I Am — Part 2
By Matthew J. Sutherland
There are many Muslims who have reasons to doubt and fear what can happen in the next four years. President Trump has been known for his loose footing on his policy stances, and his constant flopping, however, some of his campaign promises have been alarming. President Trump has spoken and floated the idea of a Muslim registry in the U.S., a ban on Muslim immigration, and a registry of immigrants from Muslim majority countries. He has even gone as far as to suggest surveillance of mosques and that he would shut some down if they showed signs of “problems”.
And right now, we are in the middle of an executive order from the current administration that seems like a legal guise to discrimination. The displays of solidarity have been amazing, but everyone is hoping for a legal reprieve from the continuation of these policies. Trump promises a continued court battle after several Federal Judges ruled against it, and many policy experts suggest he will rewrite it.
The rhetoric during the long and grueling campaign season (that we all want to forget), may be more damaging than originally thought. The FBI reported that hate crimes against Muslims hit their highest mark since post 9/11.
Pullman had its own largely public incident that made local news. The groundskeeper of the Mosque was shining a plaque and was harassed by individuals who repeatedly yelled racial slurs at him.
“Terrorists do not have any kind of religion.”
Imam Mohamed El-Sehmawy, part of the Islamic Center of Tri-cities here in Washington State, emphasized that Muslims were not what we saw on the news. Muslims are told, he says, that if you have killed, you have struck a blow against all mankind. He emphasizes the similarity with the Christian teaching of turning the other cheek. We are not so different, he says.
With all this talk of fear, Mohamed offers hope.
“This interfaith is not a message for the old, but a message for the young adults. The young will see this act of interfaith and remember it until they are old.”
He charges the youth with setting the example, and bringing this love to the rest of the world.
Mohamed is fervent in a quest to prove everything he claims. He says he wants to learn to break the ice, he wants to sit and eat with us, know us, and, “work with us hand in hand in the pursuit of peace.”
I am reminded of several instances of breaking bread with Muslims, myself.
Almost four years ago I walked through a dining hall and saw a man sitting by himself. I decided to sit next to him, much to his surprise, and we ended up becoming great friends. His name was Ahmed Alsaidi, and it quickly became a running joke that I could never say it correctly. To be honest, I didn’t think that we were going to be friends because one of my favorite films of all time is Star Wars Episode V, and he told me he thought it was boring. I got to know him as an avid movie goer, an intelligent mechanical engineer, and video game enthusiast. We went to watch movies often together, and hung out. While he didn’t do much in the party scene, he and I still developed a strong friendship.
Others saw him differently, and I began to get a glimpse of the world he lived in.
I specifically recall a moment, when I was describing this friend to others to invite along somewhere, and I had mentioned that he came from the country of Oman. The first reply out of someone’s mouth was, “So he’s a sand-nigger.” I was furious that a man who was intelligent enough to be a mechanical engineer was reduced to a slur.
Immediately, his inclusion was unwelcome. I was shocked that anyone would be so open about such prejudices and I was glad Ahmed never had to hang around those people. That, however, is not an uncommon event for Muslims in America. Racial slurs are more common than we want to admit, and often people will actively avoid being around them. In an America where we praise ourselves as a melting pot of cultures and ideas, some grouls of people have been designated to be second class.
I met two other friends of mine, Nawaf Alamadi and Talal Alammar, only a year or so later. Talal often tried to teach me some Arabic after drinking, and I always made a joke that I might remember it if he tried teaching me sober. The three of us often found ourselves discussing Middle Eastern politics, especially that of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman.
Juxtaposed against the violence near the border, I am told about the beauty of Saudi Arabia, and the magnificence of Dubai. Enthralled with their descriptions, I have made a promise to visit, and Talal and Nawaf have assured me of how welcomed I would be in those countries, and how amazing my experience there will be.
However, they have told me that sometimes they have not been as welcomed. Talal even mentioned his surprise that someone in the Army would be friends with him, and that sometimes he can see people avoid him, especially when he struggled with English.
Only a few weeks ago in Canada, a man killed six people in a shooting in a Quebec City Mosque. Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau quickly condemned the terrorist attack, but our own White House made no strong statement of their own. The mosque has said that before this incident they received hate letters, swastikas were painted on their doors, and they had a pig’s head that was dropped on their doorstep the last year.
It remains a disappointment that I know of some of the experiences my friends have faced. The fact that I can call them my friends is a big part of the difference, however. I am close to them, and when people put Muslims down I do not think of those that are part of terrorist organizations, I do not think of the fear the media invites us to feed on, rather I remember the love and kindness my Arab and Muslim friends have shown me. They are not abstract, but rather people I care for.