Today, Muslims in Your City Will Be Afraid (and Angry, Too)

Security is a little tighter in New York City today, while the world mourns the brutal, tragic, meaningless deaths of at least 49 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. Security is probably tighter in your city and your country, too. It’s the kind of day where I worry about you, but I worry about our Muslim neighbors far more.

Today, Muslims are mourning with the rest of us, but today they are also traumatized in ways we may not be able to imagine. Today Muslims are afraid, but not the way that I’m afraid. Attacks on Muslims, Arabs and South Asians (and Sikhs and others who “look Muslim”), already at record levels, will spike again after this. (So will all kinds of nativist, white supremacist attacks, and anti-Semitic violence, too.) Your Muslim friends and neighbors will be watching their backs more than usual today, watching out for their friends more than usual today.

Today, too, your Muslim friends and neighbors will be angry. Doesn’t bigotry and vulnerability make you angry, too? Today, Muslims around the world are condemning this hateful Islamophobic violence, while also being acutely aware that white people won’t be held to account for this violence by one of their own in the same ways that Muslim communities have and continue to experience.

And so, I’m thinking about my poem, in print at The Poeming Pigeon but no longer available online, tragically as relevant and prescient as ever. Be gentle with each other today, my friends, send message of solidarity, and think about what else you can do to make the world a better place today … and tomorrow … and the next day …

What to Do in a Terror Alert

This morning he said, “Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it.”
Because the NYPD is deploying extra officers on my commute
Because this morning in Brussels….
This morning in Brussels
Like last week in Istanbul
And last month in Ankara
And last year in Paris and Beirut and San Bernardino
And almost every day in Aleppo….

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
Because he loves me
Loves my principles but worries about my safety
Like two Sundays ago, when I got catcalled outside the train station
It made him so quietly furious
That last Sunday he got up early
Put on his heaviest sweatshirt
Because there was snow in the air and he had left his coat at work
Walked me to my train
When he could have been warm in bed
Just so no stranger on the sidewalk
Would make my heart race on my commute.

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
And I didn’t, even
though I made it for days like today
Because I am not immune to fear
Not above an over-abundance of caution
I fade into the fog of white faces
More often than I should

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
Because he loves me
And anyway, I lost my Peace Be With You pin
Brushed off my bag a month ago on my way into the subway
A fragile thing too easily lost
Like my conviction
Because I was silently relieved
Not to have to make that choice
Between conscience and security
Not to have to say, “I know it’s because you love me, but….”

Except, on the train into the city
After this morning in Brussels
I couldn’t stop thinking about
The women and men who will not
Hide their light under a bushel
Whose Muslim, Sikh or Jewish faith
Or just belief in justice and freedom
Won’t let them fade into that featureless white fog

I couldn’t stop thinking about
The women and men who cannot
Hide their olive skin, their black hair and bright eyes
Their African cheeks, proscribed beards or prayer callouses
Or whatever ethnic feature or accent marks them
Possibly Muslim.
Even if they’re Coptic, or Buddhist, or Mexican instead.

“Maybe today … don’t wear the pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
And I didn’t.
But maybe tomorrow … I’ll be strong enough
To wear those curling words
Peace Be With You
That I wear to say without speaking
Stand beside me.
You’re safe here.

Maybe today … do me a favor
Maybe today, when police are thick on the ground in your city
Today, when the airways tremble with nerves and fear
Do something extra nice today in your city
For someone who “looks Muslim”—
Whatever that means—
Maybe today … do something nice.
Maybe tomorrow … do it again.
And next week and next month and next year
When the news anchors have forgotten
The fear they sow today


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