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When They Came For Me


Last night I dreamed that I was at a gathering of many people. Many of them were strangers, all of whom were friendly and welcoming. Many of them, however, where family members, most of whom I had not seen for over twenty years, at the time of my mother’s passing. I had my children with me, including, in the way of dreams, a baby that I’ve never actually given birth to. In the dream I was waiting for my one remaining aunt to come, so I could show her how proud my mom would be of me, of my children, of the space I have created for myself in the world since she left it. When she came, she embraced me and I knew the feel of my mother’s arms again, just for a few moments. In my dream I was wearing street clothes, not the hijab that I usually wear when I go out.

Later on in the dream I was sitting with the baby and my ten year old daughter, Maryam, on a broad sweep of lawn dotted with people when I heard a commotion behind me. Turning, I saw police officers coming over a hill. They fanned out amongst the people and began asking for id. I was relieved I had remembered mine. A female officer came and sat beside me, speaking pleasantly to me. I gave her my driver’s license. In the photo I was wearing a headscarf. She kept talking to me, asking me general questions. Then, instead of giving my id back to me, she put it in her pocket and moved on.

I knew then that everything was not going to be alright. I gave the baby to Maryam and asked someone to watch them for me. I walked home, into an empty kitchen, and sat, waiting. I knew I had done absolutely nothing wrong – except be a Muslim. I waited and cried and thought about my children, and wished so much that I could protect them, but knowing that, in the end, I could not. I woke from the dream, shaking and sick to my stomach. I could not shake that feeling of dread and helplessness. I couldn’t shake it because it is truth, whether I am asleep or awake.

I lived in Yemen for almost a decade. In that time we knew uncertainty. While we were there a family of foreigners was kidnapped; the parents were apparently killed. Years later they found one of the children alive, in a small village. A doctor and some nurses were taken and shot in the back. The Houthis laid siege to the village we called home and later the Arab Spring came while we lived in the South. The town we lived in last was targeted with two drone strikes. I learned the uncertainty of war, and gained sure knowledge of the fact that so much of life is beyond my control.

We returned to America as the Arab Spring in Yemen heated up. I knew that we would face hardship here, having experienced discrimination, animosity, and prejudice before. It had been particularly bad after 9-11. Never had I truly feared for my life, though. I felt that even though there were idiots, most of the people were good, and the law was on my side. Now, with Donald Trump’s campaign, that understanding is being shaken to the core. Muslims are living in an atmosphere of hate, fear, and threat, both implied and clear. What I thought could only happen “somewhere else” is now happening here, in the land in which I was born, the land that always has been a home of my heart.

I live in the South. Confederate flags are prominently flown, and difference of any sort is not celebrated in the least by a large portion of the population. I am surrounded by people, including some who I considered friends, who support Trump and his rhetoric of hatred, discrimination, and violence. That unsettles me the most – that people I considered intelligent, compassionate people could support his open call to violence and oppression of Muslims – of “other.” With his campaign has come a rise in violent acts against Muslims, as well as hate groups specifically targeting us with calls to shoot us with bullets filled with pig’s blood and lard (which shows their stupidity and ignorance right off the bat), drive us from the country, or put us in concentration (oops – I mean “interment”) camps. That anyone can believe that treating a whole segment of humanity in such a cruel and hateful way is acceptable – that frightens me. What I had thought was basic to the fabric of American civilization – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live the life I want in a moral, compassionate manner – appears to be something Trump and his followers would do away with to calm their own unfounded, ignorant fears of that which is different from them.

There is a quote from Martin Niemöller that makes the Facebook rounds a lot these days. The version of it that he personally approved of is translated thus:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

When it is posted, people often comment saying that of course there is no comparison between that situation and the one faced by Muslims and other groups in America today with the rise in Trump’s popularity. I say they are wrong. There are numerous parallels, too many to be denied. I say that they are cowards; ignorant fools that gather behind the banner of a loud-mouthed clown who gives them the illusion that they have some sort of power and worth earned just by being born the color they are, by the religion they follow, by some supposed white bread privilege that doesn’t have to be earned.

In my dream, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to be taken from my family and imprisoned for nothing except my beliefs. I believe, however, that in reality this is not the case. I believe that the people like the one who told my little girls and me in WalMart that he was going to shoot us if we didn’t leave are the minority. I believe that the woman behind the bakery counter whose child served in the military in Iraq, the one who smiles at me, gives me salaams, and asks after my goats, is the true face of America. I believe that the woman who came up to me at an open house and hugged me and the girls is the true face of America. I believe the elderly gentleman who asked if we are okay here, and if I would like to teach an Arabic class is the true face of America. I believe the fellow who drove twenty miles to help us take an injured goat to the vet, then broke the news gently when the goat died, is the true face of America.

I have to believe this, or else the nightmares will win.


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