I Am As American As the Next Guy Is! [Archives:2001/39/Last Page]

September 24 2001

Shaker Al-Ashwal
The Yemeni American League
The events of September 11, 2001 will have lasting effects on the world. Historically, this day will mark a turning point for the world, and especially the western world. I even wonder if the perpetrators realized the enormity of the damage and consequences of their terrorist act. Thousands are dead and thousands of families are going to have to live with that loss. The personal loss is so great, and the economical loss continues to multiply and is going to surpass one hundred billion dollars. Mathematicians are waiting for the resonance of September 11th events to reach various industries for them to calculate the total loss. Like every American, I felt the shock; the sorrow and the anger as I sat in front of my television set watching those horrific clips. My attempts to figure out who was capable of that much destruction intermittently disrupted my feelings. In my mind I was praying for the clues to lead away from the Muslims, for if they did I knew that each American Muslim would become a suspect. Against my hope and prayers, and although it has not been proven yet, all the clues have directed the investigations toward an “Islamic link.”My fears have materialized and the American Muslims have become victimized by both the terrorists and the American society. While the terrorists misrepresent Muslims the American society fails to distinguish between the two; many Muslims have become victims due to that failure. The stereotypes implanted by U.S. biased media are now being countered by the words of president George Bush Jr., and the other government officials who for the first time and in unison, have come out to highlight the importance of distinguishing between Islam and terrorism. Moreover, the officials have rightfully and repeatedly reminded everyone that that the American Muslims are as American as Anyone else is.
The statements issued by U.S. government officials were backed by action. Police officers were stationed in front of mosques and Muslim areas to provide protection, and many of the local officials, in many places for the first time, went to the local communities and opened communication channels. For the first time, Muslim Americans were reminded repeatedly of their American citizenship. In New York, Sa’ad Almontaser, the vice president of the Yemeni American Association, asserted that local government officials have been supportive, have extended protection, and help to the Muslim community in Brooklyn. In a telephone interview he said, “we are very well protected in our area.” In some areas, people have been subjected to verbal abuse and sporadic attacks but nothing significant. Nevertheless, the quick governmental reaction and their determination not to repeat the Japanese-American episode has helped calm the situation.
Until September 11, 2001, the American Muslim community had an identity crisis. As a Yemeni American, I often pondered the question myself, and often thought about the rejection of the American society for us as Arabs and Muslims. Like a foreign organ that gets rejected when implanted in an unwelcome body, I thought we had no place in America. For many and me it was a rejection we were willing to live with.
The idea that America was only for Americans and those who can completely dissociate themselves from their past and melt in the “melting pot” had begun to make its way to my brain cells. I was wrong. Many of us even in close circles were ashamed of being associated with America due to its idiotic policies in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
In America we are not accepted as Americans because we are Muslims and different, and in the Islamic world we are afraid to associate ourselves with America because of its unjust, and arrogant policies in the area. For many and me that question has been resolved without any compromise.
As a Yemeni-Muslim-Arab-American, I no longer consider myself a transient visitor in America. I have come to terms with my identity and have realized beyond any doubt that I am as American as the next guy is. My differences do not make me any less American as any other American in the United States. My disagreement with U.S. foreign policy should not make me any less of an American than any other American of European, Asian or African origin. My disagreement with U.S. unconditional support of Israel should not make me any less American than any American Jew is. My abhorrence and dislike for the double standards, inequitable way of handling Middle Eastern policies should not make me any less American than those who implement such unfair policy.
On Friday 21st of September the American-Muslim community in Dearborn Michigan are organizing a rally to support their country, United States of America. In an interview with Yemen Network one of the organizers Khalid Shajerah explained the motive “we are effected like any other Americans, this is our country we are here by choice,”
Mr. Shajerah, the Director of Sales and Technologies for Express Scripts, reiterated the sentiment felt by many Muslim Americans today.
The fact remains, I am an American and my differences make me an American with a lot to contribute to the fabric of the American society. I am proud of my heritage, a strong believer in my faith, and a strong believer in the values of freedom, and liberty that America stands for. I see no contradiction in my pride of both my faith and heritage on one hand and my American citizenship on the other.
The events of 11th of September have strengthened in all of the Muslim community in the states their sense of citizenship. Like me, I think many have come to recognize that we can resolve the identity crisis by believing in the values of America, and be holding strongly to our heritage and our faith for there is no clash between the two, and hence my identity as an American Muslim.
In the past, we have accepted other’s view of us as different and have lived with the fear resulting from that perception. The American society maybe reluctant to accept us as Arab and Muslim Americans, but we can not run away and give up our rights to live and to shape the American society. The American society will have to learn to accept us as citizens of equal rights, and equal aspirations, as citizens who care about America, pay taxes and pledge allegiance to America. Having said that let it be clear that every Muslim in America, as any other American, reserve the right to disagree with my government’s policy in Israel. Such a stand should not make me a terrorist, nor should it even make me a suspect. Sharon’s weight and official title as a prime minister do not blind me from seeing him as a terrorist; this stand should not qualify me for that famous title “anti-Semite” nor should it make me less American than the next guy is. My identity should not be taken away from me because of my disagreement with U.S. unjust policy toward the helpless people of Iraq. I am a human being who feels the pain of nations and abhor the arrogance of my government policies toward the poor people of Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine; that doe not make me a communist, a terrorist but those feelings make me a better American. Our rights to disagree with U.S. unjust foreign policy in Israel, Iraq, and now Afghanistan shouldn’t compromise our identity as Muslim Americans. I stand to reaffirm that I am an Yemeni-American Muslim who finds it natural today to proclaim my identity. I no longer carry the guilt of U.S. arrogant policies. For as a citizen, I am free to oppose them as guaranteed to me by the great constitution of the United States of America. No individual has the right to take that away from me, and no individual can claim to be more patriotic than me for I am as American as the next guy is.