[Reader-list] journal snippets

zehra rizvi fatimazehrarizvi at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 7 01:37:38 IST 2001

dear reader list,

a piece i have been working on.  other work of mine is archived on 

no title...im still working on that.  will take suggestions.

and comments (you can reply directly to me if you'd like)

many thanks,
f. zehra rizvi.


I'm a young American (culturally) Muslim woman working in NYC and living in 
Brooklyn.  This hits close to home for you say people.  I never know which 
home they mean.


On the interact board of Chowk.com, Ras Siddique, responded to a response of 
mine on an article by Azmat Tanauli called  A New Role.  (Parts of my 
original response that Ras looks at are in quotes):

Date Posted: Dec-3-01 2:0:12 EST Reply #: 28
Ras Siddiqui

RE: Reply #: 26 Zehra wrote:
"this article made me sick.
how can you so despotically declare that the clear choice is option number 
three (educating americans about islam and muslims)?"

I would not go that far Zehra. Wisdom does come with age, and this is the 
most reasonable path available.
You added later:

"anyway, it seems really superficial and fake to be all smiling and model 
minority when some white guy is yelling at you in new jersey for no reason 
other than the fact that you look a certain way, and you are expected to 
smile when you would rather tell him where to stick his big fat ugly head."

Very genuine feeling that we I hope will see in article form on CHOWK soon. 
We need honest reaction to the events AFTER 9/11 here.


I'm looking at this call for an honest reaction and thinking how I am just 
unable to write.  I've wanted to so that I can finally get it all out of my 
system.  They way it all makes me sick.  Both sides, all sides of it.

I can't sleep at night.  When I do sleep, I don't want to wake up.  I've 
stopped reading the papers.  First I stopped reading the papers but would 
look at the action shot photographs of Bush, Blair, Powell, Rumsfeld and the 
rag tag afghan armies of either side.  They looked like such a collage of 
nightmares so I had to stop that as well.  I've stopped watching television. 
  What scares me is that the rest of American is glued to their television 
sets, listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry give their specialized, and 
expert opinions.   I've found ways to get out of conversations that have 
anything to do with Afghanistan.  For days I could see nothing rational 
around me except Robert Fisk.  He seems so far removed though from my every 
day reality that even his yelling and screaming comes across now as a 
television salesman on mute.  Bulging eyes and an image that looks at me for 
a few seconds then fades into a commercial for Survivor.


Tempers are short and people are sick.  The air is not healthy but the 
government and the city will not say so.  The job market from its dip has 
taken a nose dive and people are getting desperate.  FEMA and the Red Cross 
are still beaurocratic and ask for stacks of paperwork from widows, orphans 
and the homeless.  High School students are displaced (normally traveling 
two hours by subway to get to school everyday is not unusual in this city, 
blown up school houses however, are a different story) but now have great 
stories for the college applications essays.  People in offices think they 
are going mad.  This madness is in direct correlation to an irrational 
strive for normalcy that their President and Mayor have repeatedly asked 
for.  It would be unpatriotic to not come to work, go home, have dinner, see 
the world self combust on the evening news before the weather report, go to 
bed, get up, go to work, write a memo…


John, a house mate of mine who is half Japanese and half Hungarian, 4 days 
after the attack would look at me and Kiran, another housemate of mine and 
grin.  Internment camp he would say and we would all laugh since we live in 
NYC and it's a big city with thinking metropolitan people.  I don't feel 
terrorized here.  A 2 hour ride from me where my parents live in suburban 
New Jersey however every single Blockbuster and major movie store had run 
out of all their copies of The Siege.  According to my father, Muslims in 
suburbia were renting them out to feed their own fears.  After a while cable 
television broadcasting and Dan Rather were enough.  Early November has had 
2 hour documentaries on USA and TNT on the lives of M. Atta et al.  In 
interviews with neighbours, grocery store owners near by and the local 
petrol pump attendant we learn that the hijackers lived in a cute little 
well-to-do suburban town, they sometimes spoke to their neighbours, they 
traveled only with their own kind and in groups.  They are described in fact 
as the epitome of a suburban desi.  The filming, editing and voice over, 
though make it more like the suburban desi in the twilight zone.  Eerie 
music, shady backgrounds, foreshadowing sentences before the commercial 
break and all.  Could the instructor who taught Mohd Atta how to fly ever 
know the consequences of his actions?  We'll hear from him and others when 
we return.

I was horrified when I saw this on television.  My parents like other 
Americans are watching TV all the time.  Their neighbours are like the nice 
people we saw on TV.

I've stopped going to see my parents.  New Jersey and other places like it 
(imagine the mid-west: the horror, the horror) in this country scare the 
shit out of me.


An email to a friend on an issue I struggle with but had to confront, though 
not comprehensively or coherently post 9/11.

To : Asohan Amarasingham
From: Zehra Rizvi.

Han, good to hear from you….all is well on this end.

School, work etc. are getting back to normal…whatever that's supposed to 
mean these days J

I realized something that was somewhat upsetting.  No one has been looking 
at me funny or making remarks or anything like that at all...whereas it is  
happening to all my desi friends.  They are expecting it as well since most 
of them are not legally in the country or just here on visas.  I am walking 
down the streets and meeting people with a confidence that these guys don't 
have because I know that I am an American.  That's upsetting because I've 
tried not to be.  I lived in Pakistan for seven years and not once did I 
forget or was I allowed to forget that I wasn't a Pakistani and that I was 
indeed an American.  I didn't grow up with this pressure to do 
extraordinarily well in school in order to have a chance to leave Pakistan 
or look at other families around me packing up and leaving and wondering 
what would happen to me or have to stand in lines at the American embassy 
for days on end…

I didn't want to be American but I couldn't be anything else.

and when all hell breaks loose it hits me sitting in a subway that if anyone 
even looks at me funny or lifts a finger questioning me or who I am, it'll 
break my heart.  because when it comes down to it, an American I am and this 
is just how it is.  I mean, fuck man, it's the only identity I really have 
to hold onto any longer.  And even that hold is yet again, tenuous.  NYC is 
the only place that I want to call home.  It's the only place where I feel 
comfortable in all my skins.

Does that make sense?  I'm having a hard time communicating this to other 
people.  and its interesting because its hitting my friends for the first 
time that I am an American and how my experience in all of this is just on a 
completely different level and perspective even though we share a skin color 
and first impression prejudices.

Pick up a phone once in a while and call.



Han understood what I meant.  As an American of Sri Lankan descent he 
grapples with the same.  Our skin color and names put our nationalities into 
question here and 'back home' it's our accents.  The NYTimes today (12/5) 
had the story on the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh.  They describe him 
as an eccentric young man who Rumsfeld is hesitant to call a traitor or 
terrorist.  Lindh's story comes under several different captions.  No one is 
sure how to categorize him.  Some media is calling him a traitor, others 
headline him :"U.S.Citizen's Saga".  If Han or I went over to fight with the 
Taliban, the new and shiny military tribunal would be out in a second.  Our 
interviews would not be on CNN or on the evening news.  The headlines would 
not read U.S Citizen's Saga, it would read "Terrorists Breeding In Your 
Gentrified Neighbourhood of Ft. Greene, Brooklyn."  Our parents would not be 
nameless and location-less finding us a lawyers, they would be mobbed and 
possibly in jail with us.  And you tell me this is not a war of the West. Vs 
the East.  To that, I raise my glass in a hearty salute to utter bullshit.


I live in NYC, one sister lives in D.C, one works in Syria and Rajistan.  My 
parents are active members of their Shia'a community in southern New Jersey 
where they have lived for the last 20 + years.  Is it any wonder or surprise 
that the FBI came knocking one fine Sunday morning at 10 AM?  My father 
enjoyed the visit thoroughly, he thought it all very funny.  My mother did 
not.  Only the day before she heard how a 55 year old Pakistani man died 
under INS detention in jail.  You are an American citizen, they can't do 
anything to you Amee, I say to her.   She looks at me wearily.  If they want 
to, nothing will stop them from taking your father away.  They have 
absolutely no reason to, I tell my mother, but that doesn't comfort her.  My 
mother is reliving the political agony of Karachi they thought they had left 
behind when they left in the early 90's.  As one Pakistani quoted in the 
NYTimes said, "In my country, its never good when the authorities come 
knocking on your door".  They are knocking on every Muslim door though.  My 
parents, probably were not the only ones asked if their children would like 
to join the FBI.  Amee was probably the only one though who looked mortally 
offended and told them her daughters were not into spying and lying.

Bush, evil incarnate, passed the anti-terrorism bill, Amee tells me, getting 
more and more animated as she talks about how any one of us could be picked 
up at any given moment.  Don't talk to people.   Don't say anything to them 
about the war, about Osama or about anything, she tells me.  I tell her to 
get out of Jersey before she completely loses it.  I am unable to see why 
any brown skinned person is living in anything but a city these days.

She is convinced, however, that the world is coming to an end.  She called 
me again today with yet another sign that the end is near.  December 5th and 
its going to be 70 F degrees.  Along with a bunker, I think she is going to 
start building an ark in the backyard.  They are preparing for anything and 
everything under the American sun.  In such confusing and horrible times, I 
can't find it in me to talk to them rationally about anything.  How do you 
tell a woman who is afraid to go shopping because she wears hijab that she 
has unalienable rights as a citizen?  How do you tell her something like 
that when she is yelled at, stared at, honked at and verbally abused post 
9/11 on a daily basis?  You don't.  You just listen to her talk and try to 
keep your own sanity intact by not dreaming about it every night.

You sleep, you wake up, you go to work.

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