Let us, as Muslims, not fool ourselves. The 2008 election of Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency of the United States was a watershed moment for US foreign policy. A man with a Muslim-esque name was finally going to be making deals with, stopping wars against, and lifting up the many splintered nations of Islam. Or at least, that was the hope. But when Guantanamo didn’t close, when Pakistan came under the brunt of heavy drone fire, and lives of innocent Muslims continued to be affected by the American addiction to oil, many Muslims lost hope for change.
I cannot speak for the President. So explaining away his actions is futile. But what I can do is lay out reasons for why Muslims should vote, despite whatever disappointments we have. This may seem incongruous when you read the paragraph above. The disappointments are too great, the pain too far-reaching. But then you delve right into the meat of the problem: our own crisis of self-identification.
Many young immigrant communities have this same problem, most often manifest in an ubiquitous question so many parents ask themselves: will my children become like these Americans? This is not to denigrate the amazing opportunities available in this country, opportunities that aren’t readily available elsewhere, nor is it meant to paint a stereotypical portrait of immigrant parents. It’s a completely rational fear, rooted in older generation’s need to preserve some sense of their own homes and upbringing. It is absolutely normal.
It can also become stifling when the children adopt the notion whole-heartedly. The curve of history, the benefits of assimilation are revoked when children accept the notion that despite their origin of birth they are just as Afghan, or Pakistani, or Arab as their parents. Too often the educated children of immigrants fall into the trap of embracing a cultural and national identity that is not really theirs, in reaction to the ostracizing so many of us have had to face since 9/11.
We feel that by embracing this other identity, by being Afghan, or Pakistani, or Saudi, we are confronting the problems of xenophobia and segregation head on. If we wear our parents’ cultures on our sleeves, then the jokes and stereotypes we often fall victim to can be dissipated. Except the opposite happens, and for good reason. It is a farce to pretend to be a part of a culture that you were never born into.
Muslims born in America, are American. While the statement may seem obvious, in practice the Muslim-American culture is in flux between the call of the East and the reality of the West. Where this is most plain is in voting. Because young Muslim-Americans feel far more comfortable identifying as Afghan, Pakistani or Saudi, they vote based on foreign policy issues alone. They understand politics solely based on how many bombs are dropped, the hypocrisy of oil revenues, and the sloppy diplomacy that has defined America for the past 60 years. These issues concerning lands far away are paramount in their minds.
Therein lies my admonishment and my ardent plea. That we, this first generation of Muslim-Americans who are becoming educated and exposed to elements our parents never saw and hopefully our children will never see – we must recognize ourselves as Americans first. We are not Afghan, or Pakistani, or Arab just because our parents were born there or our families still live there. We were born in this country, and we will most likely live out the majority of our lives here. If we continue to vote, and base our politics on lands far away, on people who do not share our origins, then we will continue to disenfranchise ourselves.
Crying out over the segregation we have been subject to by our American peers is warranted, but so is a long hard look at ourselves. In a lot of ways, we participate in that segregation by only caring about people who look like our parents. What about the millions of people who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act? What about the millions of jobs created when the car companies were kept afloat by the government? What about our neighbor on the street who benefited from the middle-class tax cuts? Aren’t they more important than a bearded fellow we’ve never met?
We are at a unique moment in the history of our religion and our peoples. We, this first generation of Muslim-Americans, can influence what happens in our community for decades to come. Do not lose this moment to the tides of nostalgic fervor that still lap at our parents’ hearts. Reverence for the homeland is noble. We then must decide which is our home: the place we were born in, or the place our parents were. I choose my own birthplace.