Arab in NYC: On ‘Muslim Rage’
BY ALI HAZZAH
The other day, I was sitting around in an ersatz Middle Eastern coffee shop in Little Egypt, Astoria, NY, with my good friend Mo. We were of course combing each others’ gray beards, smoking nargil, and eyeballing the undercover NYPD agents, who were taking pictures of us with their new super secure iPhone 5s.
“Ya Ali,” said Mo, as his face turned into a barely concealed mask of twisted rage. “Did you see this new story in Newsweek on the Internet, by that strange woman whose last name is the same as your first?”
“It’s not her real last name,” I said, trying to remain calm.
“But Ali,” he continued, “how can you sit here, calmly sipping your ahwa ‘al riha, as nomadic infidels of uncertain origin make up stories about us?” He paused, and then said: “Truly this Internet is the work of the shitan.”
I cringed at his ignorance, knowing that, of course, it was neither Satan, nor Al Gore, but the great Vince Cerf who invented the Internet, in the 70s, when he was trying to find a way to send electronic messages to his friends over the telephone. But that was not important right now.
Finally, I replied.
“No, I didn’t read this so-called story. All I saw was the cover picture of some young brothers in traditional garb, who were screaming and looking very angry.”
“Did you notice the headline?” said Mo.
“Yes, my brother. It read: Muslim Rage.”
“Yes!” he exulted, much like Marv Albert did, in the days when the Knicks were winning NBA championships, a long, long time ago, when we were both young immigrants, and could watch basketball games in our jalabeyas with impunity, at Madison Square Garden, and for only a few piasters at that. “And did it get you pissed off?”
“Of course not,” I lied.
“Did it make you shake with fury — all these insulting labels that Amreeka loves to pin on our brothers?”
“No, not at all. First of all, neither this woman, nor the editor of her magazine are actually natural born Americans.”
“Well, I have been here longer than them both put together,” he said, puffing furiously at his nargil. “I grew up in Astoria as did you! That impudent woman! And she dares say, and I quote, that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. This from a woman who thinks Israel is a liberal democracy.”
“Khali ballak, ya habibi,” I said, nervously eyeballing the undercover agents across the street, who seemed to be having trouble changing the batteries on their expensive, new iPhone 5s. “The walls have eyes, and big ears too.”
“I fear no one and nothing but Allah.”
“Stay calm,” I insisted, starting to feel a little chilly. “In America, anyone can say anything. This is our constitutional right.”
An autumnal cold front was slowly descending from Canada, and I wrapped my traditional burnoose more tightly around me. I suddenly wished I had worn socks under my curled slippers.
“That’s bullshit, and you know it. Anyway, why do they hate us so much?” he said.
“Funny, that sounds like them.”
“Is it our beards?” he continued, ignoring my clever irony.
“No, not that.”
“Is it our zabibas?”
“No. Not those either.”
“Are they jealous of the beauty of our women?”
“Or is it is something else. Something else entirely.”
“Maybe it’s that without someone to hate, they don’t know what it means to be an American.”
Tears of sorrow flooded my hooded eyeballs, and flowed down my jowly cheeks. I thought of all that Mo and I had endured since coming here, to this land, from a place where our political masters had once followed us everywhere, listened to our phone conversations, opened our mail, spied on us, beat us, imprisoned us, tortured us, killed us, stolen our goods, and denied us freedom at every opportunity, only to find the dream of horreya in Little Egypt turn to horror, under the rubble of the tragedy at the WTC.
“My friend, this Somali woman can say anything she wants. But don’t think for a moment, if you care for your family, and the futures of your son and daughter, not to mention your own safety, that this right also applies to you.”
He looked at me, and with great sadness, took a glum, deep puff on his water pipe, and said, “Was any of this worth it?”