We are not the enemy: being Muslim in America
By Aisha Khan

I switched on the television as a second plane crashed into the second tower. And then the Pentagon.

Please God let this not be Muslims.

Even before there were any suspects, many Americans seemed to have made up their minds about the face of the enemy, or at least its rough description. For Muslims in America, and for the approximate 3.5 million Arab American citizens, this knee-jerk assumption was all-too familiar, referencing the anti-Muslim sentiments that erupted in the hours following the Oklahoma bombings. We were victims then to an irresponsible media and a revenge-hungry public.

By 9.30 a.m., my husband had been evacuated from his building, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and was heading northward, feeling terrified as the towers collapsed, and as the crowd he walked with chanted "Death to Arabs, Death to Muslims." Someone in the crowd pointed at him: "He’s a terrorist." A man asked, "Did your people do this?" One man got a police officer to ask my husband to show the contents of his bag. My husband refused and walked away.

My husband is a native New Yorker. His parents migrated here in the early sixties, from Pakistan. And yes, my husband is a Muslim.

On the television, long before the FBI had come up with any leads, news channels had already begun talking of Islamic terrorism. Although the last major carnage in American was carried out by one of its own, one of our own, none of the channels even explored this possibility. Everyone had latched onto the bin Laden story.

Experts streamed in and out of TV stations, purporting to explain the "Muslim psyche". I watched from my living room as the religion practiced by more than a billion people worldwide was reduced to the fanaticism of one man and his associates. In consequence, Arab Americans currently live with a distinct, immediate fear in addition to the collective and grave fear of unknowns that all Americans feel. The fear and tension of my friends and family in New York is palpable. We are all being lumped into the same category, assumed guilty on the basis of our religion. It doesn’t matter that we were born here, or that on the basis of speech and dress we are practically indistinguishable from other Americans. My friend’s mother, a 70 year-old Pakistani, was recently heckled and cursed by a man in Queens. Even Sikhs are being harassed. The Sikhs! Do Americans think that turbans and beards alone imply involvement with the Taliban?

I am a South Asian Muslim who grew up in India, a country with its own problems of religious hatred and violence. In India, as a member of a minority that was thought to have extra-territorial loyalties, I had my patriotism questioned time and again. And now I see the older generation of South Asian Muslims, who have been here for nearly 30 years, forced to prove their loyalty again. They feel a deep sense of loss, of agony. In a sense, they belong nowhere. Many fled India at the time of Partition for Pakistan. They fled Pakistan to come to America.

The younger generation of South Asian Muslims is largely experiencing a sense of bewilderment. They have known no other land but America. They grew up just like other young American kids, listening to the same music, hanging out at the same spots, wearing the same clothes, cheering the same teams. Now, as they are being told to go home, they are in the only home they know.


Voices from a Brooklyn Mosque

Journalism student Koji Hayasaki talks to visitors at the United American Muslim Association’s Mosque in downtown Brooklyn

"We clearly condemn what has happened to America. These monsters and cowards can not be Muslim, even human. This isn’t a religious issue. This is an attack on humanity."
Ibrahim Kurtulus, son of the association founder.

"Our role here [at the association] is correcting stereotypes, so our Mosque is always open to all people. You are welcomed here to ask questions and learn the facts of our faith and culture."
Ismail Mese, 25, a secretary at the association

"I know most Muslims are devout and hate violence. I’m an Italian American, but I have never been involved in the Mafia. Americans have to be more mindful of educated about religious issues"
Angera Rosselini, 32, who lives in the neighborhood.

"Though I hate terrorists, I understand their ideas in a sense. A lot of innocent Muslims were killed by the United States in the Gulf War. In addition, the United States supports Israel. Do you know how many innocent citizens have been killed by Israel? All Muslims living in New York will support the United States even if their home countries are attacked because we are also New Yorkers, but the United States should find suspects and punish only them. No more innocent citizens should be killed."
A Pakistani student at Kaplan International, who identified himself as Mohamed, but declined to give his last name.


— Aisha Khan is a graduate student, from India, in the Journalism/Near East Studies joint program. She is writing her thesis on Islamic revival in Central Asia.