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Americans: In the Eyes of Our Government, Are We Really?

    America is a wonderful experiment in human endeavors. Within a short time, four hundred years at most, a totally unknown land has become a land of progress and prosperity. It is presently the most affluent, most peaceful, most potent, most diverse, most accommodating, most educated, most generous and unfortunately most paranoid land in the world. Since its inception it has welcomed strangers, a large number of them. Most of these strangers were European, various denominations of “Christianity”. Immigrants, who were poor, inadequately educated, and deficient in the English language came by the millions and, to a large extent, melted into the “pot”. There were ethnic strains, but the gap in their customs and practices was comprehensible, because after all the “natives” had known those differences “back home”. Indeed the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” was most appropriate.

    World demographic changes and the thinking of the ruling forces in the 1950s to tap the best brains of the developing countries resulted in the phenomenon of “brain drain”. A significant number of Muslims were among these people, who were brought to this country to be educated and then returned to their homelands, resulting in the spread of “secular” ideology. The scheme produced variable results. But not everyone returned to their own country and many who did realized the effects of their new “education.” This new “education” had made them unfit to be assimilated into their own lands. This resulted in a substantial number of well-educated, affluent “aliens”, not “tired, poor, huddled masses”, settling in the USA.

    After considerable soul searching, many of them finally fulfilled the requirements of US citizenship. It was not very hard for them, for they knew American history, government, politics, economy, geography, and many other less-known details about USA very well, in many instances better than the “American-born” citizens did. Obviously this was not what the Statue of Liberty was calling for.

    They were professors, scientists, researchers, administrators, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. Their contributions to the enrichment of American society were many and well received. Differences of cultural habits were tolerated. The Muslims adapted to their new surroundings very well indeed. Their higher education placed them among the respectable middle class. They were able to build their places of worship very quickly, and, sincerely believing in the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, started practicing it. The differences of religious practices were ignored, by and large, by ordinary Americans and for the time being Muslims posed no threat to “ the American way of life” They were positively contributing to it.

    The Muslim life style could not be ignored for long, however. Many Americans who came into contact with the naturalized citizens learned about Islam first hand. It was not Islam in its entirety but it still had an effect on those who interacted with it. Results were astounding to some and alarming to others. Islam became the fastest expanding religion in the West. First it was only one race that reverted to Islam, but soon Jews and Gentiles were also equally impressed. The naturalized citizens successfully sponsored their not-so-educated relatives for immigration. Muslims and Islam were becoming prolific in the land and respectable in places of work and play. Schools and seminaries started to add Arabic to their curriculum. Divinity Schools and Universities added departments of Islamic studies or comparative religion.   

    Then the 9/11 fiascos happened. If a Muslim was really behind this atrocity, he was the most dim-witted of Muslims that ever lived, if we acknowledge that practicing and propagating Islam are two obligations that no Muslim can disconnect. The fallout from this incident should have been to convince people, especially American people, that Islâm is a violent religion, that it has nothing to do with Isa (peace be upon him) (Jesus, upon whom be peace), and that it has nothing to do with peace and salvation. The frustration and desperation of those who perpetrated 9/11 is quite understandable. For all the mayhem that was caused, there was no widespread backlash against American Muslims. Instead, many Americans went out of their way to protect their Muslim neighbors against such a backlash. The conversion rate of Americans to Islam did not budge, alhumdulillah. In instances where they felt intimidated to profess it openly, reverts requested a private setting to declare their “witness” in secret.

    Internationally, the infamous 9/11 atrocities were used as an excuse to destroy two countries, kill and maim millions of human beings, and pollute with dangerous chemicals an area more than 1/6 of the area of USA. What a shame!

    Domestically, it was used to pass laws that were to protect Americans from future 9/11 types of incidents. A totally new Department of Homeland Security was established. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intimidated every known masjid and its imam. Mass media brazenly tried to tarnish the image of Islâm. Fiction novels and derogatory prose viciously attacked anyone even remotely sympathetic to Islâm. Even the person of the last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was not spared. Derogatory cartoons were commissioned. Anyone who wrote anything disrespectful or impertinent about Islâm and Muslims became a bestselling author. Their mediocre books were chosen to be the subject of study and discussion in library meetings and public gatherings. A field day was declared against the Muslims.

    The 9/11 atrocities affected and are affecting and will affect the lives of Muslims adversely in this country and all over the world for a long, long time to come. Some ordinary Americans feel paranoid, some relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims are strained, and there is some discrimination at the workplace, in correctional facilities and in schools. Some local law enforcement agents act differently if a Muslim is the subject of an inquiry. Muslims may well be singled out for searches at bus terminals, train stations, and airports.

    Ordinary Americans are innocent. Their paranoia is understandable even though it is unfounded. Even a Muslim who watches TV religiously is paranoid about Muslims. The subtle and not so subtle message generated by the mass media is lodged in the subconscious of the viewers. One cannot escape the effects of this stereotyping and discrimination and defamation.

    The differential treatment by the authorities is unjustifiable and abhorrent. You are returning from a vacation and visit with your family back home. You are returning from an academic conference. You are returning after performing Hajj. It does not matter. If you are a Muslim you are a suspect. You are in possession of a valid visitor visa; you are a legal green card holder; you are a naturalized US citizen; you are a born American. It does not matter. All that matters is that you are a Muslim and your name is on a “blacklist”. You will be doubly and thoroughly searched and interrogated at the last airport before boarding for USA. When you land in USA, security officers from Homeland Security Department will “welcome” you at the exit door of the plane. You will be escorted like a criminal to a secure supervised area of the airport. All your fellow travelers will watch your humiliation silently. If your family is with you they will experience the pain of being a Muslim. The young ones among them will wonder what is the meaning of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Even the black Homeland Security Officer who is detaining you will continuously apologize for the unfair treatment. He knows what discrimination is.

    You will be detained for several hours. If you have a connecting flight to somewhere else you will miss it. If you have to visit the bathroom, the officer will escort you. The officer is curious about the zam zam water and the dates that you are carrying in your luggage. He is fascinated when you tell him you are returning from the journey of your life, Hajj. He really wants to know more about it but is very conscious of watchful eyes and ears. From the discussion with you he knows deep down in his heart that you are not a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer. You are a collateral damage. All he can do is go back and forth several times to find out if you have been cleared by the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS). You sit tight. You can do nothing except to do duâ for yourself and your fellow human beings. Ya Allâh when will this terrorism and oppression come to an end?

    Finally the officer comes rushing towards you with your passport and documents in hand and with a smile on his face announces, “You are free to go.”

    “Why was I detained, officer?” He shrugs his shoulders and hands you an “IBIS FACT SHEET.” He informs you, “There is an address on the sheet that you can write to if you have any concerns.” He tries to help you catch your connecting flight but the flight has just closed. There is no other flight to your destination today. Good-bye.

    In relative peace, a bit away from the eyes of your protectors, you check your US Passport. You cannot help but read, “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection”. It is printed in three languages.

    Yet, a similar scene is repeated the following day, on your domestic connection: denial of the convenience of electronic check-in, the humiliation of having to step aside at the check-in counter while waiting for permission to fly (there seems to be no record that you passed a four-hour security scrutiny less than 24 hours ago), and a boarding pass marked with a special code that requires you to be pulled aside at the security checkpoint for an extra search. The only crime: you are a Muslim and your name appears on the “black list.”

    Once at home you will forget the details of this atrocity, but the bad taste lingers on. You have several courses of action. You should do all of them. Write a letter to IBIS. Maybe a sane person will handle your case. Write a letter to your representatives in the State and Federal government. Maybe they will follow it up. You can also write a letter to the “Editors”. Maybe it will generate sympathy. Above all you can forgive and try to forget. This is the most important component part of your “healing”. While you are going through this therapy remember the overall reason for all this mayhem is the “fastest spreading religion in the West,” Islam. Remember also that Islam means peace, so Islam prospers and extends its reach when there is peace, even if that peace is at the cost of Muslims being persecuted and tortured. Remember Bilal’s (may Allah be pleased with him) persecution by his slave master and the subsequent acceptance of Islam by all those who inflicted cruelty on Muslims. It is Allâh’s promise that Islam would be the way of life if we stay our course and practice what we preach.

“It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that he may proclaim it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest.” [Surah as-Saff, 61:9]


Published: March 2007