“Sid Ismahan’s Brothers and Daughters”

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In a way, this is where it all began: my first blog, my first publication, my first sermon, the memoir I am immersed in writing, the banners for protesters, the Peace Be Upon You pin, my relentless Facebook campaign of correcting misconceptions about Islam….

I went to Jordan with the Peace Corps because of Ali (aka the Iraqi boyfriend) and my Afghan family, but everything that has followed is about seeking sid Ismahan’s respect. What happened between sid Ismahan and me in April of 2004, what happened between her people and mine, cemented forever my conviction that America must do better, must be better, and I must be part of making that happen.

There was a thick lump in my throat, somewhere between disgust and anger. How could my fellow Americans, my brothers do such terrible things to another human being? And that woman, grinning, two thumbs up, her desert camo fatigues tight against hips as wide as mine. She could easily be my sister, with the same long, straight, dark brown hair, my same rounded, corn-fed jaw. Who was she? How could she? 

It is with immense pleasure and hope that I direct you now to CONSEQUENCE Magazine, “an international literary magazine published annually, focusing on the culture and consequences of war,” because the Peace Corps is not a military unit, but it is a tactic and consequence of American militarism, a counter-measure to boots on the ground. While the Marine Corps patrolled the streets of Fallujah, I walked the streets of my village in Jordan with the Peace Corps, and sometimes the conflict in neighboring Iraq caused conflict for me, too, in my volunteer work.

I’m also extremely grateful to my editor at CONSEQUENCE, herself a veteran from a rural midwestern community not that different from where I grew up. She was very generous in sharing her own experiences as a veteran and how they colored her reading of my work, not only challenging me to consider new aspects of their veteran audience, but also pointing out where my experiences really resonated with her own.

I couldn’t be prouder to be publishing this piece now. Over the last three years of submissions, it has twice been a finalist, but never a winner until now. In that time, despite historic electoral successes by Muslims last year, the urgency of building empathy and cooperation with Arab and Muslim communities here and around the world has sadly not lessened; if anything, Islamophobic bigotry and violence is worse than ever.

And, not for nothing, the experience I describe in this piece, many of the experiences I had in Jordan and Egypt also inform the way that I receive and respond to current events of racial justice and #BlackLivesMatter today.

This piece is not available online, but I hope you will consider purchasing a copy of the Spring 2020 issue of CONSEQUENCE and read “Sid Ismahan’s Brothers and Daughters.”

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