In an essay originally titled 'The Fruit of Patience,' I discuss the intersectionality of terrorism, Islamophobia, and US imperialism.
Trigger Warning: Islamophobia and Descriptions of War
I wrote this essay in response to an academic prompt in August 2015. Today, as Afghanistan burns due to the callous imperialist actions of the United States and the oppressive Taliban regime, I believe it serves as an important reminder for us all; there is blood on our hands. In the upcoming weeks, the decisions made by the United States government will play an important role in forecasting the future for millions of displaced Afghans. I reiterate, there is blood on our hands.
"…and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient." - [al-Anfal 8:46]
The first time I hear about "random" selections at airport security checks, I am eight years old in my best friend’s bedroom. She tells me about her brother’s first trip to the United States—he was going to Connecticut, to study Aeronautical Engineering on an international student scholarship. He was anxious when he left, but excited for the new experiences he would have. Three hours of interrogation, two international phone calls to his frantic mother, and one meaningless apology later, he exited the airport to catch a cab. "Welcome to America," he read on a billboard as he waited in line. This is the first time I am afraid of America. I mean, how could the nation that gave me Mariah Carey and the McDonald’s Happy Meal ever treat someone like that? America could no longer be synonymous with catchy pop songs to me; America had let me down. At eight years old, I stand firm and think I will never let America win me over with Mariah Carey’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album ever again.
The next time I hear about Islamophobia, I am eleven. I hear George Bush is coming to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (my hometown) on a foreign relations visit. My mother expresses her disgust at the dinner table, weeks before he arrives, and my teachers tell me about how we should not succumb to the American agenda after what he has done to people like us. He will be meeting the Sheikh and eating dates and learning how to say hello in Arabic. I think about 2001, how quickly he started a war… How rapidly he used the power he had to turn cities to dust. I think about how we could ever invite him here, to our land. Why did we welcome home a criminal? I make up my mind that I never want to visit America; to hell with the chicken nuggets.
Now that I am even older, I better understand the complexities of international policy. I do not blame the government of the UAE for welcoming him to their nation, because I understand that global power structures and hierarchies sometimes create coercive situations in which those trying to achieve progress must, in some cases, assimilate into certain ideologies so as to develop. I know that the historical ways in which those in power drain countries of resources and influence is a form of warfare—and fake smiles on television interviews would not change that fact. Those "friendly" political ties are simply ways to stamp red, white, and blue on geographies that do not belong to them, and I would, in time, become a part of that process.
August 2015, JFK International Airport, and I am a hypocrite. I answer the immigration officer’s questions as politely as I can, trying to stop myself from stuttering out of anxiety, and I am a hypocrite. I learn my cabbie’s name: Mohammed, he has been here for 15 years now, he does not know when he will see his wife again, and I am a hypocrite. I picture fall colors, libraries, college parties, graduation robes… And I am a hypocrite.
"Habibti, we all come to America wanting better for ourselves, for our families," he tells me. "Why do they spit on us?"
I do not know.
"Sometimes they do not pay me, they spit and they run. They shout bad words."
How could he tolerate that?
"I ask Allah for sabr—patience."
I think about an old saying in my mother tongue, sabr ka phool meetha hotha hai—the fruit of patience is sweet. I think about how this man has been worn down, wrinkle-faced, calloused-palm. I think about how Muslims are forced to initiate dialog, and often feel guilty for not personally changing mindsets. I think about how minorities are told to be patient in the face of adversity—that things will change for them in time, that anger will only result in more anguish.
But why must they wait? Why are they forced to be patient? Why must their countries be torn apart so that their only option is to migrate to a nation that does not accept them? Where is the sweet nectarine that they were promised? In 2019, 56 percent of Muslims in America reported experiencing a lot of discrimination against them in their communities, but I think about how Islamophobia is not simply cussing and name-calling (although that forms a large part of the issue). It is the indoctrination of the entire "third world" into a homogenous brown tone—ignoring the intricacies of our cultures, disregarding our plurality, and combining us into a mass of things that they fear. Islamophobia cannot be categorized as a fear—disrespect and suppression are not fears. Islamophobia is our modern, global world, structured to oppress those who do not look enough like bald-eagle, freedom-chanting America. We cross the Queensboro Bridge in silence. "New York is beautiful, habibti," Mohammed says. "But I miss home."