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    Volume 9 Issue 33| August 13 , 2010|

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Writing the Wrong

Ground Fear-O

Sharbari Ahmed

On September 12, 2001, I wrote the piece below to no one in particular. I recently read it over and realised I have changed a great deal. I marvelled at how naive I was. And how young. My perceptions of my “Americaness” have changed (another column) and my spiritual identity is undergoing, shall we say, a house cleaning, as are various obsolete, messy relationships and self-defeating patterns. I also have started holding America accountable for her many sins concerning policies in the Middle East. In revisiting who I was then and how the events affected me, I feel now, more than ever, that the open wound 9/11 wrought, must be healed soon and why an inclusive, expansive Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero will be imperative in doing just that. Some of you may have heard about it. A debate has been sparked over the implications of such a place. Other Americans are trying and are well within their rights to build places of worship around the nation, some in the heartland, some in urban areas. They are being met with resistance and outright hostility. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee efforts to build a 52, 000 Sq ft Islamic center, complete with pool, gym and school has drawn intolerant resistance. Protestors of the proposed center brought dogs, harkening back to the days of civil rights demonstrations where the police would set dogs upon activists. It is frightening and it is real, and when I relive the emotions 9/11 caused me, I see that very little has changed in that regard. Not even a President with the middle name of Hussein has been able to change the average American's perceptions of who or what a Muslim is. Nor does he show any inclination of doing so at this point. The fact is, as long as our President continues to engage in a war in Afghanistan, we are far away from achieving international stability. We will further incur the wrath of those who feel they must defend themselves at all costs.

I beseech you all to stop (if you do) calling the Interfaith Center in New York the “Ground Zero Mosque” because that is, in my opinion, an oversimplification of what is trying to be achieved; a sensationalist, convenient buzz phrase. It is upon the members of the Muslim-American community, indeed, Muslims everywhere, to bridge gaps and tirelessly campaign for transparency and authenticity. I do not feel this is apologist as some have accused my sentiments of being. I feel it is pragmatic; perhaps something to meditate upon during our holiest of months. Thank you for reading.

September 12, 2001
Abu Dhabi, UAE

It is 4:35 in the afternoon in the Middle East, the day after the World Trade Center, both towers, collapsed like a stack of cards. In America people are waking up to a country forever altered. Now is the time most people will realize the magnitude of what has happened. Now is when the real fear and heartbreak will take hold.

I am sitting in my hotel room staring out the window at a minaret while I struggle to find the words to understand what all this will mean for my children and I. In about 25 minutes the faithful Muslims of Abu Dhabi will be called to prayer. I was born a Muslim but I will not be among them. First and foremost, I am an American and now, because of one of the most horrendous acts of terrorism ever witnessed, my Americaness will be brought into serious question.

My family hails from Bangladesh. You may have heard of it--small country next to India, really poor, overcrowded and dirty, existing on a plane not even Dante Aligheri could have dreamt up. This is, of course, fuelled by simplistic media images but that is yet another issue. Since moving to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a region made slickly rich by oil bubbling out of the ground everyday, I have been met with both rejection and confusion. People have an inherent need to categorize and I defy categorization.

The Muslims here, not just the Arab elements but also anyone who is remotely devout, do not consider me a real Muslim. I do not wear an abaya, the traditional female covering that reveals only one's eyes and have been spotted out dancing. The Americans here, and there are many, stare at me blankly when I tell them where I am from: New York. White Plains, New York. Recovering from the bafflement, they'll ask me again just in case I didn't get it the first time, "No, where are you really from?" As if New York is a figment of my imagination, located somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant.

This has been a recurring theme in my life. I grew up in a small town, Chester, Connecticut, where I was the only non-white kid in my class. For years I was known as "Blacky" or nigger, or blackynigger when my classmates became weary of repeating each taunt separately. Later I was known simply as dot head. The feeling that I am merely an interloper has never fully left me. I still hesitate when singing the national anthem, not just because like many Americans I have trouble remembering the words, but because a part of me feels I am not entitled to the chest swelling pride that washes over me when those final notes are struck.

The horror of the images flickering across my screen on September 11 has cut me to shreds. The first thought in my head was that I had lost my home. That I would not be able to leave here and return because I would not be welcome. My last name is, after all, Ahmed. When the second plane struck the World Trade Center, I turned to my husband and said, "Those bastards have destroyed my home." I was so angry I shook from head to foot.

A group of hateful crazed fools has decided to speak for Muslims around the world without inquiring whether or not they are wanted as spokesmen. However, until Islamic nations, especially the supposedly moderate ones, can demonstrate they understand the true meaning of Islam and make a commitment to ending this type of senseless carnage, the world will not be sympathetic to those of us who are unequivocally against religious zealotry.

My place, my tiny corner of the American fabric, which I have fought hard to make my own, has been horrendously compromised by people with whom I have nothing in common. I was supposed to return home next week. I may be detained when I land on American soil; a thorough search may be conducted. I will not object I will not feel violated but I now know that some may view me as the enemy.

Thousands of people have lost their lives these past few days, and others, tax paying, hard working Americans, your neighbors and even friends may have, in the eyes of the rest of America, lost their right to be called Americans. Our names and complexions will single us out for mistrust and hostility and may put our lives in danger. God knows, our hearts are already broken.

All I can think about is getting home, even if home is torn and bleeding, even if home doesn't want me. It's the only place I really know and understand. I accept the anger. It is a manifestation of immeasurable pain. But, please, I plead with my fellow Americans, just let me come home and take my place among you. Let me come home and heal.


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