Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Racial Profiling...Diallo was a Muslim, Too

I wish I could write a long and beautiful article about this, so it could be read and re-read and circulated and published.

When we found out that a Muslim would sit in Congress for the first time come January, my comment was that in "Keith Ellison, we non-African American Muslims have seen the victory of a brother (the pun is intentional) as our victory. It is wonderful, joyful, and so on. But my prayer was that maybe, just maybe, Muslim activists, maybe even including a lot of people who (like me, I will admit) really got in touch with our progressive side after 9/11, will now also consider the issues and problems of our African-American brothers and sisters as our issues and problems."

Because it really is amazing. Since 9/11/2001, American Muslims, and a lot of organizations with "America" and "Islamic" in their name, in particular, have talked and talked about "Profiling". Just this month, there was a major brouhaha about a group of "Imams" being pulled off a flight. But I have always been fascinated by the complete lack of any acknowledgement that the issue affected anyone in the US before the above date. Even quite a few Muslims, in fact.

My favorite reference is to racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was something that affected mainly African Americans and got so serious that the Federal Government had to step in and monitor the New Jersey State Police and formal policies had to be adopted banning the practice. And guess what the second largest ethnic group of Muslims in the US is? South Asians or Arabs? No. African Americans, right after South Asians.

And yet just last month, I heard the executive director of a group of American Muslim lawyers say that we didn't get engaged in things like human and civil rights before 9/11 because they didn't affect our community.

Why do I raise this today? Why do I keep coming back to this point? Let me put it like this: while I am a South Asian with rather light skin, when African American History Month swung by, m
y six year-old son casually informed his First Grade class that his "dad's an African American." I don't remember using the phrase at home. But he knows I was born in West Africa--just like another Muslim who lived in New York during the period my son was born in the same city.

Amadou Diallo. A West African-born person. A Muslim in America. A name that is today on the lips --or at least at the back of the minds--of everyone who follows news from New York. A name I sometimes think about. What if I had been born a few beds down at Sokoto General Hospital, and in a different family, with slightly different-coloured skin?

And I also think about whether I saw any activism by our "American Muslim" organizations around that case. Either when Amadou was shot. And shot. And shot. Or today, when another African American had died in a hail of gunfire, did I hear a peep out of "our" organizations? This brother--and I WILL use the word--wasn't a Muslim. But if American Muslims haven't learnt in the last 5 years the lesson that standing up for human rights and civil rights is not something you only do when your own community is under threat; what have we learnt?

We keep saying that Islam is a religion of peace, it believes in the sanctity of every life equally. "You kill one human being, you kill all of humanity," we quote The Prophet as saying. But do we practise what we preach? Even when it comes to communities that we claim as our own? We soak in, and bask in, lectures about how Muslims have been in the US since the days of Columbus and definitely since the days of slavery. Slaves that, like Amadou, mainly came from West Africa. We sit with smug smiles at discussions of influences of West African Muslim music on American Jazz & Blues.

But does that pride, and our concern about racial profiling, extend to today's African American brothers? When a woman died here in Fremont California, the victim of what we all suspected was a hate crime, I got several emails in the first few hours. But I just searched my Gmail account. I am still waiting for the first mail on this topic, on any of our American Muslim lists.

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