All Kinds of Crisis

Over the last two days, there have been a lot of different opinions on the underlying racism and prejudice in America that have come forth as very broad and bold overtones in the media coverage.

I have thought a lot about this today, and spent some time sifting through my tangled thoughts. I debated on whether or not to write this, but feel that I must. When I first heard news of the explosions in Boston, my immediate thought was, "They've done it again." I had to take a few deep breaths at the heel of this thought and admonish myself. Let me explain. I am a Muslim. I am also Pakistani. These two very significant aspects of my identity are often proceeded by the word "terrorist" in the news. Islamist terrorist. Muslim terrorist. Pakistani terrorist. Pakistani Muslim terrorist. When I thought, "They've done it again," I did two things at once. I reacted exactly the way the media has trained me to: This must be the work of a Muslim terrorist group; and I divorced myself from my identity by employing the pronoun "they." Without proof, without question, without reason, I, a Pakistani Muslim woman who is ordinarily rather well-adjusted as an immigrant in California, decided to extricate myself from "my people" because I demonized all of them collectively. 

My second reaction to this news was fear. "What does this mean for me?" Yes, I am in California, the liberal wild-child of America. Yes, I have been so lucky as not to have faced, experienced, or witnessed any overt actions of prejudice or racism. But what if speculations feed the media frenzy? Worse, what if this terrible crime was indeed committed by a Muslim? It was a selfish thought, but this is a place to tell the truth. The fact is, I don't know what it means to be a Muslim in this country, or anywhere in the world anymore. It is unpredictable. You have a last name like "Saeed" and you're held in immigration for five hours because they need to run a background check on your name. "Do they know how many Saeeds there are in the world," you wonder. When you get randomly selected to be patted down at the airport enough times, even when you are visibly pregnant, and the "female assist" asks you to hold out the elastic waistband of your maternity pants so she can look down just to be sure, only because you had the audacity (and the pregnancy hormones) to be irritated with this secondary security check, you internalize a kind of fear for how others view your identity. 

I digress. 

The last two days have been hard on a hidden level. Life goes on as usual, but in quiet moments, when I am doing the dishes, or trying to sleep, or driving home, thoughts and feelings ebb and flow and whisper to me. 

Today, I saw the smiling faces of three people who lost their lives in Boston, two women and one eight year-old-child. The shock I felt was real and strong. Is it because I live in this country? Or is it because I think it is a bigger crime for a bomb to go off amidst civilians in America than in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, or anywhere else in the world? Is it because I have seen so many pictures of funeral biers and fathers carrying bloody corpses of their children in all these other countries that I have begun to think that it's simply something that happens there, to those people? And now all of a sudden, it is happening here, to me. Is death on this continent more meaningful and more heart-breaking? No, any loss of life is expensive - I don't use that term crassly, I use it thoughtfully - for life should be treated as such. So, I cried today for Boston. And for Sandy Hook. And also for Pakistan and Iraq.

Whenever I think about the aftermath of the Boston explosions, a cold fear ripples through my spine. What if we find out that the perpetrators of this incident had skin the color of mine? What if they call God by the same name as I do? What if they look like me? 

But then I think that this courageous young woman also looks like me. She, too, has a green passport. She tells the truth with her pen. She wears her faith with pride around her head. I also remind myself that the true legacy of my country comes from this man. And he needs no words.