American Muslims: Under siege [Archives:2002/48/Focus]

November 25 2002

[email protected]
I was asleep when I was awakened by the sounding of the “fasten your seat belt” bell. The sound of the bell was followed by an announcement made by the captain. I was still half asleep but I understood that we were twenty minutes away from landing. Twenty minutes later the plane touched down and I was relieved for my safety and arrival in my hometown.
American pride
“Home, sweet home!”, I said to myself. It was then that I realized how much New York meant to me. I love New York, I love the U.S.A. and I am very proud of being a citizen of this great country. I am proud to be an American! My pride does not stem from the U.S. being the only super power in the world today. My pride is not fueled by the arrogance of the U.S. administration officials. On the contrary, I am overwhelmed with shame when I realize that the spokespersons of this administration have been granted the power to represent the ideals of America. I am proud of being an American because of what America has symbolized for me and the millions of people who sought refuge and renewal in this great land. That sense of pride will always be with me. No bigot and no Ashcroft and certainly no Bush will be able to take that away from me.
Psychological siege
On December 11, 1942 the United States government initiated a series of steps that resulted in the removal and isolations of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans in camps. The Japanese American community today is the most understanding of the suffering of the Muslim American community, having experienced the torment of racism, bigotry and blind draconian governmental policies. Americans looking back today and examining that chapter of history reflect on it with great shame. Yet today, another shameful chapter is unfolding in front of their eyes. This shameful chapter is written in fine print, many Americans find it too small to read and too vague; however, the fine print is legible and clear for the American Muslim community. The fine print says your liberties are now suspended. The fine print goes on to say that your moves are now recorded, and monitored, your faces are photographed, and your voices are digitally recorded because you are all now “terrorist suspects” until you prove otherwise. The FBI is documenting and filling databases of information collected from the thousands of interviews conducted and the hundreds of places raided and searched only to reveal an immigrant community striving for the American dream. Admittedly, it is hard to notice the plight of the American Muslim Community today. It is difficult to see it under siege because Muslims are not herded into camps in large groups. American Muslims are not physically isolated from the rest of the American society but we are definitely under a psychological isolation.
Under scrutiny
Today the American Muslim community and especially those of Arab decent are under FBI microscopes. Every one of their actions is scrutinized. People have become so worried about their and behaviors. They have become horrified of the FBI mistaking some of their actions as suspicious: that five hundred dollars sent to Yemen for a family for a terrorist sponsorship or money laundering.
It is ironic that the Arab Americans sought freedom in America from political security agencies that monitored them, recorded their conversations and censored them only to relive those conditions under the American flag. For the time being, many Americans have been deafened by the noise emanating from their TVs and radios warning them of yet another attack. They are not interested in hearing about civil rights abuses and feel that as long as Muslims are targeted, such infractions are justified under the Ashcroft Justice System. Muslims are targeted and singled out in Airports and public places. Muslims have even been singled out and ejected out of buses traveling between the states. In their jobs, it does not take much for a colleague to call the terrorism hotline on a Muslim coworker. Detectives quickly follow up with visits to the job and to the residence to study their subject and compile their dossier.
Living in fear
If you ask a Muslim today whether they think that law enforcement authorities are targeting them, you are going to get different answers. While some who live away in suburban America, and those who are in professional settings will discount the notion that they’re being targeted, and will go out of their way to convince you of the contrary. Others will tell you of personal stories that reflect an increasingly antagonistic society towards Muslims. The feelings of hate and prejudice have now been justified by the 9/11 events and lately by the words of the religious leaders that some Americans look up to for guidance. Law enforcement agencies have not hid the fact that they are worried about young Muslims in America, and that they are scrutinizing the actions and lives of tens of the thousands of American Muslims.
Regardless of what they will tell you, initially, many Muslims in America today are living in fear. The FBI may not have questioned him or her but he or she knows that they are being watched. The liberties enjoyed by everyone in this society are for all except Muslims. Everyone in America can freely contribute to any charity of their own choice but Muslims must refrain from doing so because the U.S. department of Justice may accuse that charity of sponsoring terrorists when it is providing help for Palestinian children. American Muslims are refraining from visiting mosques and praying because they know that those mosques are under surveillance and people are profiled in every mosque. When they do go, they hope that the FBI person who took the picture caught their better profile, and attached it to the picture of the right license plate. Muslims are not afraid of what they do, but of being misunderstood.
Telephonic fears
Except for members of the Mafia, no American suspects that their telephone conversations are monitored unless they are directly involved in a criminal act. Muslims, however, know that every time they pick up the phone to talk to someone there is the likelihood of having a third person listening on the line. American Muslims have been censoring themselves and their words knowing that “BIG BROTHER” is watching. A young Yemeni immigrant calling his family asked, “How is my brother?” His mom replied with a question, “Which one?” He did not want to say the name. “The one who’s just finished taking the exams.” The innocent mother yelled, “OSAMA! Osama is fine.” His heart changed its rhythm and he interruptingly sent his greetings and said, “The phone card is finished. Say hi to everyone.” What if his conversation was monitored? And what would the person monitoring the conversation have thought? After all, OSAMA now refers to Osama Bin Laden. People have come up with descriptive terms to refer to their children or relatives if their names happen to be Osama or Saddam. For those who will tell you that they feel safe in America and things are back to normal, ask them if they are worried about what they say on the phone, if they are in fear of being misinterpreted or misunderstood.
Guilty by association
American Muslims are now weary about their friends or associates regardless of how long they have known them. They are afraid of being included in phonebooks, in pictures that may land in FBI’s hands and entangle them in a “conspiracy” that they have nothing to do with. American Muslims are wanting to bury their pasts. Their transit stops in Pakistan, Sudan, or Yemen could land them in big trouble. American Muslims are living in fear, hiding it and pretending it’s not there, but it’s in everyone of their conversations. Yet you won’t even realize that they are talking about it because they are talking about it in ambiguous terms out of fear of being heard. Past affiliations and associations may return to haunt you if you are a Muslim in America these days. If you fought in Afghanistan in 1980s, you are a prime target even though the U.S. paid for your recruitment, flight and training in Afghanistan.
Liberty and justice for all
My father always reminds us of the privileges of being Americans. I have always sensed his love for this great nation, and I sense his appreciation for what it has given him. He has traveled the world for the last 40 years as a proud American. Today I sense his disappointment in the transformation and deprivation of freedom suffered by American Muslims in particular. As I shared with him the honor of being an American I share with him the disappointment at the hijacking of civil rights and the rise of a Police State over the American Muslim community. It is in these times that we should be thankful that this great nation did not have people like Bush and Ashcroft writing the Constitution of the United States of America. As a Muslim living in America today, I am very troubled by what is happening to my community, and by the rise of a police state my community tried to leave behind. Despite what is occurring today, I still have faith in this great nation. I know that this nation will win the war against terrorism and racism and bigotry with justice. I still have faith in its ability to evolve as a nation with liberty and justice for all, including American Muslims. God bless America, the land of freedom, and Justice!