Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Somebody's Always "It" in America, and Currently the Muslims are "It"

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu, and Greetings of Peace:

As things heat up with Muslims and Islaam in America, I find my thoughts swirling like crazy.  Disjointed.  Angry.  Fearful.  Naive.  Denial.  Humor.  Just a few words that come to mind.  What follows is probably a trip down Memory Lane and a long post that doesn't make much sense, even to me, but I feel a need to get it out.  Perhaps brainstorming my thoughts will help to write a cohesive piece somewhere down the line :)

Besides, I had a nightmare last night which I still remember in vivid detail, and when that happens, it always leaves me emotionally vulnerable the following day.

So, if you care to join me and read on, here goes ...

When you were a kid, did you ever play that tag game, "It?"  You know, one kid would tag another, saying "you're it," and then everyone would chase around "it" until he/she was caught.  When kids play the game, it's usually harmless and a lot of fun.  But when we play the game in America, it is anything but fun.

Somebody's always "it" in America (Japanese, Jews, Catholics, Blacks, etc.,) and currently the Muslims are "it."  Just last month, the undocumented were "it," but now, since the NYC mosque controversy, the Muslims are "it."

My mind has been drifting to the past lately, and also to a conversation I had awhile back with a Bosnian sister.  Also, someone commented on one of my other  posts about wondering how the Jews in Europe must have felt prior to Hitler getting a strong foot into Europe.  That also got me thinking.

I was born in New York City a few short years after the end of World War II.  My mother was a Polish Catholic, and my father was a Polish/Russian Jew.  Shortly before I entered kindergarten, our family moved to Chicago.  The city had a large Polish immigrant population and my mother had relatives there.  So we and practically my entire family on my father's Jewish side moved to Chicago.  Why?  Well, mainly the face of Harlem and the Bronx at that time was starting to change to Blacks and Latinos and many Jews fled for the suburbs of New York or other places.  Not that America had a love affairs with the Jews in those days like she does now!  Believe me, we were part of "it" in America in the 1940s and 1950s.  Most Americans could give a rat's behind about the "creation" (theft) of Israel.  Things didn't really start to change for us Jews until after the rise of Evangelical Christianity and the role of the Jews in their agenda which is another post for another time.

Anyhow, my parents bought a small house in a Chicago suburb called Norridge, and my aunt rented a place in Skokie, which had a large population of Jewish people.  My grandparents rented a place smack in the urban part of Chicago.  I remember as a child when my dad would take us around on errands on the weekend, and we would go to Skokie to visit my aunt and so that my brother and I could play with our cousins.  The non Jews used to roam around the Jewish commercial district of Skokie and put their "dawah" materials under the windshield wipers of Jewish cars.  I remember my dad and I returning to our car and him seeing the papers under our windshield, and him getting real mad and tearing up the papers.  As a 6 year old or so little girl, I knew that we were different and people didn't like us because we were Jewish.  I was afraid of non Jews. 

In Norridge, we lived next to a German family.  I think the husband was a German, I can't remember, but for sure, the wife was.  I think she was a German immigrant or a "war bride," or something like that, because she didn't understand English very well as I remember, and she had a thick German accent.  I don't remember the husband having a thick German accent.

(Post for another time: war brides.  Many American soldiers married German women and brought them back to America.  Also, many African-American soldiers married German white women, too.)

The family's name was George and Mary Farr.  To the Farrs: if you are reading this by some chance, maybe you are "Googling" yourselves and come across this post, PLEASE FORGIVE ME AND MY FAMILY for the way we treated you when we lived next door to you whether you were aware of our meanness or not.

As the saying goes, "shit rolls down hill," or "hurt people hurt people," and this is exactly what my Jewish family fell into.  Even though my mom was not Jewish, we were living as a Jewish family at that time, exclusively going to synagogue and identifying as Jewish.  Even though few people liked us or wanted anything to do with us on our block because we were Jewish, my family, and me by extension being a child and copying my parents, contributed to the psychological and social torture of the Farr family.  In those days, Americans didn't like Germans either.  The Germans were "it."  After all, many of our "boys" fought the Germans in the war.  And many of our "boys" lost their lives at the hands of Nazi soldiers.  Just like nowadays, we use words like the "n" word and other offensive words to describe different groups of people and individuals, in those days, many American referred to the German people as "krauts" to refer to a popular German food, sauerkraut.  (By the way, the Jews were mainly called "kikes."  It always makes my skin crawl when I hear some Muslims refer to us Jews as Yehudi ...)

Mary Farr was a housewife.  She took care of her children and home and didn't bother with the neighbors.  Maybe she was anti-social, maybe she was intimidated by her language skills or by our culture, or maybe she was just plain busy.  But the fact remains, that the Farr family was a mystery to our community.  Sometimes we kids would see her in the backyard hanging out her laundry.  We would watch her from behind the bushes, laughing and knocking each other over, calling out, "Mary Farr, Mary from far far away."  She never said or did anything, but she had to have heard us.  We never trick-or-treated at their house on Halloween, and none of the neighborhood gossip ladies hung out at her house for the afternoon coffee clutch.  

(The American housewife coffee clutch: also a post for another time, lol)

Her children didn't come out and play with us or get dirty.  I don't think she allowed them to get dirty.  It was said that she had a spotless house.  Don't know who went in there to see and be able to report back to everyone else, but that was what was said.

But the fact remains that our community was not friendly or welcoming to the Farr family because they were "krauts."

Many years later, when my parents got divorced, my mom and step-dad bought a house next to another German family, lol, the Hess's.  They had a daughter named Janet.  They were a similar family to the Farrs - didn't bother with anyone, kids never played in the neighborhood, etc., and us kids also used to torture Janet and her brother.  I remember that I, myself, beat up Janet real good at the bus stop one morning while waiting to go to school.

These are some of my memories as a Jewish child dealing with the legacy of World War II in America and dealing with the German-Americans.  As we now know, German-Americans aren't treated like that in America anymore, but like I said, someone is always "it" in America.

Recently, I participated in an interfaith seminar with some German Christian chaplains who are first-generation Americans.  They shared that in Germany, the people have a sort of collective guilt and shame about what happened in their country during the war, and for the role that some of their people played in the crimes against millions of people.  They also told us that Germans make it a priority to do interfaith work in that country, and they do not shy away from talking about what happened in their history in the schools so it doesn't happen again.


How did most of the Jews feel in Europe when Hitler and his buddies were starting to make noises?

Well, the rich and those with the means saw the writing on the wall and left the various countries of Europe, especially Eastern Europe.  Then there were those in denial.  Jews who believed that no harm would come to them.  How could anyone believe that their government or their neighbors would intentionally engage in genocide?  It was unimaginable to many Jews.  Besides, many Jews believed that being the Chosen People, G-D would protect them.  Even after the Nazis were seizing their property and possessions and driving them from their homes, many left in a passive manner, telling themselves that the situation was only temporary.  Did the message sink in when they were made to wear arm bands with the Star of David identifying them as Jews (think identity cards in America - which many politicians and Americans are in favor of).  Initially, there was a collective denial among the Jewish people that anything bad would happen (kind of like now for the Muslims: we have Constitutional rights, yes?)  Only after they were taken to concentration camps, stripped naked, lead to gas chambers and used in medical experiments did some of them think that perhaps there was no G-d after all.  Then again, some Jews endured it all, seeing it as a test (sound familiar Muslims?), believe that G-d had a plan which they did not even start to try to figure out what it was.  By the end of the war, many Jews were convinced that there was no G-d.  "If there is a G-d, He wouldn't have let this happen to us." 

This is true for some Jews.  I heard these things from my family when I was a child.


Something similar happened in Bosnia.  A Muslim sister described to me how the Bosnians initially were in denial about the possibility of the Serbs harming them.  Many Bosnians and Serbs were intermarried.  Bosnians and Serbs lived side by side in the same neighborhoods.  Bosnians and Serbs were friends.  Although the Serbs were the majority and also the ones mainly in powerful positions (police, mayors, etc), the Bosnians never feared them.

Until Bosnian families were awakened in the middle of the night by mobs of Serbians who had the intention of driving the Bosnians from their homes.  Initially, they were asked to leave or driven from their homes.  Those who resisted were beaten and even killed.  It wasn't long before the Serbians lost their manners and stopped asking.  The brutal rape of Bosnian women and girls was commonplace.  My friend knew of Muslim women who, after being raped by scores of men, had rifles put up their vaginas and the triggers were pulled.  My friend and her family saw the writing on the wall and didn't wait to be driven out by the nighttime raids.  They fled their home with only what they could barely carry and ended up in a refugee camp.  They were transferred to several camps in Europe before they were finally sent to America as part of the refugee resettlement program.  They had no choice really as to where they would go.

You may be reading this and thinking that my friend and her family were fortunate.  Sure, they suffered a bad situation, but they were blessed.  They got out, didn't they?

Well, maybe.  But she doesn't see it that way.   My friend's mother, who was ill to start with, died while in the camp.  Her father was practically catatonic with grief, and eventually had a stroke which left him paralyzed and bed ridden.  Once in America, my friend was his sole caregiver.  The well-intentioned brothers at her masjid hooked her up with an Afghan brother for marriage who treated her like crap and forced her to live like a prisoner in her own home.  He took her to the masjid one day during Ramadan, gave her talaq in front of the imam, and left her at the masjid without any of her things or her father.  The brothers had to return to the house to figure out what to do with her and her father. 

And man o man was this sister ever bitter at the United States government and the irony of being resettled to a country for whom she only had hate.  Why?

Because when the Serbs aggressed toward the Macedonians and Croatians, the arms for defending themselves poured in from the UN.  But when it came time for the Muslims in Bosnia to defend themselves, according to her, President Clinton ordered that no arms be given to the Bosnians. 

My friend ended up with PTSD and emotional scars that will never go away.  The only thing that keeps her from going completely crazy is the love for Allaah t'ala in spite of everything.  Subhan'Allaah!


One of my commenters said something about making "provisions" NOW in case the Tea Party or their likes end up in power in America. 

What will happen to the Muslims in America in that case?

I can relate.  My passport is in order.  And I have one credit card that could get me and my family out of here.


"Ah Safiyyah, why you got to be talking like such a paranoid downer during Ramadan?" you may be saying if you have made it reading to this point.

Do you think it can't happen here in America?

Well, my friends, I think I will enjoy an extended vacation in Istanbul!

Because, at the end of the day, rational voices will prevail in America.  Unlike some other Muslims, I believe America is a wonderful country.  Allaah t'ala tells us in the Qur'aan that He sent the Prophet, peace be upon him, as a mercy to ALL of mankind.  That means everywhere.  I believe that we ARE different than some other countries in the world.  And those of us who believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is suppose to work for ALL Americans, have to stand up against the current injustice. Because if we don't, who is going to stand up for whoever else ends up being "it" next in America?


C said...

Asalaamu Alaikum

Heavy post. Thanks for writing this. I've thought of these things a hundred times especially after Sept 11th. The year before I had made hijra but then came back. I regretted it. I felt better though after the years passed but I always wonder if we are like Malcolm X said..living in the massa's house. Makes you think.

Stephanie said...

I am very much disturbed by what's going on in this country. I haven't let myself think too much about the "what ifs" although somewhere in the back of my mind I know that i might have to get myself and my family out at some point. I pray it never comes to that.

Anonymous said...

My kids and I have talked about the advantages of having a home in another country. I hope we never have to act on that advantage, but if the Tea Party has their way with this country...

Anonymous said...

Salaam alaikum,
Thank you for writing this. It's interesting how many groups have been it in America. I kind of feel the double whammy because Black people have always been it and now they are so disenfranchised that it is pathetic. I had a major wake up call last week about the education system and rates of Black incarceration.
As for second home, there is a strong tradition of this amongst the Black elites. Europe used to be a haven for Black Americans trying to escape the confines of Jim Crow America. Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and many others found a second home in Ghana. Even the Free Blacks of New Orleans would send their sons to France to escape the confines of the three tiered racial hierarchy there.

Sometimes I think that non-Muslim Black people are just glad that the spotlight is on others (Mexican immigrants and Muslims), so they welcome the break. We really have to work on coalition building across faith and ethnic lines, if we want to have our rights protected.

I'm with you on not disavowing America. Despite our shortcomings, I love my country and the people who populate it. But if stuff goes down, I'm going to take a hiatus and work to protect the rights and property of my brothers and sisters.

Safiyyah said...

@ C: When I want to Istanbul, it all became very clear to me. I didn't feel like a minority there. I felt like I belonged there, the place was definitely calling to me. I can't wait to go back. If I made hijrah, it would be Istanbul Insha Allaah t'ala.

@ Stephanie: the non Muslim voices of reason are starting to speak up now. Insha Allaah t'ala the Muslim haters will end up being a weird minority.

@ marahm: yes, there is definitely an advantage to having a home outside of the US. I was checking out real estate in Istanbul an apartment can be bought for the US price of a new car!

@azizaizmargari: You're welcome! Yes, Black people have always been it. Whenever I am working in the prison, it becomes more evident to me. It's sad.

luckyfatima said...

That's funny how you say that about your passports being in order. Secretly, I have always felt that way and keep my stuff in order, too. I think everyone with Jewish roots has had those thoughts. What if...what if I had been alive and in Eastern or Central Europe during that time...and what if it happened again during my time? My entire paternal family was murdered in Hungary, and there are still living elderly family members who were around long enough to know those people who were just erased from being. It is just such a sad, ugly feeling.

And then being a Muslim and seeing how the conditions are here...it is frightening to let my mind go there. It could stay like this and just eventually pass. Or things could go very wrong.

I really pray that all of this just passes quickly and uneventfully.

Thanks for your thought provoking post.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams luckyfatima

I am so sorry about your family. Our family can relate :(

I agree what you wrote about some people with Jewish roots. I heard a Jewish man speaking on talk radio one time, and he said that his mother was that way. She never owned a home in America after arriving here after WWII. She always had a bag packed and sitting by the door, too - for a fast getaway :(