By Samina Rashid
November 21, 2019
I was exactly 76 years ago on Feb 19th 1942 that President Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 was issued in the name of keeping America safe. The government used euphemisms such as “internment,” “evacuation,” and “non-alien” to describe what was actually illegal incarceration and a violation of the American Constitution. The irrational fear that spread was that there were spies for the Japanese government posing as civilians living amongst U.S. citizens, and that they were dangerous, and needed to be weeded out.
Raids were conducted against innocent civilians under the new legislations and many innocent families traumatized, terrorized and penalized for simply being a disliked minority. The government’s justifications to keep America safe were found by consequents historians to be just an excuse to justify racial crimes. An excuse that has been exposed and repudiated by historians and journalists alike, to date.
They say history is doomed to repeat itself. In 2016, a wave of anti-Muslim legislation began rearing its ugly head, making it all the way to Constitutional amendments that adversely affect the legal and civil rights of the American Muslim community in America. Today’s White House under the Trump administration has been on a dangerously slippery slope, legislating acts similar to the legacy of the Japanese camps. Short of forming an official precedent for a Muslim registry, American Muslims are being put to the severest of tests to prove the validity of their naturalization as American citizens.
Today’s world continues to be fettered by war zones, poverty, refugees fleeing for their lives, children dying, and terrorism on the rise. In Part 1 of this article series, I would like to take up the topic of standing up against hate. I know a little about hate and isolation myself. I was born in Pakistan to parents who had come from war torn India after the British colonials left a very divided subcontinent. My mother was a practicing Muslim but was decreed non – muslim during one of many military coos, because of being born an Ahmedi. My father was born to a staunch muslim who abhorred education and anything western. He grew up to become a rebellious teacher, writer and progressive.
He was constantly threatened for his liberal views by a retrogressive government, just as many of us are being today, in 2017 by the current set up. It seems we forget the lesson history teaches us again and again, that bombs and walls cannot make the world a safer place nor safeguard the future of our children. I grew up exposed to extremes of intellectual richness, libraries, an elite University of Cambridge sister Convent.
At the end of the day I came home to my street pals, children of the janitorial staff on a huge college campus, where my father served as the Principal. The children I played with had no shoes, torn clothes, rarely ate, and were always ravaging local dumpsters for food. It is those children who taught me about the real world growing up, and who taught me to be a real person rather than a formulated phantom.
The danger of simple poverty is that it becomes a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands. What do we expect a small child who is born in a small village in Afghanistan or Pakistan in a tribal zone with no schools or electricity, and who is put in a madrassa where they train him to be a warrior of their god, to become? If we cannot level the playing field for all the children of the world we cannot expect more Taliban not be trained and born. No amount of bombs can kill the Taliban if children continue to be born and raised in war zones without access to education, literacy and basic human rights. Instead of spending trillions of new arsenal to kill, if we invested an iota of those resources to make food, water, electricity and education available to the children of developing countries, we could theoretically, have a world based on social equity and justice.
Could it be that keeping the poor, poor serves a political purpose? Otherwise, how can it be that in today’s world of technological advancement and instant communication, we cannot figure out how to make an even playing ground for the children of the globe who are tomorrow’s stakeholders of the planet we call home? I don’t have the answers to systemic and blind hate, and blind love is not enough.
At age five my father bought me a black board and said if I wanted to do something 2 for my friends, I should teach them what I had learned at school that day, from the alphabet to counting, to singing nursery rhymes. The irony of singing London Bridge is falling down to Punjabi kids in Lahore was lost on me then. It rings even truer now, with Brexit rejecting the very peoples they colonized and enslaved and now don’t want to accept as part of the globalization process.
During my own education in later years in England, I never forgot the kids I played with on the sidewalks of Lahore. They taught me more in my first five years of life than the lessons I have learned in the rest of my life. They taught me the importance of love, generosity and authenticity. There is a lot of love that breeds when you are very poor. The wretched of the Earth have gifts to offer which westernized colonials are deprived of.
I worked via World Health Organization Projects in rural villages outside city limits in Pakistan where there was no electricity or water. The women I worked with there, though poor and living in mud houses, and barely able to have a meal a day, nevertheless had something many westernized, developed countries lacked. They would share their last piece of bread with you. They did not need to be taught how to breastfeed their child. They were poor but they were giving of themselves.
The west could learn a thing or two from third world clans about the ability to bond regardless how hard and war torn life is. There is a lot of beauty in poor, undeveloped countries. In order to survive, they learn the art of sharing and comradeship. If we could develop that basic instinct further via education and learning, the world could truly become a place of peace for all. I worked for the foreign services of the US State Department for seven years before migrating to the USA in 1998 and soon after 9/11 happened.
We were living in Florida. I had a valid work visa and was in process of applying for green card. Soon after 9/11, one night, at about four in the morning, there was a huge knock on my door as I slept with my two small children and our dog. It sounded like someone was trying to break our door. When I opened the door the front lawn was swarmed with FBI, ICE, and local PD. I was in my nightie and couldn’t quite gather my wits about me. They said I was here illegally and that this was a raid. I said I had papers. They asked me to show them. They barged in and ransacked my house.
They would not let me cover myself nor go to the bathroom. My children clung to me in fear and tears. I was afraid they would harm my puppy. Disheveled, I ransacked my own passport drawer to show them our papers. They grabbed all our paperwork and said they would be in touch and if it didn’t check out we would be deported. I was told that if I dare go to a grocery store without my papers I can and will be arrested because that is the law. That set the pace for my life as an immigrant. I can testify to the unwarranted searches, threats, and bullying of myself and my family simply because of the recognition of my name and country of origin.
My young children became traumatized after the incident vowing never to live in America as adults. A promise one of them made good on when she moved to Europe, promising not to return to what she describes a country of bullies and terrorists.
Therefore, I speak from personal testimony when I say that under today’s administration, decade plus after 9/11, many Muslim families are again being cast away under the rhetoric of terrorism. It is ironic that no ban has been imposed on Saudi Arabia, host to most of the 9/11 terrorists. America simply can’t do without their oil. There is too large an exchange of monies publically and privately for anyone to dare act against Saudi Arabia. However, small fish like Pakistan top the list of targets for the government.
The American government’s hypocrisy is clear. They pander to the interests of the rich and dare not offend oil rich Saudi Arabia, where ironically some of the worst women’s rights abuses are tolerated daily.
It took us eleven years to gain a green card because our name was put in a name check. I thought the nightmare was behind us until 2017. Even though we may be insulated from complete persecution as naturalized Americans, I do live in angst.
Things around us are not well. We are not well. There is an illness in the air in America. It doesn’t feel right. I feel I do not belong. I feel like people like me are the focus of distaste and I cannot understand why. Some of us choose to wear a hijab as a practice of their faith. Don’t nuns cover their heads? Why the intolerance?
Samina Rashid holds two Masters degrees, MA Communication and MSc Clinical Psychology, Certified Therapist she authored ‘It Takes A Village To Rape A Child’
Original Headline: Day of remembrance: American horror stories (Part-1)
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan