We must never forget the evil nor the martyrs. The martyrs of the past have taught us that as our souls lay heavy on our chests, and as we lament in the name of justice, we must remember that our speech is vociferously more profound than we perceive it to be.
“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” – Arundhati Roy
The words of renowned author Arundhati Roy have threaded their way through my thoughts during this exasperating year. While I attempted to heed her advice, my heart found itself fatigued as it experienced a glorious catharsis. I watched the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life become the international chant of existence. The events of my own insignificant life this year and of the vast world around me became inextricable as I attempted to make whole our fragmented reality.
It was the third year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Once a part of his audience, now the pawns of his capricious game, the citizens of the world witnessed his volatile rhetoric germinate and infect the roots of this earth. From the rending asunder of entire families to children dying in cages to the tirades against Muslim lawmakers, humanity was denied and rejected in American history this year.
But fascism and bigotry decided America is not enough. The black plague of hate rode the winds past the boundless oceans of God’s earth. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s perpetual castigation of Indian Muslims and Kashmiris have left the Muslim community in an incessant state of desperate prostration. On the other side of the ocean, British citizens lamented the election of xenophobic Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Between Trump’s America, Modi’s rancor, and Boris Johnson’s bestiality can be heard the wails of Uighur Muslims in Chinese concentration camps. Yet the vulgar disparity of life has not concluded here for history has shown us it is illimitable.
I feel myself departing from my body as an opiate infused stillness penetrates my world. It leaves me in a state of lethargic perplexion. When does it end, this fear and bloodshed? I believe, if this continues, this world will asphyxiate on the blood of the martyrs. We will no longer have the luxury of nutrient-rich soil, only an earth that pulsates with the cries of the oppressed, too depleted to cultivate. It is a mentally taxing assignment to coherently cement together my pandemonium of thoughts. So I have to remind myself that what I write and put out into the world is only to foster a sense of hope, compassion, unity, and faith. It is through these four lenses I tried to view the world and all the depravity of this past year.
One of my earliest memories of the year 2019, is not the precious moments I may have experienced as a newlywed. No, my earliest memory of this past year was sitting in bed refreshing my web page to watch the terror attacks on two New Zealand mosques unfold. On March 15th, 2019, I watched through the labyrinthine world of signals and incandescent radio waves as the world was shell-shocked as Muslims were murdered during prayer by a white supremacist. 50 lives concluded in a split and bloody second. The electrifying jolts came in rapid succession as the terrorist’s incentives came to light. His white supremacist ideology was inflamed by the rhetoric of Donald Trump. Perturbation seems too futile a word to describe the despair I felt in those moments. How many trees, oceans, rivers, bushes, and footsteps mark the distance between us and New Zealand? If an incomprehensible amount of miles can not shield you from Trump, what can? Who can? Yet the events of March 15th, 2019 and onward are the inevitable ramifications of the so-called leadership of the Trump administration.
The culmination of erratic language and arbitrary policies can only end in both physical and psychological violence. It has been the reverberating anthem of the American political landscape. In the face of volcanic enmity, American Muslims have renewed their hope in witnessing the election of Muslim lawmakers. Still, elected officials such as congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and Pennsylvania State Rep. Movita Johnson Harrell, all nobly contended spurious charges and emphatic innuendos as a result of their Muslim identity. On March 25th, 2019, Movita Johnson Harrell was sworn into the Pennsylvania Statehouse, a historical moment of celebration that was swiftly eclipsed by Pennsylvania State Rep, Stephanie Borowicz’s seemingly innocuous opening prayer. More of a resounding statement, than a prayer, it was made clear that a seat at the table is a hollow gesture if our voices are actively silenced. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s minute and hefty remarks alike were scrutinized, dubbed anti-Semitic for supporting Palestinian rights, and anti-American because of their Muslimness.
On May 9th, Omar Suleiman, a prominent American Imam, delivered the opening prayer at the House of Congress. In his prayer he says, “We pray for peace, not war, love not to hate, benevolence not greed, unity not division.” The right-wing took his beatific invocation and like a child’s sinuous playdough, distorted it to fuel their baseless smear campaign against him. It is not only the Muslim American community that is the focus of such incentives. Anyone deemed “the other” can not find respite from the ivory imbued American ideals.
On August 3rd, perhaps one of the most trenchant events of the year made its grave mark on history. A 21-year-old Dallas native drove to El-Paso, Texas to annihilate immigrant lives. Twenty Walmart customers, several of them back to school shoppers who will never celebrate another birthday or simply experience the revived hope that comes with a new morning. The shooter’s manifesto was replete with acrimonious diatribes, claiming a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He lauded the Christchurch shooter and found an exemplar in Donald Trump.
The shooting served to reiterate the ongoing monstrosity of the immigration crisis in America. In the most powerful country in the world, lives are stolen, detention facilities are inundated with human bodies, families are dissected like a macabre social experiment, and children are withering away in cages all because color is considered a stain on the American narrative. Here, color, symbolic of the dynamically diverse community of God’s creation, is met with fatal acrimony.
The inquisitive mind wonders, how did we get here? The answer can not be told, it must be held in our clutches, and the palpating truth should convulse our cores. It must be palpable and perceived in its entirety by the masses. Such trepidation is a worldwide epidemic, it is imperative to be cognizant of this. To unearth efficacious answers, empathy must be suffused throughout the dialogue. We must journey from our own lands and witness the evil that is of the same lineage. The past year we saw the strengthening of the ancestral roots of debauchery. So we watched in India and Kashmir as Islamophobia insidiously showcased its serpentine head in a stupefying series of events.
In August 2019, the Indian government audaciously revoked Article 370 which gave a special status of Indian controlled Kashmir, effectively stripping Kashmir of its rightful autonomy. Article 370 in the Indian constitution granted the people of Jammu and Kashmir internalized control of their region, its own flag, and a separate constitution. The abolishing of this act is to dissolve the identity of the Kashmirs. It is the duplicitous colonization of their homeland. Under the guise of bringing Kashmiris into a pluralistic Indian identity, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims, their human rights were silently and riotously quashed. The Indian government imposed a total lockdown on Kashmir for months. No phone calls in or out, no internet or social media, and a humiliating curfew to abide by. The Kashmiri dispute is decades old. Through those decades this land has swallowed millions of martyrs over the years and continues to do so.
Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s truculence is not only reserved for the people of Kashmir. It rather extends towards India’s millions of Muslim residents. Over the years, Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s right-wing party, has indefatigably worked to normalize Islamophobia in India. Anti-Muslim animus has run rampant throughout the region from the harassment of Rohingya refugees to detention camps for displaced non-citizens to street violence and unimaginable lynchings. However, India’s latest strife is over the nascent Citizenship Amendment Act which passed in both houses of parliament in December 2019. The act allows members of religious minorities who fled to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan citizenship, except Muslims. Despite this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah vehemently declare that the bill is not intended to target Muslims. These claims are a serious affront to the world’s intelligence. The country is known to be run and backed by the BJP whose core ideology is that India is a Hindu nation where Muslims have no place. This law has sparked protests throughout the nation regardless of the country’s best efforts to silence its dissidents. Violence can not permeate the zeal of righteous dissenters in India and beyond.
Past the anguish of India and the forlornness of immigrants in America, we can hear in England the resounding speech of Prime Minister Boris Johnson asserting that “Islamophobia is a natural reaction to Islam.” Over the years, I followed the perpetual diatribes against Islam by Johnson. In the wake of the London bombings, he insisted that Islam is the problem. He added: “What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get the 18th century on Islam’s medieval ass?” Last year, he compared Muslim women in burkas to letterboxes. The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, the Torys and Boris Johnson have illimitably berated an entire community of people for years. So when Boris Johnson was appointed as Prime Minister, the dejection of British Muslims was injected throughout the world.
I can continue this timeline of the world’s greatest instances of xenophobic horror of 2019. Together we can spiral into a misty daze of dysphoria or we can take our seditious souls, and rise in resilience. Through introspection, we hope to find tangible solutions. But I do not have a one size fits all quick fix. All I can offer is the first step towards solace and unity. This bigotry we experienced in this past year is not a phenomenal instance nor is it restricted to the few countries I recounted. History attests that brutality is incessant and unlike its inherent nature, does not discriminate against whom it infects. However, we must remember that history is a multifaceted entity, like the nefarious figures that transcended time, there are tenacious dissenters who are everlasting lambent posts of hope.
As Arundhati Roy said, we must never forget. We must never forget the evil nor the martyrs. The martyrs of the past have taught us that as our souls lay heavy on our chests, and as we lament in the name of justice, we must remember that our speech is vociferously more profound than we perceive it to be. The resonance of our words is deafening. Words in opposition to malevolence and the words of dialogue will be the base of the tangible solution that is desired by all.
Dialogue is the very antithesis of what tyrants like Trump, Modi, and Johnson hope to achieve. They ostentatiously pillage our lands by silencing us. Through silencing us, they create impassable checkpoints towards empathy and edification. It is discourse that will save us. It is through discourse that our hearts are torn asunder and made conscious of our own infinitesimally in God’s magnificent tapestry. Through this realization, we will become aware that without community, bigots and tyrants rise. We must remember that if they shout then our compassion, our zeal for justice needs to be sonorous. Their crimson-stained efforts will never quell and extinguish the interminably reverberating tempo of truth. It is our voices that will move us forward and turn our deepest chimeras into an incandescent reality.