Thursday, April 25, 2013

10 things you always wanted to know about the life of an American women married to a Muslim man, but were afraid to ask.....

It was inevitable. After the Boston marathon bombings I was going to be asked a lot of questions. Most Americans are afraid of being "politically incorrect"  so they veil their curiosity by indirect reference to the latest story of a Muslim women being stoned to death, or an unstable Muslim man controlling his wife's every action.

I recognize the signs now. After every newsworthy story of a Muslim committing some type of violence certain people in my life have to go out of their way to ask me how I feel about it. In addition, they make sure they point out every nuance of every story they've heard that paints Muslims in an unattractive light and then conclude by saying: isn't that horrible?"

So, for once--and only once-- I'm going to answer these spoken and unspoken questions:

1). No, my husband does not control me. He does not tell me what to eat, how to pray, where to go, what to do nor who to see. No one could ever control me because I have been a free and independant spirit my entire life. I have never followed the herd mentality and never will. It's my nature. I would earnestly  kick any man--or women for that matter-- forcefully to the curb if he/she did try to control me.

2). No, my husband isn't violence, quick to anger nor has he ever hit or harmed me in anyway. My husband is a gentle soul and treats everyone, including animals with dignity and respect. I would never associate with anyone who is mean or violent. I abhor any form of violence, whether passive or active. I would never stay with a man who did hurt me or anyone I know.

3). No, my husband has never tried to convert me to Islam. Yes, he encouraged me to read the Qur'an and I did. I consider it a beautiful religious text.  I don't see anything misogynistic in it. Like any religious text you need to understand it in the context of the time period it was written in. Times and situations have changed. As far as converting to Islam: I never will, nor will I convert to any monotheistic religion. Although I have respect for these religions--and all others--I cannot follow them for ideological reasons too numerous to list here. The best way to describe my spirituality is to characterize it as Agnostic Pagan. In Forrest Gump's immortal words: that's all I'm saying about that....

4). Yes--I do not serve my husband pork. Why? Because I respect him, his religion and his wishes. If we do go out to eat I occasionally order pork and my husband doesn't mind. No, I don't miss it, well. except for the occasional roast pork. I love pork roast with apple sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. So- if you are ever making the aforemntioned meal--please consider inviting me to dinner!

5). Yes, I am a Pagan and a feminist and no--my husband isn't threatened by this fact.I'm not going to blow sunshine up your butt and say we agree about everything; that would be untrue and unrealistic. Occasionally we do disagree on certain key issues but we are mature adults and get over it.

6). No, my husband isn't Arab. He is from India and is Southeast Asian. Cursiously, he doesn't self-identify as such. I get the impression that self-identifying as a particular race is predominately an American obsession. We adore our labels and are compelled to label everything as "such and such." Not that other world citizens don't label other people, but they don't seem to be compelled in quite the same fervor as Americans.

7). Yes, my husband is dismayed and angry at any terrorist action whether committed by a Muslim or not. My husband abhors violence of any kind--well, except the Hollywood version of violence. Like most American males he loves action movies--and if there isn't at least one gratuitous car explosion its not worth watching.

However, after living in the Middle East for a significant time in his younger years he understands the frustration many Middle Eastern people feel over the policies of America--and the West in general--that have impacted their lives in a negative way. Most Middle Easterners do not hate Americans but oftentimes they do not agree with American foreign policy. Additionally, there is a small but dangerous minority of Middle Easterners who do hate Americans and  want to inflict harm. This is the reality and has been, in part, facilitated by the actions of Western leaders. Fact. Period. If you don't understand this concept I suggest you look into the policies and history of Western actions in the region. This has a long history but for a modern understanding  I'd recommend starting by researching the European partitioning of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900's.

8). Yes, despite growing up in different areas of the world we have many things in common. a few of these include; the same taste in music, similar ethical and moral values, introverted nature, a fondness for peace and serenity, distaste for gossip, pettiness and superficiality, a love of travel, fondness for ethnic cuisines, etc.

9). No, the women in my husband's family are not compelled to wear the hijab or the burqa. My husband's family is from India so they do not prescribe to the (largely) regional dictate of wearing these forms of coverings. As an aside: some of my husband's family is Christian, not Muslim. Yeah, I know it gets complicated. It's a multi-cultural world after all!

10). Yes, I am extremely proud and honored to be married to a wonderful man who happens to be Muslim. I understand that his Muslim upbringing has contributed in significant ways to the man I know and love today. I wouldn't have it any other way. And that's all I have to say about that...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flinging dirt



Tragedy can either bring out the best of people or the worst. When all the dirt shakes loose it naturally distributes a bit of both. I’ve seen a lot of  dirt in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. Years from now, when looking back at the tragedy I’m not sure whether the dirt left behind will nourish hope and understanding or whether it sullies the  nation’s  collective heart with fear, divisiveness and retributive zeal.

Some of the “dirt” I’m referring to is the intensity of the Islamophobia fervor I’ve witnessed recently. Reports of Muslims being singled out for angry rants and even physical violence have become commonplace. Apparently some citizens invoke the “guilty by association” paradigm, particularly when it applies to members of the “other” group(s) of people. The “other” referring to anyone who does not fall within the individual’s self identified group. In this particular case I am referring to the dominant group in America: White male Christians.

In  all fairness, any marginalized group in America can readily invoke the spirit of Islamophobia. All it takes is the willingness to participate in reductionism: : “a procedure or theory that reduces complex data and phenomena to simple terms.”(from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reductionism)

An illustration of reductionism can be found in the words of Fox News guest commentator Erik Rush; who-- before any official reports came out stating the bombers were Muslim, made the following rant  on Twitter ““Yes, they’re evil. (Muslims)  Let’s kill them all.”

According to Rush, and many individuals like him, all Muslims are evil because a small minority have done terrible things. This is the antithesis of rational thought because it discounts the majority of the world’s Muslim population that live peacefully. It also denies the reality that people of other religions; including Christianity, have committed violence. I trust that I don’t have to provide a  list of  historical atrocities perpetrated by Christians around the world to drive that point home.

What is significant here is not the particular words used. One can find similar words on the lips of various  people who  fear Muslims and blame them collectively for the Marathon bombings and other acts of terrorism. What I am addressing here is the fact that Rush mouthed the sentiments and is—himself--, an African American and member of a population that has historically been subjugated, stereotyped and scapegoated  in America.

Let’s not just spotlight African Americans because similar views prosper in many minority groups across the nation. I have heard disparaging comments about Muslims in various immigration reform groups on the internet. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard words such as “Why do immigrants get punished due to the actions of Muslims” or “Why can’t the government deport all the Muslims and leave the rest of the immigrant community alone. After all, we didn’t bomb anybody.” 

This divisiveness punishes us all who fight for immigration reform. If one individual from an “other” group does something bad then it taints us all because White Male America makes no distinctions. White Male America loves it when one minority group points the finger and blames the “other” because this divisiveness ensures that they remain in control.

If those of us who support immigration reform want to make any significant improvements in the lives of immigrants and their families we need to stop pointing the finger at each other. Collectively we are in the majority and White Male America knows this. They love the finger pointing. They even encourage it.

We are all interconnected. No amount of “dirt” flung at us will change that. We can choose to pick up the dirt flung at us and throw it at someone else or we can take that dirt and use it to nourish something beautiful. Let us choose wisely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shipping up to Boston...




Today my thoughts should be with all the people who are suffering due to the horrible tragedy in Boston yesterday. Truth be told, I am thinking of them with a pained heart. But my thoughts are predominately with another group of people; those that are suffering in silence, those whose anxiety and  fear will never be acknowledged in the Western media nor in the chatter of coworkers gathered around water coolers in corporations across the country. Bear with me because I will return to this thought in a moment.

I understand now, that despite my education and research into white American privilege I still do not fully comprehend it. This became obvious to me yesterday after a conversation I had with my husband late in the evening. We were discussing the events in Boston. One statement caused me discomfort.

He said: “Well, one thing is for sure, our trip to Boston will be cancelled this summer.”

Me—the independent, recklessly defiant white American jumped to a wrong conclusion. I assumed he was fearful of going to Boston due to the potential of another terrorist attack from the “other”. I was soon to be proven wrong.

I replied in the usual white drivel--the propaganda pandered to gullible Americans by the Western media : “Hon, if we give in to the terrorists then they have won. We can’t let our plans go awry because some deranged individual wants us to be petrified all the time.”

“That’s not why I want to cancel our trip to Boston. “

“Then why?” I asked.

“Because I’m afraid that someone will want to hurt me in retribution for the attacks in Boston.”

Long prolonged pause………..Wow! Shit just got real.

I was speechless. For just one terrible moment I understood, however briefly, what it felt to be a dark-skinned Muslim immigrant in a country that routinely blames every act of terrorism, tragedy or aggression on “my people.” I understood that to Americans, my husband was --and always will be “the other”. And-- not just “the other” but “a dangerous other.”

It doesn’t matter that my husband is neither Arab nor of Middle-Eastern descent. It only matters that he is different; he is “other” and therefore responsible for the vicious attacks. It only matters that he has a Muslim name.

So yes, I am thinking about all the people who were hurt and affected by the terrible events in Boston. But I’m also thinking about all the victims-to-be: all the Muslim mothers who are holding their children tighter today; all the Muslim immigrants crowding around the TV watching the news praying feverishly that the person who did this is not Muslim; and all the future victims of intensified scrutiny and hate crimes.

I am profoundly sad and ashamed for so many reasons that cannot be articulated. I am so sorry that I did not understand.

Friday, September 2, 2011

PRI: The World interview

The radio broadcast of my interview with PRI The World aired yesterday. If you would like to hear it just click on the link below. (Hopefully it will work...I don't always have luck with Blogger's linking tool). The article features two other extraordinary and lovely ladies going through a similar experience: Giselle Stern-Hernandez and Emily Cruz.

They basically did a very good job portraying the lives of American citizens dealing with deportation and separation. A few characterizations were flawed but with the complexities inherent in the U.S. immigration system this is to be expected.

So, give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Just copy and paste the following address in you browser..that should get you to the interview.


http://www.theworld.org/2011/09/deportees-wives-club/

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stomach aches and DHS anxiety

Sometimes I don't catch on to things too quickly. Although I love to read books, explore new ideas and am normally astute in analyzing human behavior, sometimes when it comes to the mundane practical situations of my own life I don't notice things as quickly as I should. In fact, I can be terminally dense.

My husband has been acting oddly for the last week. He's been quieter than usual, sullen and complaining of stomach and back problems. In fact, the last five days he has been getting up in the middle of the night and going over to the spare bedroom to sleep. I don't mind saying that I was feeling a bit rejected. Was I farting in bed? Bad breath? Do I exhibit Terets Syndrome when I sleep? What the heck was going on?? For some reason I just didn't catch on...until this morning...

Khalid rolled on his side in bed and groaned.

I asked: "What's the matter?"

"My stomach hurts."

"Again?" I asked incredulously (he's been complaining of a sour stomach for a few days now)

"Yeah."

Over the next few hours I was contemplating a whole host of scenarios that could explain Khalid's strange behavior over the last week. Was he sick? I asked myself. Was he having a hard time at work? Was he depressed? Sick of me????? (After almost five years of marriage it can happen to even the most loving of couples!) I had no idea what was wrong...

Now, Khalid is usually an early riser. He always gets up before me, but a curious thing happened today. He slept until 9:30 AM!!! He never sleeps that long.

Finally, it hit me! He's acting this way because we have to appear at the DHS office in Albany today and he's worried that something bad is going to happen. BINGO!

I knew that he usually gets nervous when we travel to Albany, but since we learned that India was not recognizing him as a citizen I thought the anxiety had abated a bit. At least he wasn't showing any major anxiety or concern. Usually he was very upbeat about the trip saying "I'm sure everything is status quo and there's nothing to worry about." while turning and smiling at me in a comforting manner."

I now recognize this as an effort to make me feel better. I was still vocal about my trepidation involving going to the DHS office for months after they proclaimed they were not going to deport Khalid. I was so afraid that the government would change their minds and detain and then deport Khalid to god-knows-where.

Apparently, I disregarded the other signs that indicated-- despite Khalid's stoicism--that he was still terrified of going to the DHS office. I ignored the back problems, the getting up in the middle of the night, the stomach ailments; not realizing that they all occurred in tandem a week before we had to visit the DHS office.

How could I be so blind??

And the worst thing about this whole mess is: I can't do anything about it other than holding his hand every time we walk into that damned DHS office in Albany.



Sunday, August 21, 2011

An antidote to hate

Being an American citizen married to a “documented alien in removal” has its challenges, for sure. Between reporting to Homeland Security offices in Albany twice a year, constantly worrying about how the next batch of anti-immigration laws will affect your life, and dealing with the inevitable trolls who stalk the posts of pro-immigration bloggers and insinuate that only low class, stupid and desperate women/men would marry an “illegal” alien, can turn a person’s hair silver overnight.

Now, I’ve written about the error in using the term “illegal” in referring to immigrants in the past, but it bears repeating again. Most immigrants have not done anything illegal (i.e. crossing the border without inspection nor have most of them ever committed a crime.) In fact, a substantial number of immigrants have only committed a civil violation by overstaying-- not a criminal one; based on U.S. immigration law. To elaborate: overstay is a civil violation constituting an immigrant who has remained in the U.S. after a VISA has expired. Even the term “undocumented” does not accurately describe all immigrants. For instance, my husband has all his documents (i.e. worker’s permit, passport and a social security number) so he cannot be referred to as “undocumented”. Therefore, the characterization of all immigrants without a green card as “illegal” is inaccurate.

None of my friends who blog about deportation could be characterized as low class, desperate, and especially-- not stupid. The women (and men) I have known who are dealing with separation or deportations of a spouse are the smartest, bravest, strongest and most socially aware people I know. I am proud to call them friends and am thankful that they are a part of my life…even though many miles separate us all.

The wonderful connections I’ve made to people who are going through a similar experience are one of the bright spots in the everyday struggle of dealing with deportation. A fellow blogger remarked: “the whole process of dealing with the immigration system in the U.S. is so dehumanizing that the personal connections we foster online with people going through similar situations is mentally and spiritually healing.”

It can be easy to be consumed by anger and fear when you are dealing with the possible separation of you from your spouse. I remember when Khalid and I were going through the most precarious time in our marriage; just after the denial of his second circuit court case and the deportation mandate was issued. Whenever Khalid was late getting home from work, those minutes before he walked through the door were fraught with fear, anxiety and hopelessness. I was so afraid that ICE had apprehended him at work and sent him to detention. If this had happened I would not have been notified. I would not even know where they had taken him. Perhaps I would be one of the lucky spouses that would get a call from my husband or a lawyer days later telling me where he was being held. Otherwise, it is likely that I would not know any specifics until after the deportation process was completed and he arrived in the country of his birth.

Despite all of this turmoil there are positive aspects to this situation: besides making wonderful friendships. The whole immigration system is designed to tear the American citizen and deportee apart. However, a curious thing happens. Amidst all the negativity, barricades, hateful rhetoric and discriminatory policies the bonds between the couple entwine, grow thicker and become stronger. Love stubbornly grows where hate has wrought devastation. This seems to be a universal truth.

I am aware that since my husband and I have gone through this painful process that we do not easily take each other for granted. Many of the petty annoyances that plague my friends’ relationships do not affect us. When threatened with separation you treasure every moment you spend with the other person. Precious time cannot be wasted on insignificant disagreements you will likely forget a week later. You learn to love deeply, completely and forgive easily. Indeed, this seemingly fragile love becomes the strongest antidote to hate.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

An alien with no name

Khalid is an immigrant who has no name. Seems strange to write that. All of you are probably thinking: "Well, of course he has a name. You just wrote it in the first sentence: K H A L I D.

Perhaps the semantics I used is confusing. What I meant to say that he has no label. You know, those humiliating, derogatory, inaccurate labels that get placed on immigrants in this country. Words such as "illegal", "border jumper", "undocumented", "unauthorized worker", etc.

I got to thinking about this curious fact when I was being interviewed for the radio program PRI's: The World. The interviewer referred to him as an "undocumented" immigrant--but that isn't a true characterization either. Of course--I was relieved that she didn't use the term "illegal". Luckily she understood that it was a derogatory term and did not apply to a substantial number of immigrants residing in this country.

However, despite recognizing the word "undocumented" as inaccurate, I didn't correct her because I had no idea what term would be appropriate in describing Khalid's immigration situation.

The term "undocumented" refers to a specific type of immigrant who does not have legal documentation in order to work in the United States. Khalid is "documented"; meaning that he has all his papers--a worker's permit, social security number and passports (well--until the DHS confiscated them and subsequently lost them.) and came here under a student VISA.

I suppose the most accurate designation that could be applied to Khalid is "alien" but even that doesn't quite fit. He has been in the United States so long now that he has lost all trace of a foreign accent and has completely acclimated to American culture: so much so that he loves American football,unhealthy native cuisine; high in fats, carbohydrates and sugar, and Hollywood movies filled with dizzying spectacle but low on content-- and like all American men who fear being emasculated, he hates the color pink. You can't get more American then that.(Surely I jest!)

However, this curious fact that I had no label to attach to my husband's situation bothered me. So, one night, while we were sitting in the living room watching "America's Got Talent" (a guilty pleasure!) I turned to him and asked "What are you called?"

He turned to look at me with a quizzical expression on his face and replied "what?" (This is not an unusual trajectory for our conversations.)

I re-framed the question..."you don't fall under the designation of illegal; and undocumented doesn't fit either-- so what term is officially used to describe your situation?

He thought for a moment and said "technically I am called "a documented alien under removal.'"

Wow, that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue! No wonder news people and pundits choose to use the words "illegal" and "undocumented". At least they are simple!

My point here is not to disparage those immigrants who fall under the term "undocumented". My point is to illustrate the myriad complexities inherent in being an immigrant in contemporary America and how they are simplified by misleading and oftentimes inaccurate labels that are woefully inaccurate in describing an immigrant's status.

There is a scientific principle called "Occam's Razor" which loosely has been summarized as "all things being equal the simplest explanation tends to be the right one." (My apologies to any scientists reading this post who are actually versed in this principle and recognize this is a simplified understanding.)

People who are caught up in this diabolic immigration system and the complex situations it engenders will never adhere to this notion of "Occam's Razor". There is never anything simple about the process of being an immigrant in this country. Nor should there be any simplifications in the language used to describe them. Terms such as "illegal", "undocumented", "alien" are ( as I stated earlier) "woefully inaccurate."

In this current era of compounded complexities perhaps the whole idea of "Occam's Razor" is misleading. There doesn't seem to be much simplicity--at least not in our little corner of the world.