(RNS) I am a born-and-bred New Yorker, who loves the city with a passion; there is no greater place on Earth.
I remain proud of the fact that after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, our city did not devolve into casual violence. We were New Yorkers, and first we grieved.
Since the 2011 Park51 controversy when a Muslim community center and mosque were unsuccessfully proposed for Lower Manhattan, it seems like the nation has become more hateful, and New York is not immune. No matter where we look, Muslims are never thought of as humans.
Now a man believed to be responsible for the explosion in Chelsea on Saturday night (Sept. 17) and an earlier bombing in New Jersey has been charged with attempted murder.
As we deal with the arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami, there is already mounting fear that there will be increased backlash against people with brown skin, because Muslims are of all races, and no one thinks of white or black Muslims when they think of Muslims.
That fear was compounded by the FBI’s reckless and inappropriate use of the Wireless Emergency Alerts on the phones of New Yorkers today: “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”
The gist of the message was, if you see a brown guy, call it in. With sophisticated descriptions like this, and the proven panache of law enforcement to shoot people of color first, verify identity later, it is a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, police were able to apprehend the suspect before a vigilante mentality set in to the city.
When it became clear that the suspect was an American of Afghan descent, speculation immediately came that he acted out of his religion. At the time I write this, we do not know what motivated him. It could have been his ongoing feud with the city of Elizabeth, N.J., over business regulations. It could be he agrees that borders to the country should be closed and wanted to create an event that would make people agree with him.
All we know is that he is from New Jersey and was found in the hallway of a bar. Since observant Muslims do not drink, it seems like an unlikely place to find someone dedicated to the faith.
Muslims are New Yorkers and they live in Chelsea. A couple whose marriage I officiated at lived in that area. We are as likely to be victims of these attacks as other New Yorkers. We are more likely to be victims of racist assaults than white New Yorkers.
We can never tell our own stories. We always have to perform to someone else’s definition of a “good American” and are still told that our citizenship is conditional. We have to show we are not perpetrators, and we can never talk about how we are victims.
That Muslims are subject to a double threat is not a plea to feel sorry for Muslims, but a lament for the city.
At the same time, I am here because this place is worth fighting for and one that still gives me hope. In the area around the blast, people were still in outdoor cafes the next day. It is a place where neighbors and neighborhood mean something. It is my community. It is my home.
It only seems logical that if you do not know a Muslim, and you fear one, you should get to know one. Instead, we now have a logic that if you do not know a Muslim, kill a Muslim.
In New York City, almost 10 percent of public school students are Muslim. You cannot go anywhere in this city without meeting a Muslim. They are our co-workers, doctors, lawyers, taxi drivers, bodega owners and police officers.
Muslims have their stories to tell in this city. We are part of the fabric that draws people from all over the world here. The best response is what New Yorkers do: shrug, do an act of kindness, and put on their headphones. That’s my New York; that’s our New York. That is what we need to get back to. We are human enough to have our stories.
(Hussein Rashid is an adjunct professor at Barnard College)