Meet the Strangers

Certainly we’ll all notice Islam has frightened a good portion of Anglo-America. Until the attacks most of those now afraid couldn’t have named a Muslim outside of Muhammad Ali. Today the quivering and trembling can list chapter and verse every depredation Islam has prepared for the Christian West.

Especially the ones which only exist in the most fevered imaginations.

By the way, after the attacks one of the reasons presented for the date chosen was an in your face gesture to the nation’s emergency service responses. Who does 911 call on 9/11?

Islamists are nowhere near as witty. Instead, the date commemorates an important battle between Christianity and Islam. A conflagration more vital than the Crusades and the Reconquista combined. One persevered faith. The other was thwarted for all time.

On September 11th, 1638, the West broke Islam’s lance into Europe forever outside Vienna. The marshalled forces of Christendom made the crescent set and slammed shut the Koran. From hereupon Islam pierced no deeper and began receding back into the Levant.

To this day Islamic fanatics consider the defeat an immense shame. By launching jetliners against the United States on that date, Osama bin Laden not only intended shattering the West’s self-perception and promotion of its invincibility but hoped to arouse another far more successful thrust into its heart.

Of course having listened to those who misinterpreted our presumptive invaders back in earliest 21st century too many still believe the assault was against our freedom, nebulous as that is. No. Such people wanted to jar our comfort, erase our complacency, and inflict the sort of injuries on us their leaders had on them at our behest. Ultimately the goal was to sow then stir fear among us infidels.

Nearly 16 years afterwards bin Laden’s aims have been met and exceeded.

During the mid to late 60s, the adolescent me would’ve had trouble making sense of the disorder our world would devolve into in my early 40s. Not through religiously instigated violence, but because Muslims were deemed strangers. I suspect that unlike most Americans of the era Muslims were familiar presences in my every day.

Although I lived in Quarropas, then a New York City bedroom community, Islam had reached our suburban splendor.

For some in the black communities the glacial pace of the civil rights movement did not suffice. While most adhered to the cadences and pacing recognized and adhered to in the Bible, a percentage sought to find expediency by turning to militancy. A third set disavowed both paths altogether. Black Muslims sought their own enclave in America though apart from the mainstream America desired by anyone discriminated against or routinely humiliated.

Under the tutelage of the honorable Ejiah Muhammad, guided by Allah’s divine Scripture, the Koran, those brought to this land of the free in shackles and bondage, would receive redress and reparations from the devil himself, the white man. Say this about the past eras – the nomenclature and rhetoric were artful. We enjoy nothing like it today. Perhaps we lack the firebrands, the spellbinding orators. More likely intensive reading, study, discourse, and debate have fallen so far by the wayside in our schools that language has been degraded and diluted through emojis and abbreviations.

Naturally the above and radicalism failed any wide grasps in the intended audiences. The people both these courses tried luring were too busy being the best Americans possible. Even better than the Anglos and ethnics who worked harder at denying the blacks’ humanity than acknowledging the obvious.

Another reason, the most important one, to why Islam failed resonating with black America – the faith was so alien. So off-putting. It insists too much on denial; on finding one’s slot and remaining there in servility.

Swaths of black American history have been occupied in that manner through slavery already. Moreover, honest hard-working people couldn’t help but notice that the new congregants, the men at least, had received their indoctrinations in prison systems. Somehow the Koran absolved them of their misconduct, then blamed the white man for it, whereas those from communities where personal responsibility dominated never got past this shunting of guilt.

At least Christianity offered the possibility of redemption, of atoning for transgression, not walking by it.

Anyway one good result of these prison conversions, it directed the formerly misguided energies of young men. Rather than pursuing criminal endeavors, these new now Fruits of Islam cleaned up, dressed up, forsook off substances, associations, which had previously led them astray. Reinvigorated and given purpose as they were, though, meant they became constructive nuisances.

In some communities FOI were ubiquitous sidewalk presences hawking The Final Call, black America’s Islamic newspaper. Not even a casual reader would mistake The Final Call’s uplift the race content for any found in other ethnic presses. It filtered America in ways that repulsed those who’d not only bought the dream but strove mightily for its fulfillment.

A lead balloon, The Final Call never flew in our white bread home nor in those of our similarly minded neighboring households.

Nonetheless both branches of the river could discuss our distinct views of America without friction. If any acrimony resulted, it usually got put at the feet of “white devils.” In the end, in the eyes of black Islamists, the white man was all and only about keeping blacks down. Always.

Probably why so few of us striving for mainstream acceptance and inclusion – our rightful and just place in these United States – failed falling sway to the Five Pillars of Islam. The amount of pessimism necessary would’ve been debilitating.

The full spectrum of Islam attended Arizona during my undergraduate years there. These days, it’s doubtful the same claim can be made about any American university seeking a diverse student body.

For the most part, they, like any other group of young adults in the thrall of in loco parentis, explored and exceeded boundaries. Escaping from some of the societies some did, these escapes resembled jailbreaks, the escapades afterwards Animal House scenes. Oh, there are stories. But if it weren’t for the actors and actresses inhabiting those roles, would they be any more different or deviant than the hijinks we host students pursued?

Across the last two decades with the Maghreb and Levant roiled, I often wondered about those alums who found their ways into their respective systems’ services. My contemporaries, experiences during our degree years would have similarities. Did they even try balancing the America they’d known and the one presented and (mis)perceived to whatever organization ruled? The same as Americans here whose contacts then lent minor insight into the current people. Given similar backgrounds, and unless radically altered by life, I bet our trajectories converge more than diverge.

That would’ve been a research project to have undertaken during the Obama Administration. The current Oval Office occupant advertises himself as the sort who discourages such inquisitive outreach.

Two stories. One before, the other after the attack.

The first occurred during a business call some springtime in the 90s. I really wasn’t grounded in the topic but I caught the call anyway.

My contact worked in a company located in an office park on the Island. Even if the meeting didn’t pan out still potential for a hour of quality goof-off time on the North Shore. Hey. If life gives you lemons, find limes and make G&T’s.

Reading the doorplate I saw my appointment had Arabic heritage. No. I didn’t immediately assume him a Muslim. Astounding multitudes of Americans, not everyone derived of Arab origin is a Muslim.

In our introduction exchange, I gave his office a once-over. His desk was neat. Little personal stuff cluttered it. He let the more homey touches fill his wall pin board. Candid photographs of his family there instead of stilted portraits framed on his desk. I liked how he ordered his priorities.

Our palaver might not amount to much but we’d talk straight.

Catching my eye, though, amid the goofy smiles of happy gapped-toothed children, a familiar cube. The Kaaba.

Seven revolutions around this cube, the Kaaba, fulfills the believers’ utmost obligations. Hajj is the ritual’s name.

Still standing, I asked him if he’d performed his hajj.

His formal demeanor dropped. His face became as naked as one might ever see it. He asked if I was a believer. My demurral raised my esteem in his eyes. That a nonbeliever inquired whether he’d fulfilled an obligation insisted upon by every Muslim rather stunned him. Indeed, he had made his pilgrimage to Mecca. Briefly, his expression momentarily jumped into ease on the way to beatific. I assumed in remembrance of his journey. No. He added he’d gone a second time. For his father. I didn’t ask whether his father too frail or deceased.

Instead, I simply stated, “Your father must be proud of you.”

What boy doesn’t seek his father’s approval? What man doesn’t hope to glow beneath his father’s pride?

Perhaps tears started forming in the other’s eyes. Likely it was dust or pollen irritating them. Either way he brushed these sties aside. We sat and got down to tacks.

The second transpired after the attacks. The debacle remained so fresh that the smell of death still thickened the Lower Manhattan air, no matter how hard the wind blew.

On the kind of early autumn day that would remind New Yorkers of that hour when disaster arrived, I sat beside a giddy, dark-eyed, black-haired, curvy, desert-baked Egyptian woman who’d just been freshly naturalized.

She was one of us now, an American, whoever we are. She waved a small Stars & Stripes and clutched a certificate further proving it, too.

What she’d forsaken, the potential of who she might become, threatened overtaking then engulfing her in joy. Landed citizens can never experience what must be a sublime state after reciting a simple oath.

Then again those of us born here mustn’t sweat the preceding history quiz either.

Over the hump, if she experienced trepidation fearlessness and confidence brushed it aside. She eventually intended opening a bakery. And enthusiastic as her new state made her, she knew patience and hard work awaited until the dream became real.

Yet before her shoulder against the wheel part of life, celebration. Festivities would include those time-honored American traditions smoking weed while listening to Bob Marley.

I heard that and I knew even what I’d come to know as Baboon America couldn’t dispute her bona fides to be counted among us. Here Fear Eats Itself concludes.

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