Land of the Free?

Happy Labor Day, US! (And Happy Monday, everyone else!)*

I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile, now, and on this day, set aside to honor of the contributions of workers in the United States, it seems like a good time to go ahead and throw it out there.

About a month ago, my darling, adorable wife and I drove up to Arkansas to visit Mom. The original plan was for Hana to go alone, but then we learned that Uncle Chuck would be visiting too, and since I hadn’t seen him since 2001, we both went, and we had a great time, mostly.

I say ‘mostly’ because, due to the unfavorable climate for Muslims these days, especially in the country, and especially among people who don’t travel much and are used to only seeing people that look, act, and talk pretty much like them, my darling adorable wife spent a good deal of our very limited vacation time questioning her decision to wear the hijab. Would it make it easier if she took it off? Would people continue to stare in fear and disgust, or would they merely glare at the immigrant and go about their day?

What "Freedom" Looks Like.

Apologies, in advance, but this whole situation got me really angry. It’s nearly a month later, and I’m still bothered, but it’s more of a general feeling of malaise about this country and its people, more of an I-once-was-blind-but-now-I-see-and-I-wish-I-was-still-blind type of affair.

So head’s up: I’m likely to get a bit preachy and political and maybe a bit weepy, so if that’s not your thing or if you’re uninterested in what I have to say, leave now. Maybe come back tomorrow for some unboxings, pictures, and/or fluffy stuff.

Read on at your own risk.

Hana was wearing hijab when I interviewed her for a temp job at Equifax all those years ago.

She was wearing hijab when she gave me a copy of the Quran.

She was wearing hijab when I proposed.

She was wearing hijab when I introduced her to my mother, father, aunts, uncles, and friends.

Why should she have to take it off for a bunch of strangers in Northwest Arkansas? Is this not the Land of the Free?

Maybe it’s free for some people, but not so much for Muslim women. Not for African Americans either. Nor for the poor, immigrants, workers… In fact, very few of us are ‘free’ these days.

I know, I know: President Bush reminded us that “Freedom isn’t Free™” but we traded most of whatever limited freedoms we had for security, and now we have little of either.

If it’s no longer the Land of the Free (if it ever was), maybe at least it’s the Home of the Brave?

It’s definitely the proud home of those brave enough to stare, open-mouthed, in absolute disgust and distrust at my darling, adorable wife, but then quickly look away and retreat when I catch them  and give them a big, goofy/friendly smile and a wave or head nod. It’s definitely the home for those brave enough to refuse service to a young married couple on holiday, just because one of them likes to dress modestly, or because the husband is a shade of sallow, pale yellowy-pink and the wife is a beautiful and delicious shade of caramel.

All praise and thanks be to God, this is also the home to a bunch of incredibly brave women who put on the hijab or the niqab before leaving the house every day and face all sorts of discrimination and intimidation from their neighbors, coworkers, and strangers at the store or public park etc. It’s also the proud home of all the African American men and women who go about their lives day to day, despite the pervasive, institutional racism that’s so inbuilt that we can’t even see it. May God bless them, guide us all, and make our difficulties both easy and a means of forgiveness, amen.

I was born in the United States, and I’m proud to be an American, full stop.  And just at the moment, I’m ashamed of this country, its leadership, and its citizens—including me. I know the United States was built on the backs of slaves of all colors by rich men, and I know the laws were written and the society structured in such a way to keep most people struggling and picking fights with one another, while the rich and powerful increase their wealth and consolidate their power.

It’s going to take many years and loads of hard work to make America great. The political class isn’t going to do it for us; we have to do it ourselves. And that’s the hard part. Just at the moment, we’re all too busy fighting about whose lives matter (Black Lives Matter (just as much as everyone else)) and which corporate-owned political party to follow blindly (any lesser of two evils is still evil), and wasting time harboring suspicious about whatever those funny-looking people over there are doing over there.

Fear and loathing is no way to go through life, and it’s really no wonder that wages have stagnated, prices have risen, the social safety net has collapsed, and as far as voting goes, we’re stuck.

If you’re a lover of freedom, remember that ‘freedom’ is always and only for those things that you abhor:

  • Freedom of Speech is the freedom to say disgusting, hateful things, and it’s useless if it only applies to nice things that you like to hear
  • Freedom of the Press is the freedom to publish whatever—made-up slander, leaked documents, calls to action, whatever, as long as it doesn’t endanger
  • Freedom of Religion is the freedom of all people of all faiths to worship, celebrate, practice those faiths in whatever way they see fit, from Native American dances and Santeria, to the Sabbath, Mass, and 5 times daily prayer

And I could go on.

And if you want to claim this as the Home of the Brave, remember that bravery is saying ‘hi’ and being friendly with your neighbors and those funny looking people at the grocery. Bravery is admitting that you’re wrong about things. Bravery is knowing when to back down. Bravery is speaking truth to power.

The women at the TSA screening area, working in hijab all day while white, middle class people glare at and suspect them and call them names are brave; the people at political rallies shouting slogans, not so much.

When it comes to women’s choice to cover their hair and to dress modestly in public, to take power over their bodies and who gets to leer at them, here in the U.S. (and in the West, more broadly), it’s an issue of freedom. It shouldn’t be about bravery. It’s my darling, adorable wife’s right to withhold her image and to cover herself just as much as it’s Kim Kardashian’s right to post naked selfies to Instagram.

Which would you prefer for your daughter? Your sister? Your wife? For me, it’s all up to my darling, adorable wife. To be honest, I prefer modesty: there’s a bit of mystery and empowerment in modesty that’s entirely missing in most contemporary western dress. But that’s me, and if the clothes available at stores these days is any indication, I’m in the minority in this great country. Really, though, it’s entirely up to my wife, and while I prefer modesty, I really just hope that she’s comfortable, in her clothes and in her skin.

She was neither in Arkansas.

On this Labor Day, try to take 5 minutes to consider some of your fellow workers. Consider the impact that those people’s cultural and religious practices have on you and your cultural and religious practice, and try to be brave enough to open up a little bit to difference and acknowledge that freedom means you’re not always going to like whatever they’re doing but they still get to do it. Sure, you have the right to talk trash about people and things about which you know next to nothing, but it’s not what Jesus (peace be upon him) would do. God made us all different colors and gave us different speech and different food and different ways of moving through the world precisely so we could get to know one another and appreciate His Power and Magnificence. All praise and thanks belong to God alone!

May God guide us all to be better to ourselves and each other, and may He protect our brothers and sisters in faith and in humanity, Amen.

*Due to some calendar errors, I published this a day early. Apologies.

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