By Samina Rashid
November 23, 2019
Our journey as humans is a never ending attempt to transform, from children who do not understand to beings of understanding, from fear to strength, dark to light, inertia to action, and hate to love. I dare to dream and work for a world where one day, our children will be completely color blind, and will not be stereotyped based on the color of their skin. Such a day is not far, but we must work for it every day.
To quote from a few favorite philosophers: Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks, in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.”
G.K. Chesterson said that “Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” I believe that we do have the power to eliminate the dragons of hate and injustice, if we all come together for a future free of dragons for our next generations.
I have now lived in America for over twenty one years and counting. My children graduated from American universities, my son from Berkeley and my daughter from Long Beach California. My daughter now studies in Europe. She has no appetite for American life. I thought when I left Pakistan that being I was a liberated woman,I would probably find a sense of belonging in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. I not only do not belong, I feel a deep disconnect.
The irony for me individually is I was always called too Americanized back home. I felt I wasn’t accepted back home for being an emancipated outspoken modern woman in the 70s.
I remember taking on the Jamatis in Punjab University in the 1980s, winning an election in a heavily conservative department, and being threatened with dire consequences if I did not cover my head with a duputta. The Lahore of the 80’s was a far cry from the Lahore of now. If you dared to jog in a jogging suit, like I dared to do, you were put to a test.
In 1985 as a newly married woman I was walking on a tiered hill in Murree, in jeans. A group of bearded men began pelting me with stones from a higher tier. I was hit with over a hundred cobble stones, on my face, arms, knees. I thought, so this is the closest analogy to being stoned to death for being a Muslim woman who dares not adhere to the Islamic dress code. It was a life changing experience because I promised myself no daughter of mine would be exposed to such barbarism. Little did I know there would be American stoning to deportation threats, in stark analogy to how my own treated me. It is a sad commentary on America when a woman with a refugee psyche reports that she would rather be back home to the land of stoning than be in the so called freedom of a western culture that is equally barbaric.
Today my sense of belonging in America is being put to the test and questioned by those who would ban me simply because I happen to have been born in Pakistan, regardless of the fact that I am now a fully assimilated American woman. Will I and my children ever be allowed to wash away the geophysical origins of where my parents from?
The origins of America are based in the slaughter of the Native Americans who were wiped out by thugs banished from England for being felons. They entered American waters and began to slaughter the real American, The Native American Indians. So it begs the question, a country based on the blood shed of innocent natives, has the gall to call other natives illegal? Really?
Historical butchery notwithstanding, the irony of being American, any American, is all of us are from somewhere else originally. All of us are immigrants, but the difference seems to be in the color of our skins. If we study the history of how blacks were enslaved by the whites based on white supremacy, it won’t be hard to draw the sad conclusion that racism in America is alive and well.
I always say that for women like me, who come from one world to another, from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, we always find ourselves emotionally homeless in a sense. We are forever left hankering for a feeling of belonging. We are always challenged to prove that we are as American as anyone else, our skin tone and accent notwithstanding.
I am proud of my origins and what I overcame. The Haatah behind Government College Lahore where my dad served as principal were my first and only real friends. Flies on their eyes notwithstanding, they taught me that poverty and illiteracy are not choices a kid makes; they are bestowed upon the children of the world by a systemic failure of society. Unfortunately for our nation with great potential, we are still reeling behind the ages compared to other countries. We can’t seem to get a grip on corruption, over population and under education. We have a tough road ahead of us. My father served as Education Secretary Punjab in the 70’s. He was so disappointed with the state of affairs of our nation that he said we had ultimately “rubbished the Quaid’s legacy.” We fondly referred to the great Prof. M. Rashid as the Prof-(et) of Doom.
Unfortunately, my father has been proven right. We continue to be a poverty ridden, over bread, under developed country with little chance of changing tracks. Even if you institutionalize education, social ignorance breeds a lack of development necessary to get amalgamated in a civilized world. If schooling is limited to academic curriculum we will be unable to truly break the mold of emotional ignorance and human rights violations. We must introduce social emotional learning curriculums in school systems. Education is incomplete if it is limited to technological advancement. For any country to become truly civilized we must nourish all aspects of the child’s being, the body, the brain, the mind, the spirit and the soul.
I have taught my kids to not let the past haunt them as it does me.
In America, and back home in Lahore, I still hold promise to the advantage of beginning with a dialogue. A chance to meet each other in a safe space and explore the humanity that must prevail in each of us over the differences that make us feel threatened and alienated. Unfortunately, history is both a gift and a curse that keeps on giving. Events change, and the process of failed political leadership, continued prejudice and war hysteria keeps on rearing its ugly head in the current political climate in America and other parts of the world. We cannot let racism and bigotry overrun Americans’ conscience and good faith, just as we cannot let terrorism and retrogression win in Pakistan. A new Pakistan must be a safe place for all, including minorities.
There are millions of peace loving hard working Muslims around the world and in the US. To lump an entire body of practicing Muslims into the category of terrorist based on the evil acts of a few is discrimination at best, bigoted in the least, and unconstitutional in the eyes of the law. The same scrutiny must apply back home to Pakistan. There should be zero tolerance for crimes against minorities. That is, if we truly want to be a civilized nation. The question remains if that is possible, or not.
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: Being a Muslim in American: the American integration experience Part-III
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan