By John Bilal
As I learned of the convening of congressional hearings investigating Muslims in America, my mind was flooded with a screaming paradox. Is this America a land of the free; a home of the brave? Or – is this America, a land of suspicion, and home of the cowardly? Could I too be consumed by a fear; fogging my mind and making profound words ring hollow? Would I return to the mind that has come up from beneath the vessel of state; the ship of dreams, the American dream? Now that I have been freed by blood, sweat, and tears, and having learned to accept to dream an American dream, will I now be relegated to even more bigotries and drown in an unending nightmare?
I am a Muslim American, an African-American, and a former United States Marine. In 1978, I stood finely poised at attention in the typical razor sharp Marine Corps manner before a Board of Meritorious Promotion. I was moving with a trained precision, wide-eyed and nervously alert, ready for attacking any possible question. The moment of truth came when the questioning Officer, one Captain Outlaw stared me coldly in the eyes and asked me to explain to the Board, how as a Muslim, I could respond to a call to fight in the Middle East against other Muslims. My response was “I am a young American Marine, and I trust the purpose of America is to be a champion for freedom and Justice; that is why I joined the Marines, and that is why I would fight any enemy of American, any enemy of freedom”. My answer was well prepared knowing in advance my religion was stamped on the “dog-tag” on my chest, but the answer precisely described the way I felt as a Black American who had been trained from childhood to examine the legacy of White Supremacy in America. It was because of my training I had come to terms with the paradox of being a Muslim, an American and being Black.
It may help you to know I was also a former member of the Nation of Islam. In 1975, just three years prior to my meritorious promotion to Corporal, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died, and with his death my entire world changed. Old erroneous ideas of White people as devils, and Black people as gods died with Elijah Muhammad and what took root in my mind, heart and soul was called Al-Islam. For me, that meant a continuous growth in comprehension of G_d and my own place in the Universe. Having moved painfully from a crude racial ideology to a universal perspective, now I could pursue an American dream.
As the years have passed, I learned the Devil has no color; the Devil changes form, and most important the Devil is embodied in internalized deception and hypocrisy by people we come into contact with everyday. Al-Islam taught me anyone can lie, and often do. Anyone can say they are a law-abiding Business Leader, Muslim, Banker, Philanthropist, Christian, Peace-keeper, Jew, Police Officer, Priest, Lawyer, Congressman, Pastor, Pope, FBI agent, Rabbi or Imam and secretly live in a manner that tells the truth – go ahead and say it hypocrite, “I am the Devil, because I do not tell the truth. I lie to myself and to all those around me, it is me myself who destroys the entire world”. Yes, here it is folks, the raw truth. These are the people who make our lives miserable. They steal our money with rapidly evolving schemes, they rob us of our dignity, they kill our children, and our spirit, they pervert our human sensitivities, and gain our trust only to trick us once more. Once I understood this truism, I could look at a White person and wait to see the Angels in their personality – or perhaps that devil.
How does it feel now Mr. Peter King? How does it feel now to see a growing number of people who choose Al-Islam as the name of their religious practice and you can’t tell if they’re Angels or Devils? Welcome to the world of those victims of White Supremacy who have for years had the same perplexing daily chore. Now you get to learn how to distinguish an enemy from a friend when they look exactly the same. Welcome to the world of exploring human nuance; where you must patiently wait to see who a person really is.
Mr. King would like us to believe there are too many Masajid in America, that Muslims are a “Trojan horse”. Shouldn’t we tell the truth in America; isn’t that part of what being an America means? Since we are a Christian nation where 76 percent of Americans say they are Christian, and there are more than 300,000 churches of Christian denomination, with an estimated 60 to 80 million weekly worshippers, let’s take a Peter. King Style look at American Christianity and see if we have a threat. Is it still true Sunday 11:00 am is the most segregated hour of the week? Is it true in the US there were nearly 17,000 homicides recorded* in 2007? Is it true alcohol abuse cost the US over 220 billion dollars a year and in 2007 there were about 23,000** alcohol induced deaths – more than seven times the reported deaths on 9/11? Is it true the United States has the highest annual rape rate of all countries at 90,000 reported* in 2007? We admit we are a Christian nation, but where is Christianity in America?
Are Christian Americans driving our national bus off a cliff? This question is the stuff the King hearings portend. Finger pointing and suspicion, attacks and counter-attacks when the truth is hypocrites abound, tricksters, deceivers and liars appear to rule the day. We know the truth is our country can only be as strong and as brave as its people. We know Christians, Muslims, Jews, Police Officers, Congresspersons, Senators, Priests, Imams, Pastors, and Rabbis are only as good as the real good they do. We know when we all are sincere and not hypocritical we all prosper from our mutually beneficial and constructive acts. We know we must honorably govern ourselves as individuals first and as a collective second for success. As long as we are a nation incapable of controlling ourselves, as by the better angels of our nature – we are by definition hypocrites and liars. Our “more perfect union” is crushed by our own selves as alcoholics, rapists, lurking thieves posing as holy people, unscrupulous carpet baggers pose as congresspersons and senators, common thugs pose as bankers and insurance agents, petty criminals, and blind eyed cowards pose as the brave citizens, and white collar criminals pose as our business leaders. Let commit to stop fooling to ourselves once and all. Only once we can settle down, be brave, detach ourselves from anything which distracts us from finally learning who our neighbors are, up close and personally – then perhaps we can see the devil long before that lying hypocrite sinks the America we all know and love. Believe me; if you’re slinging glancing arrows above the surface of the complexity that is America, then like Peter King, you’ll never see that devil coming. Can an American be a devil? Not nowadays!
• US Census Data *
• CDC Data **