Monday, September 6, 2010

When they came for me

Is it coincidence or a cosmic intention that this year Eid may fall on the anniversary of the horrific attacks on America by Al-Qaeda? The end of fasting during the month of Ramadan (Eid ul-Fitr) may be celebrated on September 11th, based on the first spotting of the moon for the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind (Wikipedia). The convergence of Eid with the anniversary of 9/11 is being used as an excuse to terrorize Muslims in America. Just this morning, Lynne read me an article from the New York Times (New York Times  ) about a church in Florida that will make a bonfire of Korans on the anniversary of 9/11.

The women who are afraid to wear their traditional headscarves this week, the people who are frightened by media frenzy about Muslims celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11, the families who are worried about violence against the Muslim community but are telling themselves that this will blow over are our neighbors, the Muslim family across the street. Monem and Iman invited us to break their fast (Iftar) with them and their three delightful children last year during Ramadan, and this year invited us to Iftar again to raise money for victims of the Pakistani floods. Iman shared stories of the fear in the Muslim community to celebrate Eid this year.

I, who have taken the stories of the Nazis and the Holocaust to heart and have always feared the coming of that type of hatred and violence towards gay people, now witness the effect of that energy on Muslims in America. Ursula Hegi, in "Stone from the River" portrayed life in a small German city during the rise of the Nazi movement. Many younger Jewish people fled as conditions worsened, yet she portrays many older Jewish people putting up with the increasingly oppressive limitations and degradations of their lives, rather than trying to escape, telling themselves that the time of oppression would pass. I was startled last night to hear Iman, our Muslim neighbor, mimic that same point of view. "It will blow over," she said, after describing the many fears expressed by her Facebook friends.

Lynne and I, as lesbians, have increasingly integrated ourselves with our neighbors and coworkers, a process that involves some risk and requires us to overcome our own worries of humiliation or rejection. We would like to be "neighbors", not "gay neighbors". We have been affirmed by the welcome that we have received from all our new neighbors in Bellingham. Yet in my mind is the apprehension that these times of openness may be temporary. I have imagined future scenes where we are rounded up and taken away, and our non-gay neighbors, paralyzed with fear themselves, tearfully reflect that we were kind and friendly people.

Here is my reality check. We are not the only minority in Bellingham, in Washington, in America with a tentative foothold on living peaceful, mainstream lives. Iman introduced herself as president of the Bellingham Association of Muslims, and then went on to joke "There are three of us here in Bellingham." She and her family, her American Muslim friends and the larger American Muslim community, are more afraid of attacks from fellow Americans today then they were on September 12, 2001.

Here comes alive the famous poem "When the Nazis Came For Me", first spoken in 1946 by Pastor Martin Niemöller,

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist..

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no-one left
to speak out.

This week is our chance to speak out, to support our Muslim neighbors.

You can order a DVD of “A Wing and A Prayer, An American Muslim Learns to Fly”, the movie that tells Monem and Iman’s story at .


  1. Hello Sky and Lynne from Kathy Cirksena (in California). Cindy forwarded the link to your blog. I wanted to share with you and any who might see this that I recommend a book titled _Zeitoun_ by Dave Eggers, the true story of a Muslim American family, 10 year residents of New Orleans, during and after Katrina. It is truly shaming to this country to see how easily the hatemongers can incite those with deep-seated fears of Others in this time of economic uncertainty and worry.

  2. Dear Sky & Lynne:

    It is really different being in Canada, and feeling so free and secure - much more so than we ever did in the U.S. Ever since we moved here five months ago, every person with whom we have come in contact has been welcoming and supportive, and we have been entirely out for the first time in our 27 year old relationship.

    As you know, prior to coming here, both Sarah and I worked in an entirely Muslim clinic in Dearborn, MI. Dearborn has the highest concentration of Muslims in the U.S., and during our 4 years working with our all Muslim staff and clientel, we never found one person who approved of the 9-11 attacks. They all looked on themselves as fellow Americans, and deplored what had happened. At the same time, most did not approve of America's foreign policy in the Middle East. They are definately not alone with these opinions. The problem is that most Americans have never even met a Muslim and have no idea what the Koran says. The pastor who wanted to burn the Korans in Florida admitted to never having read a Koran.

    We have been very concerned for all of our minority friends in the U.S. as the crazy rhetoric pours forth on the newswaves. We worry about our Muslim and gay friends in particular because this Tea Party Movement is insane. The politicians who are in it are expressing their incredibly ridiculous ideas with abandon, and are winning Republican primaries all over the country. While I tell myself that surely Americans wouldn't vote such people into office, I am very afraid that they will, and if that happens, no one will be safe in America. I would suggest reading "The Muslim Next Door".