Would you rather be the terrorist or the terrorized?
For the longest, I thought it would be nice to veer on the side of the terrorized. Especially after 9/11, when my excitable imagination worked itself into a huff:
Something bad could happen to me, too, you know. Someone might hurt me. Would you be sad then? My dead body would look very pathetic, you know. I’m also fragile and unprotected!
Every time a new attack occurred, I’d get a cagey look in my eyes. Oh, a big bombing in Bali? Thank God most Americans don’t know where that is. A horrific shooting in Mumbai? Well, Americans don’t care about dead brown people. Terror on the London subway? Oh, no, no, please no. I would get very quiet and think to myself: We could be hurt, too, you know. Did you ever imagine that?
Then, when it did happen, when we were the terrorized, I found I didn’t like it so much after all. Gone were the romantic notions of how everyone would finally realize that Muslims are human, too, you know. We’re also vulnerable, we’re not safe, either.
It was not romantic or cathartic. It was just a sense of: Oh, you couldn’t have done that. You’re North Carolina. You’re my home, you’ve kept me safe for the past 20 years, you bless my heart every time you see me.
You don’t play those games the Middle East is famous for, where nearly everyone asks me if I’m Sunni or Shia just out of curiosity.
When I go abroad, I tell people where I’m from with an air of haughty grandeur, because North Carolina kept me and other Muslims safe even after 9/11, even after the Fort Hood shooting, even after the Boston Marathon, even while different Muslims in Syria decided they needed to start killing each other, even after Muslims in Yemen decided they needed to kill each other, even after Muslims in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan all came to the same conclusions.
And I realized it’s so much easier to be labeled the terrorist. Then at least you can tell people, “I’m so sorry. I would never do that to you. There’s no place on earth I’d rather be, there’s no people more important to me than you. You are who I’m putting all my faith in. Your goodness is why I can move forward with faith in goodness, even though I’m of Middle Eastern descent and nearly the entire place is in shambles right now.”
When I’m the terrorized, then I’m not sure who I’m living amongst, and yes, I know you think the same about us. However, it’s easy to go up to you and reassure you, “no, I promise, I’m really not here to hurt you” — much easier than to be waiting for you to come say the same to me. Much easier than wondering when I tell outsiders I’m from UNC if they’ll remember that here a man walked into his neighbors’ apartment, shot all three Muslims in the head, unprovoked — and the police refused to call it a hate crime.