NYC Bombings, Being Muslim and Forgoing the Fear

NYC Bombings, Being Muslim and Forgoing the Fear September 19, 2016

The Monday morning routine is the same as always: Alarm rings, I turn it off. Lay in my bed with eyes shut for a few more minutes. Get up, utter the same morning prayer I have for decades, go to the bathroom. Look at my phone. Read the latest on the bombing in New York City and New Jersey as well as the stabbings in Minnesota.

Put the phone down and go downstairs to make lunches. I open every kid’s door and turn on their lights and off their white noise machines before I head down.

The youngest asked for turkey bacon last night, so I quickly make turkey bacon sandwiches for him and his 13-year-old sister. D, my eldest who is also autistic, takes leftovers from last night’s dinner as his lunch. Look at the clock. Geez, it’s getting late. I rush back upstairs.

Get up! Get up! It’s getting late! La illaha illallah, Muhammad-ur-Rasool-Allah. It’s a school day it’s a Golden Rule day. (The former is kalimah (declaration of faith), which I’ve recited to the kids since they were mere babes. The latter, well yeah, it’s a lame phrase I’ve been yelling at them for years.)

My youngest is starting a cold. His nose is all goopy with greenish-snot, and he’s not at all about to be hurried. His older brother and sister just don’t want to get up. It’s Monday. It’s gloomy. It’s raining. Can’t blame them. Eventually all my hustling and yelling yields results, and one by one I get them downstairs, breakfast in them, backpacks donned and sent to their respective busses.

The daughter is the last to leave, catching a ride with her Baba to her middle school. She’s morose with me, as I’ve lectured her (for the umpteenth time) about getting out of bed when her alarm goes off instead of relying on me. Tomorrow I’m not waking you. I’m telling you. Take some responsibility for yourself. If you don’t get up, I’m not driving you to school late.

She walks out the front door into her dad’s car, and for the first time I feel unsettled. Worried. I hope no one says anything stupid to her. I hope she doesn’t hear stuff in the hallway. She isn’t visibly Muslim, in that she doesn’t wear a hijab or headscarf like me. But she’s not shy and pretty open about being Muslim, fasting and everything.

It’s weird, this feeling. I’ve never felt it before – when San Bernardino happened, or the mass killings in Paris and then ensuing backlash, or the stories last week of Muslim women attacked in New York, lit afire, or another Muslim pregnant woman kicked in the stomach, who then miscarried.

I never worried for myself, or for my daughter during those times.

I still don’t worry for myself – but for daughter A?

What is the Story? Where is the Focus?

What do we focus on? The fact that this keeps happening? Acts of violence perpetuated by all sorts of individuals? Muslim, Christian, white, brown, black, all colors of the rainbow? The safety of our nation juxtaposed against protection of our freedoms and our inclusive, American and humanity-centric way of living?


Do we focus on language? When and how the media bandies the word “terrorism” and “terrorist” The fact that New York City officials, police and fire, homeland security and Mayor Bill de Blasio all called this an “intentional” bombing instead of calling it terrorism (causing many Muslims to ask why the word “terrorism” seems to be only used once you know the suspect or perpetrator is brown, Arab or Muslim-sounding).


Do we focus on the resilience and strength of New Yorkers themselves, of the quickness and strength in which First Responders immediately poured onto the streets mere minutes after the bomb went off, and how New Yorkers as always are moving forward without living in fear, handling their business?


Do we focus on finding the best, most product ways to combatting terrorism, hate crimes and acts of violence? Beyond media punditry and infinite policy meetings and whipped-up fear mongering of the vast majority of Muslims who are far outside the scope of extremism and radicalism, while acknowledging that there is a big problem that requires hard work to be done and sacrifice from all communities?


Do we focus on condemnations? On the fact that while the larger American and global community seem to still seek condemnations from the Muslim community when an act of violence is done by someone who purports to be Muslim – that some Muslims feel these condemnation messages are either ill-received, not read at all or that it holds them accountable for persons and actions unrelated to them. (As in: Of course I condemn any and all acts of violence, including ones done by so-called Muslims. But I also am frustrated that you still need proof of my condemnation.)


Do we focus on the victims?

Yes. Always first.

On the ensuing Islamophobic backlash? On the victims of said backlash?


Or, as my friend Wajahat Ali said on Facebook:

The Chelsea bombing suspect was apprehended in New Jersey today: Ahmad Khan Rahami, a naturalized citizen originally born in Afghanistan. First, we are lucky most lone radicals are thoroughly incompetent, like reality versions of FOUR LIONS. Most of the time, they end up destroying themselves instead of killing innocent civilians. For example, this suspect was found passed out in the hallway of a bar. Terrorist mastermind, I tell you.

Second, America does have a problem with radicalized individuals seeking to further their depraved agendas through violence. These include Muslims, White supremacists, antigovernment extremists and mostly angry, frustrated individuals. There are problems within our communities that need to be addressed.

Burying our heads in the proverbial sand with simplistic talking points and media apperances [sic] does not serve anyone’s best interests.

That being said, you need productive and effective solutions and strategies. Unfortunately, many on the Right wing (and even on the Left) are ecstatic the suspect is Muslim & an immigrant. They will use it as evidence to support bigoted proposals and measures that will only help fuel ISIS propaganda and recruitment that the “West” is at war with “Islam.” These incidents will keep happening in our lifetime – the world, sadly, is a battlefield and asymmetrical warfare is the norm. The key is how we, as a society, respond to such violence.

You can give in to fear and pour gasoline on the fire through blanket demonization and counterproductive responses that punish the innocent along with the guilty. Or, you can pour water on the fire – it requires more time, consideration and resilience, but ensures a future where we all emerge stronger (and safer) together.


Forgo the Fear

As an editor and journalist who has covered and produced coverage on Muslims in America for 15 years, I know these are the stories to focus on in the coming days – stories we have been covering and writing.

As a mother who sent her daughter (and sons) to school this morning, for the first time in all these years of doing this job, in living this wonderful, complicated, proud life as a Muslim, American, woman, mother, sister, daughter, friend, human – my focus is on a nagging, unsettling feeling for her safety and her rights to an unencumbered childhood and teenage-hood.

For the safety and of all the kids growing up in the world today, who are far too often being made to grow up much faster than they should be.

But then I read this status update from Frankie Fredericks, executive director at World Faith:

Everyone keeps asking about this bomb attempt in NYC. It’s hard to explain that while the US freaks out, we really don’t care. I mean, we care about wanting urgent and quality care for anyone injured, but New Yorkers won’t let ourselves be fooled into fear. Terrorism isn’t about death, it’s about terror. So even if he failed at the bombing, he succeeded at terrorism if we collectively freak the f*** out. And so we don’t. We refuse to live in fear, and won’t even waste the blood pressure on antipathy. Rather, New Yorkers will respond with the most appropriate emotion for such scum: ambivalence.

So, maybe I need to take a page from Frankie’s book. Tie my camel, but forgo the fear.

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