Life Of An Indian Muslim In Post 9-11 USA
So does your mom wear a red dot on her forehead? How many gods do you worship? Do you believe in Karma? When I first came to the US, I would go to great lengths to explain to people that I was a Muslim and that not all Indians are Hindus. Was I giving explanations because I wanted to preserve my Muslim identity or was I creating a separate identity because I was embarrassed to be included in the larger Indian community represented by Homer and 7-11? By the way, we Indians are the only people who feel happy when someone confuses us for a Hispanic, Arab or Martian (well, maybe not Arab in the post 9-11 world.) However, these days, I don’t give explanations and instead answer such stereotypical questions with a tired and nonchalant ‘yup’.
Being in the US was a wonderful experience. The Americans could not figure out that you were Muslim unless you were named Mohammad (we Indian Muslims still continue to keep Arabic names in India, while the Iranian, Turk, Indonesian and African Muslims keep non-Arabic local names!) No one talked or cared about Muslim polygamy, burqa, talaq, mughal atrocities, loyalties to Pakistan, minority appeasement, pseudo secularism. The only exposure to Islam that people had here was through the Gulf War, Muhammad Ali, the Middle East crisis and the Nation of Islam. I liked the fact that by being a Muslim in the US one carried almost no baggage. Being raised on a staple diet of religious riots, state police brutality in the riots and constantly having to prove patriotism, being in the US was a welcome change.
Then 9-11 happened. Islam became the evil religion and Muhammad a ‘demon possessed pedophile’. Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson poisoned the atmosphere, and Fox News raised the anti-Muslim paranoia to a fevered pitch. The fantasyland for an Indian Muslim crumbled faster than the World Trade Towers. Now I clung to my Indian identity. Maybe if I had not overplayed my Muslim identity, I won’t have to answer my American friends’ questions on Jihad, 72 virgins, and why Muhammad Atta and his gang of lunatics shaved their bodies before their murderous attack. The feel of the Indian passport in my sweaty palm had never been as comforting, especially as it saves me from being fingerprinted and from reporting to INS, which is something that Muslims from other countries have to do. The sound of being called an Indian was more soothing than I could ever imagine it to be.
Then Gujarat happened. Muslims who killed the Hindus were inhumane barbarians. But it didn’t justify the murder, rape and pillage of thousands of Muslims. The state machinery was at worst an active participant and at best a cheering spectator. I felt violated. When I read the Human Rights Watch report I cried. More Muslims were living in camps as refugees than the Palestinians living in West Bank refugee camps. America now started looking good again. 3000 Americans dead and one Sikh confused to be a Muslim killed in retaliation. American civility hit home like never before. America now started looking like the Promised Land again.
After Narendra Modi won the Gujarat election I almost felt stateless. Did the Hindus reward him for his savagery? Is this formula of political success going to be repeated in every state? I sometimes feel the Hindus don’t understand the Muslims. My Hindu friends here ask me why some Indian Muslims support Pakistan? The Americans want to know why Muslims suppress women. I don’t have an answer to these questions.
I don’t think I will ever go back to India for good (well, unless the INS is willing to pay for the ticket). I don’t know if I want to stay in an America either where people call in to comment on ‘Was Muhammad a terrorist?‘ on Fox. In India, my Muslim identity will never leave me. I will always be that Muslim guy. In the US I will always be the Indian or the Muslim (for going through airports, I prefer the former).
I have never liked Pakistan. The muhajirs (people of Indian origin) face massive discrimination there. I was never an Imran Khan fan either. Still kids in my class presumed I wanted India to lose to Pakistan. When my American friends these days discuss terrorism with me, its déjà vu as I see the same incredulity in their eyes, on my not supporting radical Islam, which I had seen in the eyes of my third-grade friends when I told them that I did not want India to lose to Pakistan in cricket.
Muslims are not beyond blame either. Indian Muslims, including my family, continue to create as distinct an identity as possible. We need to assimilate and learn the difference between getting Indianised and Hinduised (maybe start teaching chemistry in Madrasas as well). We need to realize that Hindus are not stone-worshipping loonies and that we are never going to rule them like Aurangzeb did. In America, the Muslims need to clean our mosques of hate-spewing mullahs. Muslim Organizations need to do a better job of condemning terrorism in America. We need to get the message out that all Muslims don’t hate Jews and that we would oppose the war on Iraq even if Iraq were a Roman Catholic state.
As for me, I don’t think I will go to India to join this fight. Maybe it’s because I have developed too many Western sensibilities or maybe because summers in India with power outages are unbearable. If America starts terminating H-1B and LPR status of Muslims after another terrorist attack, I already have a country in mind. I will move to Holland. With legalized prostitution and drugs, the country is more liberal than Ted Kennedy. If America is the beacon of freedom, Holland is the tank of freedom. Maybe that’s where I need to go. But last I heard, 50% of under 21-year-old Dutch want to put a moratorium on all immigration and especially Muslim immigration.