America is Scary Sometimes
So the other day I was chatting with my boss about the difference between living as a Muslim in the States versus Canada. I told her I’d never lived in the States before, but everything I know about it and hear from my friends who live there tells me that there is a significant difference. From the way Muslims are treated by others — be that random people on the street, bus drivers, shopkeepers, salespeople, etc. — to the way security forces deal with Muslims at airports and subways and other such places. For example, in Vancouver, one of the more laid-back liberal cities in Canada, people for the most part don’t even notice the hijab. I mean there is absolutely no reaction on their face when they see me. And when there is it’s usually a big smile that I almost expect to be accompanied with a thumbs-up (almost as if they’re saying hey! I’m not racist!). Toronto, Montreal and other big cities are very similar in my experience.
But my American hijabi friends tell a very different story. I can’t imagine, for example, somebody yelling “go back to your country” at me, or somebody calling me a dirty Arab. These are all things my friends experience on a regular basis! And they don’t even live in small-town American, I’m talking about places like Seattle, New York City, and Philadelphia. I thought that was bad, but wait, there’s more. I recently finished reading Zeitoun by David Eggers (I mentioned buying it in an earlier post) and I could not believe what I was reading.
Spoiler Alert: (I don’t say anything about the ending, but I do mention some of the events that occur about halfway through the book).
Abdulrahman Zeitoun and I think two of his friends were one of the few who decided to stay behind after Katrina hit New Orleans, ignoring the mandatory evacuation in favour of trying to help those who couldn’t make it out, or trying to save some of the damaged property. They were randomly arrested and thrown into an impromptu guantanamo-like prison, accused of terrorism, and detained for months without fair trial! They were treated horribly and completely subject to the whims of the racist cops that were dealing with them. I will not describe how this true story ends to avoid spoiling it for anyone who plans on reading the book.
I was reflecting on what happened to Zeitoun, and whether or not America will learn from its mistakes, when I came across this post by Sana Saeed. Here’s an excerpt:
The car emptied and I was the only one left. The first officer came back and asked me if I had any proof for my internship. I said if there had been internet, I could have proven it. He asked me to try it out on my laptop or to see if I could find any documents on my laptop to corroborate my claims. As I took out my laptop, he noticed a sticker I had put on the front of my Macbook which reads “Diplomatic Immunity.”
What I had regarded as a nerdy joke funny to really no one else but me, became an immediate concern for the officer as he asked me quickly if I was a diplomat. When I said no, that the sticker was a joke, he just stared briefly at me, as though waiting for some sort of explanation that would offer the humour clearly missing.
He began rummaging through my bag, looked at a smelly pair of shoes, bananas, juice, hesitated on my copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (thank god they didn’t see Tariq Ramadan’s Radical Reform ..oh dear god) and then found my planner. He began sifting through my planner, carefully reading everything I had written.
He stopped and asked, “Why do you have all this stuff for Haiti?”
Momentarily confused, I remembered what he was referring to. I replied that following the recent earthquake, I had helped organize a fundraiser for a local ngo in Montreal doing sustainable development in Haiti. I told him it was a concert of sorts, with poetry of sorts being read. He interrupted me at this point and asked if I did poetry and I replied yes. He then asked if I had ever raised money for the United States. Holding back the first snarky comment to hit my mind, I stuttered no. He then asked where I was originally from and I replied Pakistan, confused as it was pretty damn clear on my passport that he was religiously reading that I was from the country his country was currently having a field day with drone attacks. He quickly then asked if I had ever raised money for Pakistan “or other such countries” to which I replied that I had not, just done some peace relations work here and there. He continued to give me a cold look. He then said “It seems as though you attend protests. Do you?” and without thinking and believing to sticking to the truth at all times, I replied “yes.”
He looked me straight in the eye, his falling further (no idea how that’s possible at this point) and said to me “We don’t want any protestors here.”
Clearly the right to assemble peacefully means shit in the United States, according to this guy.
My face fell as I began to realize a not-so-awesome outcome that could possibly result from this interrogation.
Funny thing – the night after I read this blogpost I dreamed that I was at a protest rally, holding a huge banner that some policewoman was trying to take from me, and I started screaming at the top of my lungs “THIS IS MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT! YOU CANNOT SILENCE ME!”, after which I started flying away and the policewoman was flying behind me trying to catch me, at which point she turned into a witch, black pointy hat and broom and the whole shebang.
Bet the guys who wrote Inception would love to take a tour in my subconscious.