Revolutionary Worker #1206, July 6, 2003, posted at rwor.org
This letter is from a reader of the RW who wanted to share her experience as an Arab Muslim living in post-9/11 America.
I have lived in fear and rejection during my youth. I am almost 17 now. I am Muslim and Arab. For most of my life I've had to lie about myself, my beliefs, and my origins. Everywhere I went I was hated for one of those things. I had to pretend I was someone to get by. I feared that if anyone knew who I really was or what I believed in, I would get killed or beaten up. It was a very confusing time for me because as a young child, I was supposed to be formulating an identity.
I began school here in September 2001. I was sitting in English class when my principal ran in and asked if anyone's parents worked at the Twin Towers. My teacher turned the radio on. It was September 11. When they said Osama bin Laden did it, I got really scared. I was like, "Oh, shit! He's Arab. My life is over--I'm so going to get deported."
Within days hatred against Arabs intensified. My dark-skinned brothers were called terrorists. A saleslady at a mall called my mom's friend, who was wearing hijab, a terrorist and a fight broke out. My mom used to be afraid to wear hijab because she got harassed, and had just started to wear it again when Sept. 11 happened. She took it off. I got upset because she was right. If you wore hijab, you would get harassed. I haven't worn hijab since, though I had been contemplating it.
I felt really bad about lying to people who were just trying to be my friends. For the first time I started to tell people I was Egyptian and proud. That didn't go over too well in my predominantly Jewish neighborhood. I was walking home from grocery shopping and a boy no older than 14 hit me with his bike. I assumed it was an accident and kept walking. He hit me with his bike again. I turned around to confront him and he yelled "terrorist" and rode away. I was really upset. After that I tried to keep myself in a low profile situation.
A lot of kids in my school were talking about Sept. 11. My brother, 14, said something about a Zionist conspiracy theory and the administration got mad. They thought he was being racist against Jews because we're Arabs. My brother felt threatened and transferred to another school. My other brother, 11, had to change his name because it was too Arab sounding. My family was relieved once he had an Americanized name and a new passport and said it was for the best. I was devastated and crushed beyond belief. It was heartbreaking. I understand that it was done for safety reasons. But this is an 11-year-old kid. This is supposed to be America--"land of liberty and justice for all." Sounds more like "kill them all" to me. Where is the freedom in this country if a little kid has to change his name to protect himself and his family?
As if things weren't bad enough, they got worse.
We weren't Iraqi, but my family and I were called "terrorists," "freak," "anti-American," and "suicide bombers." There were Internet games where you could "kill" Iraqis. Arab people have become "barbaric terrorists." I thought I was the only one who thought this was wrong. I started to think about the world and its politics. I thought I was the only one who saw through Bush's mask of exploitation and lies. I wondered if anyone in America really knew what was going on.
In January, I went through a deportation scare. Every day I would wake up and think this was my last day here. I thought the FBI or the CIA would come to arrest me for being Arab and Muslim. They would say I was a threat to national security and my neighbors would vouch for that. But when I saw the INS registrations and people getting killed and detained, I knew I had to stop hiding. I became bolder. I came to understand that if the government was going to kill and detain my people, then I wasn't going to shut up and let them do that. I am Arab and Muslim too, so if the government is going to get me, then they can. I wasn't going to cower in fear of the mighty CIA. I was going to put up a fight. I went to protests even though my dad warned me not to.
At one protest I met the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) which is now a huge part of the life. I talked to them about politics and my ideas of the world and they understood what I meant. The RCYB helped me make sense of what's going on. They made me realize that I wasn't crazy. They are my only piece of political sanity. They helped me feel like I belong.
I began to question if I really want a government composed of rich, fat-ass old guys to rule my life. I wondered why I had to live in fear my whole life when another world is possible.
This war on terrorism is a war on me and many others who share my beliefs and my nationality. They say it's going to last for generations. That means that not only do I have to suffer, my future children and their children have to as well.
Each day is a challenge. If I ride in a cab alone, the driver might look at me and ask where I'm from. I would have to lie because cabbies in NY can be cops. I'm defying my religion by not wearing hijab. If I speak Arabic in public, people give me strange and spiteful looks. If my mom calls me on the phone while I'm out, I have to speak in English to avoid mean stares, even though most of the time she doesn't know what I'm saying. At some hardcore shows, bands make fun of Arabs and Islam. It hurts to hear my peers cheer them on.
How long will this last? How long must I endure this?
I just wanted to come to this country and get the acceptance I always longed for. I wanted to be myself and everyone would love me and not judge me just because I'm not American. Instead, I live in more fear than I did before. I've never felt more isolated or inferior.
All I can say is that the government is afraid of immigrants for very good fucking reasons. My people and I know that the American dream is a nightmare. We know the exploitation and lies that happen because we've seen it here and in our own countries. Our lives show that. My life shows that. I am a witness.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online