By Mohamed Zefzaf
By Mohamed Zefzaf
Massachusetts – The late Ted Kennedy had a deep, almost spiritual refrain, which in some ways embodied America. On many occasions, across the breadth and the length of this vast country, he proclaimed with great emotion: “The hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.” His words resonated with many of the dreamers that came to America. They symbolized the very essence of the much-vaunted American Dream: to live in a society where, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
As Muslims in America, we hoped that here, in this land between the great oceans, the dream of true human equality was possible. Many of us went to college, got jobs, married, raised families and became soccer coaches. For most of us, life was as prosaic as it can be. Then on September 11, 2001, the unthinkable happened. We were angry and we mourned at the senseless carnage and deaths. Soon, however, solely by virtue of our names, we were questioned: some Americans asked, with naïve sincerity, “Why are you guys doing this? Why do you hate us?”
We were lost for words. Like our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, we were horrified by the 9/11 attacks. But now many of those same friends, neighbors and coworkers asked us to explain it, as if we were ourselves suspects. Eventually things calmed down and life returned to its routine. Until two terrible events occurred: The Paris and the San Bernardino attacks.
Now a collective hysteria has set upon the land, exploited by demagogues dressed in the suits of politicians, fanning further the flames of hate in their grasping pursuit of power. For American-Muslims this tragic Déjà vu is a Kafkaesque nightmare. We find ourselves, once again, reliving the terrible memories of 9/11. But this time, it is altogether different. A dark cloud looms on the horizon: America, the home of the brave and the land of the free, has once again returned to its favorite villains: Muslims.
In the midst of this, Muslims have been spat on, insulted, attacked and even killed. Some talk of a national registry of Muslims, or just barring them altogether from entering the United States. The irony is that we have seen this done to Japanese-Americans, to the Jews in Germany. Label them; mark them. History tells us that this is the sign of a lost people, but worse, it is a sign of lost souls. Where’s America? Where’s the dream? Where’s Abraham Lincoln? Where’s Martin Luther King? Where’s the sage Rumi?
We wonder: where are the voices of reason, the voice of humanity? This silence, this guilt by association, is exactly what the dark forces want: societies living in fear, suspicious of each other, bundling all Muslims in the same basket: us against them.
But who are they and who are we? Perhaps, people will eventually regret the hysteria, the facile answers, the blatant racism, the judgments, and the insanity. History; however, is unforgiving. Those who do not heed its lessons are condemned to suffer its consequences.
The prophet Muhammad said, “ Be in this world as if you were a stranger, or a wayfarer.” For Muslims in America, today, the way is littered with demagogues and charlatans. In this incomprehensible present, and an ominous winter soon to come, an intrinsic comfort can be found in the wisdom of the brave Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian theologian executed by the Nazis for trying to save people from that brutal regime. He wrote, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
In these dark times in America, we desperately hope that the light shall come. We American- Muslims, proclaim, here and now, and for ever, that we too are part of the people, and that our government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This great truth is why so many of us left our homelands to come to America, and why so many of us want to stay. We, too, are Americans.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images. Mohamed Zafzaf is a professor of writing at Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, MA
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