Planned Parenthood facilities in Colorado Springs, killing three and wounding nine, as mentally ill, which may well be true, but does not excuse him. Need I mention our country’s long vilification of our land’s native inhabitants, a vilification that has not yet ended?
It is well that we all remember the words of Dietrich Boenhoffer, who said, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” I have lived by those words my entire life and, today, even though I am one of those targeted, I will not be silent. I never have been silent before and I will not be now. I will defend any and all who become targets. After all, this is not the first time I have had a metaphorical bulls eye painted on my back. I remember the 1970s too well. I do hope, though, that it will be the last time, although I have no reason to actually believe that it will.
Today, I would be Muslim, even if I weren’t.