Exactly a week earlier around this time I was enjoying a bright sunshiny day headed towards Vienna on the Orange line. Ah, the sun glinting through the windows of the Metro train, warming the little plastic card in the palm of my hand. It was a small, white card with my picture on it, more commonly known in the rest of the world as America's Almighty Green Card. I had it, all in the palm of my hand, and about to give it up.
Yes, last Monday, I officially became a US citizen. And the saga continues. Except, the same experiences that I had in this country for the past four and a half years were now being viewed through the lens of belonging to this country. Everything that it represents, all the emotions that the declaration of independance evokes, all the ideals that the founding fathers stood for, and all loyalty that the pledge of allegiance calls for.
But then I turned around and there were cartoons everywhere. Would I now have to take a stand against the infidels, the Great Satan, the West, the Kafirs. What was my religion asking of me? What was now my duty to America? Was the hatred of the west that was coming our way, also directed at me? What should my reaction be? I wasn't now caught between the two sides, the east and the west, the way I was when I had the green card. Now, I was the West.
And right around that time, the organization where I work, the Muslim Public Affairs Council
attended the Conservative Poltical Action Conference
here in Washington, DC. It was a 3,500-4000 attendees conference where we had a booth to educate the masses about Muslims and our work. There was participation from across the nation: college republicans, libertarians, islamophobes, evangelical christians, center-right, right-wing neo-cons, the whole gamut.
Speakers included Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Tom DeLay, Bob Novak, and last but not the least Dr. Ergun Caner
You can imagine that there were quite a number of opportunities to dispel sterotypes, correct misconceptions and even educate about Muslims and Islam, as found domestically and internationally.
I had quite an educational experience myself. My first button that was handed to me as I entered the exhibit hall said "Ex-Gay is OK". I thought, hmmm.
Realizing that we were one of three Muslim organizations at the conference, I summoned hope. This would be one interesting weekend.
Ann Coulter called Muslims 'ragheads', Dr. Caner revelled in disinformation and hate-speech (but then again, he comes from a Muslim background, so its credible), and some just told us to leave CPAC as Islam and America don't go together. Afterall, we did 9-11. Who can argue that?
But there were those who were very open-minded about Muslims. They wanted to know more about Islam, had maybe never met one in the flesh and were quite inquisitive and not-so-trusting of the media. Then there were those that just wouldn't trust Muslims as far as they could throw them.
I met quakers, libertarians, ACLU'ers, gays, ex-gays, the Emersons, the Spencers, the free republicans, Americas for Condi people, the right-wing media (even got interviewed by the National Rifle Association News agency), anti-hate crime law people, college republicans, defense contractors, and numerous other conservative groups.
One person comes by and says, " If you really espouse American values, would you, young lady, be able to climb the minaret of a mosque in this country and give the call to prayers? If not, you Muslims still don't have the equality that we as Americans believe exists between the genders."
Even those that recognized that we are legitimate American Muslims trying to work for domestic policy, had questions. Why can't you explain to the Muslims abroad (of the riots-against-cartoons kind) that America is all about democracy, freedom of speech and all the good principles and values that our founding fathers built this country on? That can't be why they hate us. Why aren't you helping stop these riots? Talk to your fellow Muslims. Muhammad (AS) obviously ddin't teach this!
Another interesting experience was when I went to a nearby empty hall to pray Asr. I go into ruku and a security guy comes by. "Excuse me, ma'am. I know that you are praying and can't stop, but the vice president is coming through this room to get to the banquet where he is speaking. He is coming with his secret service men and I would advise you to leave the hall before they do."
Another one to add to 'the crazy places we pray'. Subhan Allah!