Some people start their morning facing hard questions such as ‘what breakfast or coffee will I have?’ and ‘what shoe or shirt should I wear?’. Every morning however I wake up and ask myself, ‘who am I?’, ‘what identity am I wearing today?’. A time of anguish and doubt, an identity crisis in the making, my identity keeps on forming, evolving and regressing and is questioned every day.
When I left Egypt more than 30 years ago, I was a disgruntled, confused Egyptian, an Arab Muslim who was shopping around for a better life and better identity. Living 25 years of my life under a despotic dictatorship in Egypt, my personal identity was as a proud Egyptian; Arab or Muslim. That didn’t work well for me though, and defeat after defeat I left for America and escaped to a faraway place, a place that is as glamorous as their movies and seducing as their bottles of Coca-Cola.
Once I set foot in the land of the free, I was fascinated by the commercial freedom that America offered. As a consumer I was free, I was allowed to work and consume more. Instead of dictators, brands promised me the paradise. A new stereo could bring me a beautiful girlfriend, a new car could bring me happiness. My political choices were replaced by commercial ones, battles of political competition were waged in shopping malls and supermarkets; the choice was between Nike and Adidas, between Coke and Pepsi.
The divine dictatorship was replaced by the culture of consumerism. The average American gets more than 7,000 to 10,000 such messages a day, yes a day. I was overwhelmed, consuming more than producing. My identity moved from being an Egyptian, or Muslim, to being a consumer. I realized that in a capitalist system, a good citizen is the one who is in debt. A good Muslim is one who consumes the most.
My new identity is not an Egyptian, an Arab, or a Muslim American, it is an American consumer. Work hard and party hard, I had no problem blending in. Nobody asks me to go back to my country at the shopping malls, telemarketers and salesmen don’t ask me where I am from. In America, we are all equal consumers.
The most diverse place in America is the shopping mall. Mall security may kick minority kids out of the mall, not because they are of different color, but because they don’t have the right color, the green. Lately with the election of Trump and the rise of Islamophobia, normalization of the up-normal became the norm. Following this, the life of a Muslim has become a living hell. I’m blamed for all sorts of vices, my religion and my prophet is insulated and degraded with a daily dose fed to the hungry patriotic Americans.
Before Trump was elected, Muslims and minorities turned to the first black president, the darling of white liberals, Barack Obama, who was given a pass for his right-wing policy supporting Wall Street jihadists, giving trillions of dollars to failed banks and financial institutions, leaving millions of poor folk in debt, engaging in half a dozen wars abroad, killing thousands of innocents with his remote toy drones.
Muslims, and a lot of minorities, were disappointed and disillusioned, becoming politically homeless. Muslims have been trying to assimilate for years, toning down their Islamic identities, changing their names and using more skin whitening product. Women started wearing hats instead of hijabs or wearing American flag hijabs. We have Muslims also adopting the #MeToo movement, even reporting sexual assaults in Haj.
All Muslims have jumped onto the pop culture wagon, competing in American Idol, fashion shows for Muslims, drinking, eating pork at American restaurants, having girlfriends and boyfriends, having more sex, and visiting shopping malls more often. They even now make movies that suit the American mainstream audience, with films like “The Big Sick”, the Muslim version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, where Muslims, to be accepted and win the white girl, must denounce their religion and culture.
With all these assimilation attempts, Muslims are still singled out, assaulted, their mosques attacked, their religion having been degraded and insulted. According to a FBI report, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by nearly 20 percent, and almost 79 percent of all hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or religion.
Now in Trumpland, blaming Islam and Muslims for all vices in the world has become the policy and culture of the Trump administration. Officials in the current administration accuse Muslims and Islam of being anti-American. Foreign Policy magazine published an article with the headline “The Trump Administration’s Islamophobic Holy Grail”. Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy think tank, was quoted in The Atlantic that Trump uses the verminous anti-Islam/Muslims propaganda for his foreign policy and “that Islam is not actually a religion. It is a totalitarian political ideology. Thus, its adherents should be treated not like Christians or Jews, but like American Nazis during World War II.”
The more nonsensical assaults and attacks on American Muslims that are ‘allowed’ in this country, the more American Muslims find it hard to be full citizens, their identity veering more to being a Muslim than an American. One more thing for Americans to ponder; Muslims around the world do not elect their criminals, but here, we seem to. Vote carefully next time.
Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America, www.ahmediatv.com and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.