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The Election Results Paralyzed Me
A Muslim American discusses how the recent election for president has impacted his life. Does he feel anger, fear or what?
By Sabir A. Rahman
This last election day I served as an election judge. After a very long and tiring day, I came home dead tired and went to sleep. I woke up at 3 am and made the mistake of turning the TV on. Then I could not sleep. I have not felt normal ever since. I do not listen to news, do not read the news, and do not want to know what is happening in the political arena. I used to watch comedic talk shows and used to enjoy their political satire. I do not watch them anymore, because I no longer find them funny. The comedic value in their content was based on their suggestion about what would happen if certain situations materialize, with the implication that those situations can never materialize because they are not normal for human behavior. But now, all those situations have actually materialized. Therefore such political satire is not funny anymore; it is now actually painful.
I feel something but I do not rightfully know what. It could be fear, it could be anger, it could be indifference, or it could be any combination of all of those and many other emotions. I do feel some kind of numbness, a certain amount of mental paralysis, and definitely a diminished capacity to think and act. I feel kind of lost. There is an extreme degree of uncertainty which fogs the view into the future. It is hard to see what is coming.
I have been in America since 1964 and an American citizen since 1979. I have seen the American society, and its attitudes and thinking, go through many transformations. I witnessed the birth and growth of the political correctness. Its ideal manifestation was civility; for people to be careful in their public discourse by choosing words which would not be offensive to others. The movement was designed to develop respect for, and sensitivity to, cultural, ethnic, racial and religious diversity. Its hope was that the people over time would become not only sensitive to, but also respectful of the diversity, thereby creating harmony among people of various different backgrounds.
It must have worked for some people but apparently did not work for all. For many people, the practical manifestation of the political correctness was to shield their inner feelings during their public discourse. They may have never changed their inner feelings and thoughts about the ‘other’, the people who were different from them. But it taught them not to let their inner thoughts become part of their public discourse. They built a barrier between their true feelings about others and their public interaction with those others. The political correctness became such a powerful force that some people were compelled to create that barrier to hide their true feelings.
Two things happened over the last few years which finally broke that barrier. First, it was weakened by the economic downturn which began in 2007 and became real painful for a large number of people very soon. Economy has improved since then, but while that improvement is highly visible in aggregate numbers, the fruits of its improvement are not widely distributed. There are still a whole lot of people who continue to feel the hurt; they hurt badly.
An unprecedented level of foreclosures, high unemployment whose visible aggregate improvement hides the serious underemployment and dwindling earnings, the rising cost-of-living greatly outpacing the earnings and thereby squeezing a large number of people hard pressed to make ends meet, and the general lack of recognition of these conditions by the power structure which continues to applaud the economic recovery without paying ample attention to its lack of distribution and lack of availability to a large number of people feeling the pinch of the economic squeeze. Those hurting badly from these conditions were angry at their governmental leaders’ lack of proper attention to their plight. Their anger was intensified by their growing sense that their leaders did not care about them.
These conditions and situations had begun to weaken the barrier between the inner feelings and outer expressions created by political correctness. Then, an openly vicious election campaign finally cracked that barrier wide open. The statements which had become taboo over the last 50 years were now openly shouted by some of the political candidates. People who were hurting and were angry found those shouts to be an open invitation to throw away the political correctness barrier and openly express their true inner feelings. The dream of a united American nation created by a harmonious multiculturalism was over. The road was open for a badly divided nation.
The element of division began to manifest during the very night following the Election Day and has continued. Churches, Synagogues and Mosques have continued to be vandalized, with the vandals leaving hateful statements on buildings and signs. Individuals and groups are being harassed on the street, in the buses and trains, in the work place or market area, in the schools, and in other public places. The election has not yet been consummated and all these things are already happening. What should be expected or feared after the new power structure takes over.
Perplexed in such a situation one seeks a solution, a way out, an escape. I started thinking and searching. I was badly in need of something to lean on because I was unable to stand, feeling weak and lost, completely unsure of what to do. I started reading to comfort myself. I found something in the words of Muhammad Iqbal, the great poet-philosopher of India. What he said was not comforting as much as it was an explanation of what I was going through, what we are all going through. “Why are you puzzled by your wandering in the desert?” Iqbal asks; “Don’t you know that the unending struggle is the very evidence of Life?” Iqbal insists that this constant struggle is an integral part of life. He even calls it the very essence of life, the evidence that we are living. That made me recall something that a wise sage once told me; that the test of faith is in the way we react to difficulty and adversity.
If our faith is strong, we consider the adversity to be a test, which we must endure and strive to pass. But if our faith is weak, then we consider the adversity to be a punishment from God, and we complain like crazy but do nothing to resolve it. My faith must be very weak because I always consider any difficulty to be a punishment; and I do not want to be tested. I hate being tested. Am I unique in this respect? I hope not.
If there are others like me, I have a request for them. Let us stop complaining and get to work to take and pass the test. Let us listen to what Gandalf told Frodo in the Mines of Moria. Frustrated by the never ending misery Frodo cried; “I wish the Ring had never come to me and none of this had happened”. To which Gandalf replied; “So do all who live to see such times. That is not for them to decide. All they have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to them”.
It is times such as the ones we are facing now which compel us to consider and even accept the concept of predestination, no matter how much the logic may argue against such a thing. In the words of Omar Khayyam; “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.” So, it is no use to be witty or even to shed tears. It is time to do something to improve our lot.
If we are destined to play the hand that is dealt to us, and struggle through whatever life throws at us, we need a plan to make the best of it. Iqbal provides some guidance for that also. “Oh you, who are eager to die for the Truth, first create some life in your lifeless body of clay.” Life is necessary for a body to function. To say something, one has to be living; a body has to have a life. Lifeless body cannot produce sound. Lifeless body has no sound.
Many years ago a prominent and successful Democratic Leader explained to a small group of us the difference between Democratic Party and Republican Party. He said that the Democrats always had hard time deciding what they want or do not want, and they just keep on intellectualizing. The Republicans always know exactly what they want and they go straight for it without any hesitation. How true! This election has illustrated this point so clearly. The Democrats could not decide who to support or who to oppose. Then a large number of them became so entangled in their own indecisiveness that they just could not leave home on the Election Day, handing the election over by default. How do they feel now? Are they proud of their indecisiveness?
Can we hope to have learned the lesson and have decided to overcome our self-inflicted malaise? Can we hope to become decisive and agree to focus? To paraphrase Iqbal, “Salvation lies in cooperation, coordination and unity of purpose, but unfortunately my people are as yet ignorant of this principle”. Those of our Leaders, who are at least pointing the right way need to cooperate, coordinate and unite for the common purpose.
They need to recognize the sufferings of millions who have not yet been able to recover from the economic downturn of a decade ago and reach out to them with solutions; real solutions and not just meaningless talk. American people are very descent people and they are fully capable of recognizing real effort at making the improvement. They are also very smart; they can recognize lack of effort and indifference. This election has shown this. Real change is now needed.
(Sabir A. Rahman is a Maryland based writer. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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