Breaking the Silence: An Open Letter to the President

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I’m reading a wonderful book, “Letters to Jackie,” by Ellen Fitzpatrick, and a letter dated November 25, 1963 says, “A few weeks ago…I made up my mind to write a letter of encouragement to our President. However, like so many other citizens, I am a procrastinator. The letter was never written…Multiply my procrastination by that of thousands in the Southland who must have sympathisized with his efforts, and our neglect takes on the proportions of tragedy-especially now. In a covert way we are guilty of desertion in the face of the enemy.”

The writer then enclosed the letter he had meant to write to President Kennedy, and this got me to thinking. A democracy isn’t just about voting every four years. It’s about paying attention to the direction in which one’s country is going, and doing everything you can to put/keep saidcountry in the right. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” So what does it say about our character as individuals and as a nation, that we not only do not fight injustice, we allow this country to be a purveyor of it? And on that note, here’s my letter to President Obama:

Dear President Obama,
I take up my pen to break the silence of the many American Muslims living in fear in this once great country of ours. We are not your enemy. We are not the enemies of this country. Sending F.B.I. agents to our homes, our jobs, and our masjids does not inspire confidence in you or your administration. We understand that you are not a Muslim, but we believed that your understanding of Islam and Muslims would enable you to tell your friends from your enemies. And so we voted for you, in the hopes that you would seek just and reasonable solutions to this country’s problems. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “The best jihad is a true word before a tyrant ruler,” and unfortunately for my beloved country, as long as prisons such as that in Guantanamo Bay exist, and American citizens can be targeted and murdered by their own government, that’s what I’m doing.

If they knew about it my friends and family would discourage me from writing this letter, for fear that I might be further targeted. We are careful not to say certain words over the phone, not because we have anything to hide, but because we have no confidence in the abilities of those listening to differentiate between what is dangerous and what is not. When we argue against phone taps, white men, (who can be fairly confident no one is listening in when they talk to their friends and lovers) say, “If you have nothing to hide, why should you care?” What can we say? We’re wearing scarves. We’re worshipping God in a way they do not. The only thing they know about us is that the news says to fear us and the government agrees.

I love my country. As a child I was inspired by Nathan Hale’s words, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country;” I memorized Patrick Henry’s fiery, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death;” I sang My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful. I went to another country to study in madressah, and when I came home I cried tears of joy on seeing the Statue of Liberty.

I am tired of feeling like a second class citizen. I am tired of hearing my friends’ stories of nine hour interrogations. I am tired of avoiding carrying my address book with me when I travel, for fear that after customs officials have photocopied every bit of writing, the government of my beloved country will begin harassing anyone unfortunate enough to be a friend of mine. And I am especially tired of being made to feel guilty or afraid of being tired.

So, President Obabma, I am breaking the silence. It’s time this country made sense again. Targeting people just because they appear to be devout Muslims is not only ridiculous and insulting, it is also alienating, and likely to create exactly the situation you are trying to forestall. Sending F.B.I. agents to a person’s workplace is intentionally intimidating, and fosters an unsafe, prejudicial work environment. Using drones to kill anyone, even actual honest to God enemies of this country is cowardly, ungentlemanly, and unworthy of the country I learned to love as a child. Using loopholes like Cuban soil to abuse your fellow man is despicable, and bespeaks a lack of faith in the ideals we claim to hold dear.

Four years ago you were elected to the highest office in the land on a platform of change, and “Yes we can.” The change was for the worse, and we didn’t, but there are another four years to go, and I implore you to use them to restore to our nation the dignity and honor I learned to love as a child.

A Disappointed, but Hopeful Citizen

What does your letter to the president say?

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