The Abandoned Bridge
As Parisians hid from the unimaginable Friday night horrors of the Islamic State, the Islamic galleries of New York's Metropolitan Museum were hosting an evening of music in their Moroccan courtyard. The galleries, filled with the treasures of the Middle East and South Asia, have become a symbol of dialogue in the aftermath of 9/11. They’re inspiring and inviting, programmed with exhibitions and lectures to build bridges of understanding.
And yet there I was, stuck in beautiful concert feeling absurdly out of place, obsessively following horrific tweets and FB updates from the newsroom: Borders closing, a state of emergency, a declaration of war.
We as Western Muslims are always caught in the crossfire of this ‘clash of civilizations’ – confronted by the burden of these stories in a uniquely exhausting way. We first react among ourselves by hoping it ‘wasn’t a Muslim.’ Then we post updates to ensure we condemn the horrors, and then we get stuck in a feedback loop of explanation, conversation and eventual resignation.
The moment the news from Paris began to trickle in, I knew this was hardly the moment to speak of peace and our fraught identities. I was on a reporting trip to Paris after the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and it became clear there were ticking time bombs lurking in the country's poor, segregated Muslim communities. The attack in Paris is a game changing event that will yield essays, round tables and political rallies – a story of unprecedented Muslim violence against European freedoms.
As music streamed through the Met’s Galleries, I realized I’d pursued my career in the 'news' to help build this bridge of understanding…but somehow the news keeps getting in my way.
Ours are the Muslim voices drowned out by the news cycle, the quieter voices that refuse to lose our idealism and fundamental belief in shared values. We love death metal and indie concerts, we live in gentrifying neighborhoods from Bushwick to the 11th Arrondissement and we navigate accusations of extremism, violence, and disloyalty with accomplishment and respect.
If globalization has birthed transnational terrorists and war refugees, it has also given rise to a generation built of new combinations and new identities.
But every rope and column on this bridge has been shaken and weakened. Is the gulf too vast and the waters too deep to even justify connection? Restorations of broken infrastructure take time, resources and patience. They take commitment and sacrifice.
Unfortunately, for now our bridge remains closed to traffic.