Last night over a lavish dinner crafted by a mischievous chef friend of mine, I was talking with some rad Muslims and allies about the Boston marathon bombing and the political climate of islamophobia in the U.S. After dinner, I admitted to the group that earlier in the week while in a meeting with my high school principal, I asked him how his family was faring in Boston. I was expecting to hear the usual response from people with family nearby a place of such incident, they are shocked, but everyone I know is OK... Instead he said that his aunt was currently in the middle of surgery. She was having part of her hand amputated.
I see a brother in my principal – perhaps it’s because of his roots and desire to talk about racial and class equity in our school. I feel connected and supportive of him as a man of color rising in a position of leadership at a school full of students of color. So as he told me about his aunt, I felt myself feeling ashamed, and yes, somehow responsible for the plight his aunt and family were in. I felt that I had somehow caused his aunt to have emergency surgery. I immediately started to send her prayers and positive thoughts; I only recently identified that in those moments I was also feeding myself painful feelings of hate and unworthiness.
I'll remind you that this happened on Tuesday, before the news of today broke about the alleged bombers being immigrants from Chechnya, and possibly Muslim. But I didn’t need to know this information to feel culpable. The shame and blame I felt is proof of the 'master' narratives of violence and evil that I have internalized about Muslims. This internalization leaves me feeling both sad and angry at the same time, with a suffocating blanket covering my emotions and a gentle smile upon my face which is palatable for the masses. Underneath the forced smile, it feels like you have disappointed someone. The heaviness of letting someone down.
These feelings are not something I am proud about; there are however, feelings which register with other Muslims. Yet we do not talk about them. And I’m not talking about the apologetic, fear-driven and assimilation-inspired “we are with you Boston” responses. I am asking for discourse and space of an anti-imperialist framework which understands Boston in light of violence enacted by the U.S. upon Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Somalia and Pakistan (and more...), as well as owning the complexity of the ways we have internalized islamophobia.
I am asking for a bit more room to own the pain of feeling 'at blame'. And not the pain of those perceived to be Muslim, though that struggle is not easy, I'm sure. But I am thinking and looking to my sisters and brothers and everyone in between who ARE Muslim and wondering how you grapple with a steady pride of a Muslim identity, all the while being assaulted by the media, the state, and perhaps, emotionally neglected by our communities. How are you faring, dear ones?
Because I'm not doing so well. I've realized this week that the war-mongering images of Muslims have entered my psyche and are eating away at the delicately fierce fabric my mother and father laid down for my benefit. Dear Community, I want to talk with you, and anyone else who will listen, about my fears for our generation and the next, and the ways this burden of blame will imprint our spirits.
For others who wish to be allies -- I want to wear an Allah pendent not because I need to 'rep Islam' but because I feel the grace of the divine in my communities ability to hold me in safety, love and a compassionate understanding that every time I turn on the radio, I am attacked by islamophobic assaults, both subtle and severe. I want to tell you that we are all attacked by islamophobia and whenever we make choices to dehumanize another.
Our history will continue to repeat until we learn our lessons. Assata Shakur said "How dare they call us terrorists when we were being terrorized? Terror was a constant part of my life….We lived under police terror." So where are we living today?