Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the Eve of 9/11, I'm Afraid for My Muslim-American Friends



            I was listening to NPR that morning, getting dressed to go to the temple where I was rabbi; I had a few appointments. It was a beautiful New Hampshire morning in late summer.
The radio announcer said, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”
I assumed it was a light plane, a Beechcraft, perhaps; what did I know about planes? I remembered the time after World War II, before I was born, when a B-17 Flying Fortress accidentally flew into the Empire State Building. No great harm had occurred.
            “I’ll just turn on the TV,” I said to B.
            We watched the Horror that followed, along with Everyone Else in the World. Evil had struck America, and the Towers were burning, and crumbling….

            Tomorrow is the Anniversary of that Horror. I can’t believe it was thirteen years ago. I was always glad that my father had not lived to see it; he had died some years before. My father loved this country. I don’t know how the Horror would have affected him. I suppose now that he would have gotten through it: he was always the Rock of the Family. Now, it was my turn to be the Rock.
            But what bothers me, now, tonight, is all the pictures I’m seeing online, and all that I’m hearing, in light of the President’s words, about “Radical Islam” and how “Radical Islam is endangering us, America, the West, and Israel.” That’s what they’re saying; that’s what I’m reading, all over the Internet.
            I don’t know “Radical Islam.” I do know some folks who practice Islam. There’s my friend, from work: she’s just about the most religious person I know; call her Asfa. She’s a short, chubby, sweet-faced woman in her thirties. I don’t know what color hair she has; she wears the hijab all the time, which I respect. We talk about the similarities between her faith and my Judaism.
Asfa fasted all through Ramadan; that meant getting up before six am, eating a tiny meal, and fasting all day—no food or drink—until 8 pm that night, when she would meet her family and friends at the mosque, and they would have a simple communal meal. I can understand that; we Jews believe strongly in eating together; most other faiths do, as well. She goes to her mosque regularly, she prays to Allah, and she works hard. She’s a single mom, raising a little boy—is he in First Grade, now?—all by herself, is close with her parents—her dad converted to Islam to marry her mom, before they immigrated to America—and her office cubicle is next to mine, at the university where I teach.
She’s in charge of keeping in touch with the online students; she receives and makes about a hundred phone calls a day. She’s very good at what she does: she has to be the students’ mother, big sister, counselor, financial adviser, and on and on. It’s not an easy job.
            She’s not “Radical Islam.” She’s my friend, and she happens to practice Islam. It’s her faith, and it gets her through the Good and the Bad in her life.
            I know other Muslims, as well. They’re Americans, just like me. They mind their business, pay their taxes, and love their kids. They treasure their privacy, drive their cars, go out to eat, take their kids to the mall, and do all the other things that Americans do. They may have friends and relatives in the Old Country—the Arab Countries, that is; they may discuss politics, but, frankly, their feelings about the Middle East Situation are their own business.
            In this country, we have the Right to Privacy. It’s not so easy to protect and preserve, given the prevalence of cell phones and the need for security cameras everywhere we go, but it’s something we Americans hold very near to our hearts.
            On this thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, with America and our president getting ready to face yet another Middle Eastern enemy, I want to make certain and feel sure and confident that my Muslim-American friends and neighbors are safe, secure, and free to practice their faith, or not, as they wish.
            Because if we lose that sense of safety, and the right to practice what we believe, then all the security in the world will mean nothing. The Bad Guys will have won. It’s not only that they hate us, you see: a lot of the reasons behind their hatred, beyond all the strutting and screaming and hate-filled YouTube videos is a very simple schoolyard emotion: Jealousy. They want what we have—democracy, freedom, abundance—and they know they can never have it, and they hate us, because we do. It’s that simple. The rich leaders among them have robbed them of any chance they ever had of taking power peacefully, as in a democratic society, and so all they know is to rob, kill, and frighten innocent (and some not-so-innocent) people.
            And one more thing: if you are uncertain about the neighbor you live near but have never met—the one you suspect may be Arab, or Indian, or Pakistani, or Middle Eastern of some kind—don’t report them to the police. You have a very simple device you can use to find out what kind of people they are.
            Just say to them, one morning, “Good morning. How are you today?”
            Let me know how they respond. Maybe they’ll smile. That would be good; that will be one battle won; we Good Guys need to win as many battles as we can. Say it again, so you’ll remember:
            “Good morning. How are you today?”

            That’s all it takes.