"I condemn terrorism." Lately, because I'm a Muslim, these are
the only three words people seem to want to hear come out of my
mouth. Beyond the words themselves, the way I proclaim them is
measured for sincerity. Perhaps even more than the days immediately
after 9/11, I as a Muslim feel now that many of my fellow Americans
believe that Islam and its adherents are evil, pure and simple.
I can't help wondering if the fact that I'm identifiably Muslim
through my hijab, or scarf, is so potent that the only response I
evoke is anger.
Thinking through recent incidents, I try to assess the validity
of my feelings - am I overreacting, or paranoid?
Last month, while driving home from the airport, I managed to get
lost in construction detours. I rolled down my window and asked a
woman in the car next to me for directions: "Will this road take me
into Cambridge?" I couldn't believe my eyes when she ignored my
question and rolled up her window.
It was broad daylight. I had not - before then - considered my
appearance frightening or abnormal. Apparently shedid.
Another incident: I recently participated in a phone-a-thon for a
religious studies program at Harvard. A friend tapped my shoulder
and said her caller wanted to speak with a Muslim. I took the phone.
It turned out the man was a preacher from Texas and wanted to know
when Muslims "were going to join the rest of the enlightened world
and rid themselves of fanaticism." I tried to explain that the
matter was far more complicated than simply blaming the beliefs of a
billion people and that it was misguided to blame Islam for the
actions of its fringe extremists. The preacher interrupted me and
said I sounded like "every other wishy-washy" Muslim ambiguous about
condemning terrorism. Needless to say, he didn't donate to the
Why is my stance on terrorism my only defining feature? Casual
conversations at the grocery store, the gym, the dry cleaner all
seem laser-guided, by the way I look, to Islam and terrorism - and
never to those everyday conversations that might revolve around
other aspects of my life like how I like my Harvard classes, my
training for the Boston Marathon, or my recent obsession with my
I desperately try to shrug these incidents off as I focus on
school and training for the marathon. But these incidents don't seem
to be isolated - and, indeed, have intensified just since the July 7
suicide bombings in London and last week's attempted bombings there.
Columnists in many of our nation's most influential newspapers
focused on the Arab and Muslim response to the attacks. They
castigated Arab and Muslim Americans for not publicly condemning
terrorism - as if, in addition to the condemnations Muslim groups
have indeed issued in days since 7/7, we're expected to march in the
streets of New York, Washington, and Boston and chant, "We hate Bin
Laden, too. …