The Constitution also protects Muslims in America
By Jafar Siddiqui
I was dropping off my daughter at Mountlake Terrace High for the last day of school last month. As I pulled into the circular driveway, I blocked another car for a few seconds as my daughter disembarked.
The driver honked and I got out, thinking it was someone I knew. It was not. She rolled down her window: “You are not supposed to stop in that lane!” Her window went up. Then, as she zipped past me, she rolled her window down again and yelled, “Go back to your country… !” I was so shocked that I missed the muffled adjectives as the window went up again.
Less than a week later, a man I thought was my friend told me that as long as I refused to respect George Bush, he would continue to classify me and “my people” ? Muslims in America ? as terrorist sympathizers. He also told me that he has not met any Muslim in America that he respects.
By and large, this is what it comes down to: Muslims in America have to keep professing their loyalty to this country as a daily rite of passage, and even then we are suspect. We are subjected to a constant barrage of hate and suspicion from the top levels of the Bush administration to the lay people we encounter every day.
Politicians remain silent because they know Muslim-bashing is in and they do not wish to be seen as “soft on terrorism.” Self-styled “experts” conceal their hate messages in long, pseudo-intellectual discourses explaining just how murderous and nasty we Muslims are. Our constitutional rights are discarded like used bubble gum on the sidewalk as more and more of us are thrown in jails without the constitutional guarantees of due process, without charges or trials. We are judged guilty with little possibility of proving otherwise; we would need to be tried first.
Reactions of “normal Americans” continue to shock me. Once when I was bemoaning the treatment of some people, a friend asked me quite innocently, “But they are Muslims, aren’t they?” On more than one occasion I have been told by friends that we are in a war and some things have to be tolerated during such times.
Silly me! I always thought constitutional protections were meant to kick in when things get bad, not when I am sipping tea while lying in my hammock.
I have spoken to some of the top law-enforcement people in this region. Some have told me they would rather continue stopping Muslims in mid-stride than be responsible for the next 9/11, as if those are the only two choices available. Others have told me that they never send people to other countries for torture; the wink-and-a-nudge is unbearable. One lawmaker told me he didn’t believe constitutional protections extended to non-citizens.
This is my country. I’ll speak out against injustices whether they are aimed at me or not. I’ll shout when my Constitution is shoved into the deep freeze. I’ll voice my opinions against George Bush just as easily as I’ll speak against my gutless and silent Congress.
This is my country! I’ll feel the swell of pride when I see pictures of my military helping the victims of the tsunami. I’ll tell everyone that our system of government is one of the best in the world. I’ll say I have seldom seen so many wonderful and generous people as I have in the U.S. ? people who have gone out of their way to help strangers.
I think of a neighbor of mine, with whom I hardly ever agree politically. He and his wife were among the first people to reach out to me after 9/11; they asked me to come over with my family if people got nasty. I remember the elderly veteran near me who walked up to the young Muslim girl with a head covering and told her to let him know if anyone gave her a hard time.
I cannot stop telling my fellow citizens that bigotry and persecution only need our silence to rise up and start demanding human sacrifice. When sanity finally prevails, I know I’ll be back in the wonderful America I remember so fondly.
Jafar Siddiqui is an American Muslim living in Lynnwood. He is a member of American Muslims of Puget Sound and a human-rights activist, involved in movements for interfaith understanding.
Originally published in the Seattle Times and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.