Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

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About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

A glass of Pinot Noir with your Halal Biriyani? July 17 2009

Wasima makes this smashing biriyani… the kind that people travel over fifty miles to eat. Juicy, succulent, fresh khashi (goat) with tender kalijira rice, just a hint of zafran, few toasted almonds and lot’s of love….sprinkled to make a sumptuous meal. Take a little bit of lemony-fresh cucumber-tomato salad, some mango chutney… makes your mouth water!

But you know what also opens another dimension of that Biriyani? A great glass of a Syrah, Pinot Noir or a good Meritage.

I had a call from a friend recently, who was invited at our home to dinner; he warned me that they only consumed halal (permissible) meat. This posed a huge quandary for me: halal biriyani with a glass of Pinot? Do I need to change my wine selection??

When I first came to the US, I was totally confused by this concept of halal. Having grown up in a country where this food selection criterion was just never discussed, I didn’t understand, how to adjust to this new world of uncertainty. Am I to assume that everything that’s not halal is Haram (forbidden)?

In Toledo, Ohio, we had a unique Egyptian cleric at our mosque, who at a Sunday sermon told us not to make too big of a deal on this “halal meat”concept; if you can’t find a halal store, just say your prayers before you eat; the origins of the halal concept was really developed from the concern for food safety (very similar to Kosher) and in America, there are laws that keep the food safe, said our Imam. I remember him forbidding us from buying halal meat from a monopolistic meat seller who overcharged us for just putting on this label!

On a differnt incidence, I was shocked when a young couple once called and told us that by putting up lights during the traditional US holiday (Christmas) seasons, we were being “un-Islamic”.

While growing up in a Muslim majority country, our early growth environments were liberal and respectful of all faiths. My father had a simple belief; it’s not the amount of prayers that really make someone religious; it’s their good deeds and humanity (truth, love, caring).

At that same time, I experienced Pujas at my friends homes and remember Christmas parties at our teachers home in Chittagong; I was always taught that all religions are good and people just pray in different forms (just like we like wearing different clothes).

As I have made my home in a country where cultures and religions intermingle like a wonderful “salad bowl” (every item is distinctive, but together they are even more delicious) one always questions, what (rituals) to discard and what to cling on to. One also treads gently on the concept of beliefs versus taboos.

As we grow older, it’s just pointless to provide room for “litmus testing” of what makes us a good person or not. As long as we are not hurting or disrespecting someone, how can one human have the ordained “authority” to provide a litmus test?

Instead of getting all caught up on food labels, I would rather teach my children that clothes, at a fancy department store, sewn by children under a certain age, are haram; or, Hummers, spewing heavy amount of carbon in our environment are more likely to be “haramful” (not just harmful!). Meaningless or destructive chatter (specially about others) has to be qualified as haram. Wasteful spending or delinquency of thought may be considered the same way.

While I ponder about all of this heavy duty stuff, my succulent “Halal” Biriyani beckons; so does my contradictory glass of Pinot, side by side, like a jigsaw puzzle; sometimes difficult to comprehend together, but once you do, the experience: not necessarily sinful but definitely indescribable.