The Post Osama Muslim American: Wajahat Ali


One of the global architects of terror responsible for inspiring the 9-11 tragedy was finally killed this week. Osama Bin Laden, who violently hijacked the faith of 1.5 billion to rationalize his perverse criminal actions, is permanently seared into our collective consciousness as the 21st century boogeyman.

Sadly, in the eyes of many Americans, Bin Laden has also become one of the most visible icons of “Islam” alongside Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.  Furthermore, 10 years after the 9-11 tragedy, nearly 60% of Americans say they don’t know a Muslim, and the favorability rating of Islam is at its lowest ebb.

Muslim Americans, like much of the world, still cannot escape the overbearing shadow of the fallen towers.  There is a permanent fork in the timeline of the Muslim American narrative: Pre-911 and Post 9-11.

Pre 9-11, I was another awkward, well intentioned, multi hyphenated Muslim American with exotic dietary habits who prayed 5 times a day and drank chai instead of alcohol during college.

Post 9-11, I received a special screening in front of my fellow passengers who boarded the plane to North Carolina while observing my Muslim security clearance zoo exhibit.

I felt like smoking a cigarette and spouting a witty barb after my intimate encounter with the TSA.

Thoroughly cleared and cleansed of any potential terrorist-y vibes, I was the last to board the packed plane.

I headed down the aisle to find my inconceivably small, economy seat located near the end of the plane.

For the first time in my life, my fellow airline passengers all looked at me with utter fear; eyed widened and mouths agape.

My brown face, 5 o’clock shadow and inconvenient TSA screening immediately profiled and lumped me as one of “them” who attacked “us” on 9-11.

My attempts to placate them with friendly smiles and nods only intensified their palpable anxiety, and their discomfort turned to horrified stares. I pulled an audible and decided to simply bow my head, make no loud, sudden noises, and move as quickly as possible to my masochistic seat.

As a shy, awkward, overweight kid whose first language was Urdu, I had experienced mockery, ridicule and even alienation in my childhood.  But, before that day, I had never been made to feel like Boo Radley or Darth Vader.

I had never terrified anyone by merely “being” me.  It was a jarring and disturbing experience.

But, this memorable experience, along with others like it, presented me a tremendous opportunity to bridge these seemingly impenetrable divides caused by ignorance, misunderstanding and fear.

What else could explain the graffiti on a Portland mosque that included “Go Home” and “Osama Today Islam tomorrow(sic)” mere hours after Osama bin Laden was reported as killed?

The rich and complex identity and narrative of Muslim American communities, who are the most diverse U.S. religious group in terms of ethnic diversity, socio-economic status, education levels and political affiliation, is now personified by a tall, lanky, bearded terrorist leader who suffered from narcissism, hypocritical delusions of religious authority and a compulsive need to release You Tube videos.

For example, a Muslim American student was asked by her 9th grade Algebra teacher if she was grieving over the death of her “uncle,” in reference to Osama bin Laden. The teacher was subsequently disciplined for his disrespectful and ignorant remark.

The lumping of nearly 250 years of Muslim American history with the icon of terror and wholesale categorization of 2 million American citizens as potential suspects explains why nearly 28% oppose Muslims sitting on the Supreme Court and a third oppose us running for President.

A new report found the Department of Homeland Security continues to push Muslims into detention and deportation “even without explicit racial and religious targeting built into Special Registration.”

“We’re seeing a trend where Muslims are being deported, detained and denied entry into the United States for no good reason except tenuous affiliations or unsubstantiated claims,” said Sameer Ahmed an attorney at Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF).

Republican candidates have successfully played the “fear card” using Muslims as their Ace. They gain significant political mileage with some of their constituents by mainstreaming the manufactured myth of “creeping sharia” taking over the U.S. For 2016, the right wing is creating “anti-bigfoot” and “anti-unicorn” legislation – fear not, the war on terror never ends.

Muslim Americans also share blame due to hermitically sealing themselves in an isolated, cultural cocoon and not proactively engaging civic society in wider numbers. One cannot expect change by sitting in the stands as an ineffectual spectator, content with being an irate cultural consumer instead of a productive cultural producer and participant.

The only way to experience reconciliation and healing is to engage in honest self reflection and face the tragedy of that day – with its subsequent collateral damage – head on.

Without an honest dialogue, we’re simply shadow boxing.

So, here we are, nearly 10 years later, with that ubiquitous symbolic icon of “terror” now vanquished.

However, we have yet to bury and forget the bigotry, stereotypes, hate, and unfounded fears that were born and nurtured as a reaction to a few men’s perverse deeds.

Americans are enjoying this moment of collective relief; this moment of well earned catharsis.

But, tomorrow we will wake up and realize that we still have a long way to go in battling extremism and ignorance.

Ten years later, at least many of us now understand that the only way forward is by embarking on this journey together. We have also earned and learned the valuable lesson that if we are to truly change ourselves, then the only way to escape our shadow is to finally confront it.

8 thoughts on “The Post Osama Muslim American: Wajahat Ali

  1. To lump all members of any race into one very narrow category is akin to lumping all whites together because of loons like Charles Manson or Timothy McVeigh … to name just two! It’s narrow-minded racism.

  2. This is a very good and honest article from Wahajat Ali.
    But the main problem -as an atheist- I have with Moslims (and Christians) is: ” how is it possible that a well educated and intelligent man believes all that bullshit of the Koran or Bible?”
    It is nothing more as just human projections and phantasies.
    Sooner er or later people like Bin Laden and his followers will find there the inspiration for their evil actions. They even think they are doing “Allahs or Gods will”.
    Allah or God simply do not exist.
    The only thing we have as human beings is our life on Earth. Lets make the best of it!
    Forget all those religious phantasies.
    To call yourself a Moslim, a Christian or an Inca is just imagination and wishful thinking…
    We are hunans, that is all.

  3. So there is no chance of Muslims like you introspecting and examining the structural dynamics and beliefs internal to Islam that produce hatred of ‘kaffirs’, and violent, hateful ideologies, in the Islamic world and in the West? Or how these manifest in bigotry towards non Muslims by Muslims? Just going to keep playing the victimhood card? More of the same, then.

  4. Mr. Ali,
    I apologize for the bigotry of the misguided fools who still cling to their false stereotypes. I despise bigots of all stripe.
    Please sir, remember that not every American is a bigot. Some of us, myself for certain, would rather have a discussion with you or any other Muslim than to have to endure another bigoted,
    christian” American. My Dad taught me to never judge a group of people based upon my feelings about one individual. I do NOT, in any way, hold all Muslims responsible for 9/11. That even was. mostly, blowback to America for past (and current) foreign policy of the AMerican government.
    Thank you for your article here today, and thank you for your time reading this reply.
    charlie ehlen
    Alexandria, LA

  5. Some of my most agonizing moments are on such airplane journeys, where those of the dominant culture feel assured of their superiority and judgment, and any protest we might air, indeed, any attempt to make a bridge of any kind, is seen at best as defensive, at worst, duplicitous; a trick. We are endlessly guilty, as every other minority population’s history within the culture attests to.

    One man, after a quick flight from Virginia to NYC, turned to me and said: “Do you call this home? Or are you just passing through?”

    The double remove of “call[ing] this home” struck me hard. This is where I have a problem with those who write from within the place that does all it can to expel us from its midst. This is why I am glad I have left.

    At what point do we acknowledge that any inability to “assimilate”, “engage”, “enter into” an Anglo-Saxon society is not of us? Is not within the realm of our allowed possibilities? Has nothing to do with how we think, what we feel?

    White Americans can claim to be open-minded all they want; but they do so within the luxury of their status in society. This is not a 50-50 argument; ask them to move into and live in a minority community neighborhood, send their children to mostly minority schools, and see what the reaction is.

    We would do better to engage with the likes of Malcolm X who spoke of world liberation that will eventually make its way back, instead of allowing our very own co-optation by the entity that treats us as Foreign Bodies, to eliminate if not destroy.

    I would answer this man now thus: “I am just passing through. But this is a function of how you see me, and not vice versa.”

  6. i hate muslims and as god as my witness i will kill you! yes you! all towl heads nasty beards you smell like shit i’am on a mission to kill you! die u fucking muslims die!

    • This kind of hatred just brings more violence and disaster!
      To build a better and safer world we need to show tolerance and respect to each other.

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