If Santa Claus were ever to pay me a visit and grant me a wish, I would reply with one word: respect.
I would wish that society at large would show some respect towards me and my faith. I am judged negatively whenever someone of my faith is accused of committing a crime. I am viewed as an enemy within, a home-grown fanatic whom everyone should guard against.
I am harassed at the boarding gate when I leave the country, as if I was going to an Al Qaeda convention. I am also bullied by the customs and immigration officers when I come back home, as if I don’t belong here.
I am pulled aside for extra inspections, as if I was carrying instructions on making weapons of mass destruction. I am told repeatedly to tell the real truth about what I am bringing with me that I have not declared.
When a crime occurs where a Muslim is the primary suspect, I am asked to issue a statement in the strongest possible terms against terrorism and to dissociate myself from the crime. Whatever language I use in my denunciation, I am told is not enough and I must do more.
On the day after the crime, the headline reads: “Moderate Muslims Fail To Speak Up”, even though I have spoken and have condemned the crime.
When I try to access my own money, the bank teller reminds me of the seriousness of money laundering. A bank supervisor recently alleged that my signature did not match the signature they had in my file. I emptied my wallet and showed all my identifications, to no avail.
Although I have lived in Canada for more than a decade and have been working hard to pay taxes and make ends meet, I am still viewed as a foreigner who belongs somewhere else.
A colleague at the airport where I work asked me recently, “Why did you choose Canada, a Christian country, and did not go to your own people instead?”
Another co-worker said the other day that she cannot tolerate seeing Muslim women covering up. “I feel the urge to remove the piece of rag by force,” she said. “Why in the world would she hide her beauty?”
Another airline employee suggested that we should stop Muslim women from entering the country if they choose to wear the hijab (head cover).
I cried like a child when a friend said that the only way the world can solve the problem of terrorism is to nuke the Muslim world. Only then will the planet live in real peace, he said.
It is deeply troubling to see how Muslims are treated in society. While I was having dinner at work, my colleagues next to me were discussing the shooting death right after the 11 September tragedy of a Sikh man in the US who was thought to be a Muslim.
One of the people involved in the conversation blamed the murderer for not doing his homework in making sure that the person he was targeting was a real Muslim. The people in the cafeteria did not find the statement troubling and they all laughed approvingly.
We are reminded—again and again—that freedom of expression has limits. But when the same freedom involves the dehumanization of Muslims, it has no limit.
I don’t think I am asking too much if I expect some respect from my fellow countrymen.
I might have some lunatics in my midst but who doesn’t? If Christians are not held responsible for the death and destruction their co-religionist George W. Bush caused in Iraq, why should I be held responsible for the acts of a few mad men who might create mayhem in the name of my faith?
©2008/the new york times
Abubakar N. Kasim is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
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