Ayesha Kazmi

About

“The personal is political” –Carol Hanisch

I am an American Muslim. I moved to London 5.5 years ago. AmericanPaki was inspired by my unique experience as an American Muslim living life in the United Kingdom.

Feel free to read more about the inspiration for AmericanPaki in my rather extensive background below.

“RATHER EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND”


Not long ago, US Representative Peter King held congressional hearings about the existence of radicalism in the American Muslim community. While many, amongst them Muslims, vehemently spoke out against these hearings, many, amongst them Muslims, spoke out in support. I was in the United States at the time of these hearings.

At the climax point of this national quandary, an interview with an American Muslim on CNN  really struck a note. The Muslim interviewee defended the hearings saying that they were a necessary process that American Muslims needed to go through. The rationale rested on the idea that extremist thinking within the American Muslim community did exist and the problems that this extremism brought to American society needed to be addressed. Muslims needed to “air their dirty laundry.”

While I didn’t wholly disagree, I didn’t wholly agree either.

I too often feel that there is a segment within the Muslim world where the thinking is quite problematic. However, in my own personal opinion (please realise that I am merely one voice within 1.6 billion Muslims and do not claim to speak for anyone other than myself), I feel that the threat as a result of such radicalisation that may lead to acts of violent terror is often exaggerated.

Nevertheless, I agree with the idea- Muslims need to air their dirty laundry. The problematic thinking within the Muslim world needs to be addressed. Where I disagree once again is that the Peter King hearings, pushed by what appeared to many Americans as a xenophobic agenda, was far from the appropriate platform.

What would constitute a more appropriate platform? I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I want to suggest that perhaps a more appropriate platform would be where the exchange grew organically from within the Muslim ummah (community/nation). It is important to remember that while there are many on the “outside” looking in saying that these conversations are necessary, there are just as many “inside” the Muslim ummah who feel similarly. Muslims don’t need to be continually reminded of this by non-Muslims, as many within the ummah confront the reasons as to why these debates are necessary in their daily lives; whether it pertains to issues of marriage, sexism, homophobia, tribalism, etc.

Frequently, I am also reminded about the necessity of debate within the Muslim world. As an American Muslim, I was born and raised in Boston,  Massachusetts and moved to London, England 5.5 years ago when I was 29. I am overwhelmed at how different the experiences are within the Muslim world – even within the modern industrialised English speaking west. While Muslims like to see themselves as part of a greater ummah, they are far from being a monolith. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all a product of our own societies; of our local laws and governance, of the respective immigration patterns, of our local cultures. Whether one says “chips” or “crisps” may appear, on the surface, to be quite trivial, but the implications of such nuances run deep.

Furthermore, regardless of what side of the Atlantic I happen to be on, I often hear American Muslims and British Muslims looking at one another with bewilderment, tearing each other apart. “We are more Islamic than them.” While American Muslims are seen by their British counterparts as “sellouts,” British Muslims are seen by their American counterparts as “uneducated radicals.” I am deeply troubled by this phenomenon.

There is nothing that has challenged me more in my life than my move from the United States to the United Kingdom. Not only did I have to adjust to a new country, I had to adjust to life as a wife, and above all, as a Muslim in Europe. While it might have been my initial instinct to run the other way the day I arrived to my new neighborhood in south London, infamous for being one of the Muslim ghettos, because of my marriage, I stuck around and stuck it out.

5.5 years later, I can say with assurance that while British Muslims certainly have their work cut out for them, I have grown to deeply respect and admire this group of 2.4 million. British Muslims do not have it easy. I believe it is crucial for American Muslims to understand and respect the context that applies to Europe and Britain; just as I would say to British Muslims who routinely judge American Muslims for being apathetic and soft, that the context of American Muslims also needs to be understood and respected. American Muslims equally have their work cut out for them.

I have had the advantage of living on both sides of the pond – an experience I feel is entirely unique to me. I have been part of the privileged and part of the underclass; an American Muslim and a Paki. In the 5.5 years, Britishness, in all of its complexities, has crept into my already hyphenated identity.

However, I cannot singlehandedly speak for any side, nor can they speak for me. I do believe though, by sharing my experiences, that the literal gulf between the two worlds shortens a little bit and that the two worlds come to understand one another a little better. You don’t have to be friends; I just firmly believe that every group of people has the right to self determination on account of their own specific concerns and priorities, and that this right must be respected.

Welcome to AmericanPaki.

  1. very good summery i enjoyed reading it

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  3. well glimpsing yrs insight in tis paper that is articulated from the Inquisition mind of u is so good. I really appreciate it.

  4. I have read your blog with great interest. I had friends from Iran who were singled out and harassed when I was in Junior High. Every building they moved into got burned to the ground. This was in the 1970’s. My friend’s father became so concerned for my own safety he asked for me to play with the girls (whom I was friends with) in public rather than at their house because of threats against us all he and my father received. My dad agreed to this.

    Decades later 9/11 happened. It was raining and I had no umbrella so I grabbed a towel and wore that over my head–and it just happened to be a very light brown color. I got asked if I was Muslim and people gave me all kinds of garbage at the school I was working at. I can certainly relate to what you experienced in NY and am saddened to hear of it. It’s as if we have gone backward in the US rather than forward.

    This behavior has gotten out of control. If you would ever like to guest post on my own blog–since to me this is another form of a ‘bullying’ type of behavior, please email me at bahpofficer@gmail.com. I truly admire your courage. It took a lot for you to share this, I think!

  5. Thank you for this blog. I just subscribed.

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