I awoke early this morning and sleepily shifted to the computer screen. Scanning the news, my eyes alighted upon a startling sight: “17-page document identifies Obama as a registered Muslim, Clinton supporter says.”
The first thought to zip through my mind: 17 pages? What kind of form does a Muslim need to fill out to make his religious preference clear? Is this a standardized test?
Within seconds my senses settled in and I realized that there is no such thing as a registered Muslim. The declaration of Islamic faith consists only of the following words: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.” I have said it many times — and I am no “registered” Muslim.
The Clintonista, I concluded, was mistaken. Her novel addition to the charge — these days a serious one — of being a plain old regular Muslim was nothing more than a smattering of dirt tossed into verbal quicksand, or what Orwell might describe as an attempt to “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
But before I could utter another breath I felt my soul being pulled apart from my body and whisked away. When I next opened my eyes I saw nothing but the dim outlines of an empty steel bowl placed on a bare floor. I moved a half-step before crashing against a cold barrier. I was in prison.
I hollered and yelled for an hour until a guard armed with a bitter frown and a black pistol finally appeared. “Why the hell am I here?” I demanded to know. His lips parted into a sneer as he answered: “Because you were funding your Muslim terrorist friends abroad through a fake charity.” I replied: “On what evidence?” And he pressed his finger against his lips, which then stretched into a smile: “Oh, I heard that’s a secret.”
So this was it: I was now one of dozens of men jailed in an FBI witch-hunt that targeted “terrorist” charities serving communities terrorized by war and poverty. I banged on the bars of my cage and demanded to get a lawyer or at least a meal — I had not even eaten breakfast. The guard walked away and laughed. In his mind I registered not as a human being but as a Muslim and that was reason enough to ignore me.
Before I could dip into despair the harsh glare of the sun beamed down on me in an open desert. I looked around and saw several armed men standing near a giant bulldozer and the crumbling debris of an old house they had just brought down. It appeared to be mine.
“Why have you destroyed my home?” I inquired with words sharpened on the edge of an Arab accent. The soldier answered in Hebrew but I understood. “You did not build with a legal permit,” the tallest among them said with a smirk. The Brooklyn-born settler alongside them boasted, “This land belongs to Israel.”
I was being swept aside by Israelis whose grandfathers certainly carried no “legal permits” but a great many guns when they initiated ethnic cleansing here more than fifty years ago. I tried to appeal to the soldiers’ conscience and demanded compensation. They looked puzzled: I was not of the people of the promised land and thus had no claim here. I registered in their eyes only as a nuisance and a Muslim.
A few seconds of silence passed before the scene changed and I heard whooping wails instantly recognizable as Arab ululation. In a dusty and decrepit town women mourned and men seethed and everyone stepped aside as a procession of American commanders marched to meet me.
“Now,” I thought to myself, “I am finally in a position of power.” But I was wrong. One of the men nodded brusquely and handed me a briefcase stuffed with several hundred Iraqi dinars. “What is this for?” I asked. He glanced at me before replying evenly through an unneeded interpreter: “The agreed-upon amount for the five civilians who died during our search mission here two weeks ago. Again, we apologize for the collateral damage.”
“Collateral damage?” I asked incredulously. “What about punishment for those responsible? What is this paltry amount of money supposed to buy the families? And what is there to buy in this destroyed country?” Again I failed to understand the natural order of things. There would be no real compensation and no real investigation. The offending soldiers had signed up to serve America and their prey had registered only as America’s Muslim collateral damage.
Soon after I found my flowing robes replaced with a suit and tie as I stood in an office. “Thank God,” I thought, “at least I am back in America.” Then I saw the website on the monitor. “Terrorist Professor Infects Campus,” blared the headline for a screed accusing me of backing “Islamo-fascist fundamentalism.”
After fumbling through the desk I found some essays and my crime became clear. Instead of goose-stepping to the official line about Muslims hating American freedom and liberties and cheeseburgers I had dared to point out policies that left a few hundred thousand Muslims dead and a few million more displaced. Assigning value to Muslim life was heretical to neoconservative clerics who thus issued online fatwahs for my removal.
I considered my options before remembering that I had none. Reminders of academic freedom and lists of scholarly sources would not stick in minds that registered only one reality: a Muslim liability.
Just as the dean knocked on the door with “pressing news” I appeared back home where it seemed barely a moment had passed. I headed to the nearest mirror to make sure that I was indeed myself: a relief.
I glanced back at the Clintonista claim on my computer screen still confident that I was not a registered Muslim. But I wondered: for how long?
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent (www.crossingthecrescent.com) and writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine. Co-founder of Left Hook, a youth journal that ran from Nov. 2003 to March 2006, he works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area. He can be reached at: