Category Archives: Forgiveness

Post 9/11 America

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Mona El Tahawy is one of my favorite Arab journalists. She’s a brilliant Egyptian woman who writes about Arab affairs beautifully and puts justice to perfect words. She wrote this on 9/11/2011:

For most of my life, the US was never anything more than vacation memories. My family visited almost 30 years ago for a vacation that marked the end of our years of living in the UK and which came just before we moved to Saudi Arabia.

New York City dazzled, of course, and a road trip with an uncle and his family from Wyoming through the Rockies to California where Mickey Mouse greeted us in Disneyland, was a lesson in the sheer vastness that is the United States.

But then I fell in love with an American and I flew to NYC to meet him for the millennium celebrations and even though we fought and I gave him back his engagement ring, I agreed to marry him and I did what I vowed I’d never do: I left my job and my home for a man.

The year after I moved to be with him in Seattle, early one Tuesday, his mother called us from her home at the other end of the country – three time zones away in Florida – urging us to turn on the television because something terrible was happening in New York. I rushed to awaken my brother and his wife who were visiting us.

That morning of 11 September 2001 as we watched the twin towers crumble on live television, America and I would develop a bond that has proven deeper and more enduring – for better or worse, through sickness and health – than the one I had with my now ex-husband.

“If this is Muslims, they’re going to round us up,” I told him. He took the day off work and we didn’t leave the apartment for two days, worried that my sister-in-law would be attacked for her headscarf. A drunk unsuccessfully tried to set our local mosque on fire; the neighbourhood stood guard outside the mosque for weeks afterwards holding signs that read “Muslims are Americans”.

“What’s it like to f**k a terrorist?” a group of young men asked the white American husband of a Pakistani-American woman I knew.

I left my husband a year after 9/11. Not because he was an American and I an Egyptian, nothing to do with culture or religion; nothing to do with 9/11. We brought out the worst in each other. But before we separated we visited NYC one more time together for a friend’s engagement and we went to pay our respects at the site of the attacks. I had no words. Just tears and prayers as we took in the gaping hole, the makeshift shrines of teddy bears and notes desperately seeking the whereabouts of loved ones.

Ironically, he now lives in Asia and I’ve stayed in the US. I stayed to fight. To say that’s not my Islam. To yell Muslims weren’t invented on 9/11. Those planes crashing again and again into the towers were the first introduction to Islam and Muslims for too many Americans but we – American Muslims – are sick and tired of explaining. None of those men was an American Muslim and we’re done explaining and apologising. Enough.

I stayed to give my middle finger to Tea Partiers who tried to intimidate a group of us in 2010 because we supported the right of an Islamic community centre to build near the site of the attacks. They came to bully us and I bullied them right back. I wanted them to know Muslims will not be intimidated so think twice before you try to bully another one.

I became an American in April of this year, almost 11 years after I moved here. I could’ve become naturalised earlier but I realised soon after I took the oath and we watched a video of President Obama congratulating us that if it had been President Bush I would’ve probably run out, screaming.

Despite an appearance by Bush at a mosque after 9/11 to show he didn’t hold all Muslims responsible, his administration proceeded to do exactly that: military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge, the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees and the invasions of two Muslim-majority countries.

And the latest stain on the US civil liberties record: an Associated Press expose in August on ways the CIA and the NYPD are combining forces to spy on Muslims in New York City. The thought that someone could be following me to my favourite book shops or night clubs is as pathetic and sinister as when the Mubarak regime tapped my phone and had me followed when I lived in Egypt.

And I will continue to stay in the US for my nieces and nephews. I have chosen not to have children. I am a happy aunt to two girls and two boys between the ages of three and eight. They were the first Americans in our family and the thought that anyone could question either their nationality or faith – or demand they choose between the two – enrages me.

Over the past 10 years, American Muslims have fought not just the hate and stereotypes and the profiling from those outside the community, we’ve also had major fights within the Muslim community. As a friend described it, 9/11 pushed many Muslims to “come out” as liberals or progressives. For too long, huge, conservative national organisations claimed to speak for all of us but there is a much greater diversity of American Muslim voices now and that benefits everyone. Conservative does not equal authentic.

People think I’m Brazilian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, anything but Muslim because many people equate a Muslim woman with the wearing of a headscarf. So like someone who’s gay who might make sure to tell you soon after you meet, I try to include within the first three sentences of a new meeting that I’m a Muslim.

Before 9/11, some Muslims lived quiet, uneventful suburban lives; the dentists and the accountants and the attorneys. 9/11 robbed them of that boring existence. But in struggling to become boring again, American Muslims have over the past 10 years made our community here the most vibrant of any Muslim community in the world, Tea Party and Bush legacy be damned!

We’re your friends, lovers and spouses, America. We’re your comedians, taxi drivers, chefs, politicians and singers. And we’re your doctors, like my brother and his wife who were visiting me from the midwest in Seattle 10 years ago.

My brother, a cardiologist, was visited by special agents from the FBI in November 2001 who asked him if he knew anyone who celebrated the attacks. His wife is an obstetrician/gynaecologist.

One day she and I were watching one of those medical dramas when she told me an anecdote that neatly sums it all up: “I was delivering a baby the other day and the father was watching via Skype cam. He was a soldier in Afghanistan. And I thought, here I am: a Muslim doctor in a headscarf delivering a baby whose father is an American soldier in Afghanistan, a Muslim country.”

Let’s draw the curtain on 9/11 anniversaries after this 10th one. Every year on 11 September you can taste the grief in NYC. The wound will never heal if every year we scratch the scar off and open the way to hate and prejudice.

Some of the earliest Muslims came to the US across the Atlantic on slave ships from west Africa. Not far from where I live in Harlem, there’s a west African community complete with a mosque, restaurants and French-speaking people. 9/11 changed everything and 9/11 changed nothing at all. America – I’m not going anywhere.

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Undeserved Catharsis

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Repenting and confessing will not lead to forgiveness, but it will probably offer this guy undeserved catharsis.

PS. The “I’m sorry I won’t do it again” pleading method will only work with your mother.

ALEPH: I Love You Like a River

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This is an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s latest book, Aleph.

According to his blog, the title is a word used to refer to the point where time and space converge, but other sources say he is referring to the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately I will probably have to order it through Amazon or ask someone abroad to buy me a copy, since Coelho’s books were banned here in July. I’ve asked Virgin Megastore and Jarir Bookstore, and they’ve confirmed that it won’t be arriving. Sad, but I will wait – the anticipation will only make the read all the better.

I see that Hilal is starting to feel uncomfortable.
‘I’m not interested in what our relationship was in a past life. We’re here in the present. In Novosibirsk, you made me forgive you and I did. Now I’m asking you a favour: tell me that you love me.’

I hold her hand.

‘You see this river?
“ Well, in the living room in my apartment at home is a painting of a rose immersed in just such a river. Half of the painting was exposed to the effects of the water and the elements, so the edges are a bit rough, and yet I can still see part of that beautiful red rose against a gold background.

“I know the artist. In 2003, we went together to a forest in the Pyrenees and found a dried-up stream and we hid the painting under the stones on the stream bed.
‘The artist is my wife.

“When I met her, I was convinced that our relationship wouldn’t work out, and for the first two years, I was sure that one of us would leave.
“ In the five years that followed, I continued to think that we had simply got used to one another and that as soon as we realised this, we would each go our separate ways.
“ I thought that a more serious commitment would deprive me of my “liberty” and keep me from experiencing everything I wanted to experience.’

‘I understand and respect what you’re saying,’ Hilal says. ‘But in the restaurant, when you were talking about the past, you said something about love being stronger than the individual.’
‘Yes, but love is made up of choices.’

We are both gazing at the river.

‘Silence is also an answer,’ she says.
I put my arms around her, so that her head is resting on my shoulder.
‘I love you,’ I tell her.

‘I love you because all the loves in the world are like different rivers flowing into the same lake, where they meet and are transformed into a single love that becomes rain and blesses the earth.

‘I love you like a river that gives water to the thirsty and takes people where they want to go.

‘I love you like a river which understands that it must learn to flow differently over waterfalls and to rest in the shallows.

‘I love you because we are all born in the same place, at the same source, which keeps us provided with a constant supply of water. And so, when we feel weak, all we have to do is wait a little. The spring returns, the winter snows melt and fill us with new energy.

‘I receive your love and I give you mine.
“Not the love of a man for a woman, not the love of a father for a child, not the love of God for his creatures.
“But a love with no name and no explanation
‘Like a river that cannot explain why it follows a particular course, but simply flows onwards.

‘A love that asks for nothing and gives nothing in return; it is simply there. I will never be yours and you will never be mine; nevertheless, I can honestly say: I love you.’

Maybe it’s the afternoon, maybe it’s the light, but at that moment, the Universe seems finally to be in perfect harmony. We stay where we are, feeling not the slightest desire to go back to the hotel, where Yao will doubtless be waiting for me.


Outer Identity VS Inner Identity

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I started my senior year of high-school this week. I’m taking great classes this year, one of them being TOK: Theory of Knowledge. We study and discuss everything we are not ‘supposed’ to study and discuss according to our society’s views – which is just what we discuss. Why can’t we discuss them publicly? Why do we live in fear? Why do we keep our mouths shut just for the sake of preserving the so called ‘security’ of our lives? Is it better to live an oppressed life of silence, than a life of being judged for your desire to be free, for your voice to be heard?

On the first day we discussed identity. We discussed our outer identity VS our inner identity. There are no right or wrong answers in this class; the point is to convince our teacher of the validity of our opinions. Conclusion was, that our outer identity is our “fake skin”. It is something that is out of our control. It is in complete control of the eyes of the beholder — and beauty won’t always be what he will see.

He judges me based on what I look like, based on what my name is, based on how I dress. One look, one piece of information (my name, which represents my background) and he has come up with an entire analysis of who I am. It may not be fair, but that is how our outer identity is judged. It is something that is totally out of our hands. As for our inner identity, that is something that we do control. It is a compiling of our interests, our desires, our fears, our secrets, our dreams, our experiences. And unlike our outer identity, we always have a guard up when it comes to our inner identity.

When meeting a stranger, we will do one of two things: we will keep that shield up, because how do we know that we can trust this person? How do we know he won’t judge us? The other choice is, we would wait. We would talk, and talk, and talk…and then wait. Observe. Listen. We notice we are both focusing intently on each word coming out of the other’s mouth. And we wait. We wait to see who will let his guard down first, and only then do we let our own guards down as well. It is like two cowboys who have no real quarrel with one another standing across each other defiantly, playing the “drop your gun I’ll drop mine” game.

They are skeptical of each other and are aware there is no trust between them, but they have mutual a desire to make peace. In my opinion, the one that drops his guard – his gun – first is the braver one. Because he is giving the other person an opportunity to shoot him, to judge him, to take his secret and turn it into a public fact. He is risking his safety for the sake of…what? Trust? Friendship? Love? Acceptance? Something. Everyone’s purpose differs.

Forgiveness

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I got this beautiful story off of Paulo Coelho’s blog:

An old man sold toys in the Baghdad market. Knowing that his sight was not quite perfect, his customers sometimes paid him with fake money.

The old man discovered the ruse, but did not say anything.
In his prayers he asked God to forgive those who cheated him.
“Perhaps they’re short of money and want to buy presents for their children,” he said to himself.

The time passed and the old man died. Standing before the gates of Heaven, he prayed once more:

– Lord! – he said. – I am a sinner. I did many wrong things, I am no better than the false coins I was paid. Forgive me!

At that moment the gates swung open and a Voice was heard:

– Forgive what? How can I judge someone who all through his life never once passed judgment on others?