Guest Commentary by Kamran Faizi, Castro Valley resident
I am a Muslim and came to the United States 31 years ago as a war refugee after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Recent events at Lake Chabot — where Muslims were attacked after praying, as well as general backlash against Muslims and immigrants — prompted me to speak out. My story goes back to Christmas Eve 1979. I was 11 years old and playing soccer on a dirt field about a mile from home when Russian tanks started rolling on to our pitch. A soldier walked up to us and I extended my hand and said “how are you?” in Russian. (Most of us had learned basic terms from movies and Russian TV shows.) The soldier was surprised, shook my hand, and motioned for us all to follow him. Tents were going up all around us at a rapid pace. We were ushered into a tent; they turned on a generator, plugged in a small black and white TV and started playing a Russian WWII movie and asked us to sit and watch. By the time the movie ended, a couple of hours had passed, and darkness was setting in. We stepped out of the tent and found ourselves in a maze and couldn’t find our way out. Scared and crying, all of us started running in different directions but eventually found our way home.
Little did I know that our lives would change forever that night. A couple of years later my parents, siblings, and I escaped to Pakistan, and then on to India, and eventually made it to the U.S. in August of 1984. I grew up in Alameda, went to school and college here in the Bay Area, and have been living my American Dream in Castro Valley for the past 11 years with my wife and two kids.
People that comment negatively on social media or call-in radio shows about Muslims or make generalizations have two things in common. First, they have no Muslim friends or acquaintances. Secondly, they have no idea that there are over 50 majority Muslim countries adding up to 1.7 billion people, and we are NOT all the same. Aside from our faith – differences there, too – we have a lot of cultural differences. Before people get scared of praying Muslims with beards and headscarves, remember that the 9/11 hijackers were clean-shaven Muslim men who spent the night before in strip clubs, not dressed in traditional or orthodox attire.
I also hear a lot of concerns over the U.S. taking refugees who are fleeing Syria. It took us three years of interviews, paperwork, and proper vetting before we made it here. So people can relax about those Syrians who frankly had no intention of leaving two years ago until the manufactured army of ISIS showed up. Just as we never wanted to leave until the Soviets came to appropriate our natural resources under the guise of bringing democracy. Look it up, you won’t even find 1,000 Afghans migrating anywhere before 1978.
What you see today around the world is not a war of civilizations or Islam vs. the West. The people in those countries could be worshiping coconuts and we would still find a way to destabilize them because they live above the black gold, aka oil. In Afghanistan in a 10-year war with the Soviets, almost 2 million lost their lives and 7 million left the country to spread out all over the world. Not once in those 10 years was a Soviet passenger plane bombed, a Soviet embassy attacked, Russian concert goers killed or any of their Eastern Block allies attacked by Afghans in any suicide bombings. All of these methods of terrorism were imported from other parts of the world as every criminal came there pretending to fight for Islam. In the 90’s it led to the creation of the Taliban and a twisted version of Islam that is still foreign to people of Afghanistan. How many of you had heard of the Taliban before 9/11? Or knew how they had banned even smiling there? No work or school for women? Friday night beheadings in Kabul stadium? That nightmare lasted for seven years as people in that poor country cried for help and it took a catastrophe in the U.S. for the world to notice. In the time that you have taken to read this far more Muslims have been killed by ISIS and the Taliban than you can imagine.
Just like the gun debate, if the bad guys want to harm you, they will find ways and will do so. And bigotry towards American Muslims or destroying their places of worship is not going to end terrorism. This notion or scary narrative that “they are hiding amongst us” will only divide us and cause more problems. Are there bad Muslims amongst us? Of course, just as there are countless other bad people. Murders, rapes, carjackings, robberies, children attacked by pedophiles, work-place violence etc. happen DAILY and we cannot ignore or accept them as part of living life and yet have our blood boil when the same crime and or a mass shooting is done by some Ahmad or Mohammed. Murder is murder, crime is crime and they should all be called terrorists regardless of their motives because every crime terrorizes the victim and devastates their loved ones.
This truly is one of the greatest countries on earth – take it from someone who has lived in four countries – and I often say every American should be forced to live a year outside this country. Not only to build an appreciation and understanding for the outside world, but most importantly to realize how great this place is.
We were the fortunate ones to make it out alive and reach the shores of the U.S. Today, just like any other man my age, I worry about my job, the bills, the family. I care about the 49er’s horrible season and take joy at the Warriors’ success. Our household is no different than anyone else’s when it comes living life. And if it matters to some, I have worked for a Jewish family owned business for 29 years and counting. They have watched me grow up, go to school, get married, have kids, gain weight and have white hair, and they enjoy my family and Afghan cuisines. And I have been to their parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and prayers in their temple. That is America and that is the America that I know.
Remember that this the land of the free and home of the brave. Don’t turn it to land of the bigots and home of the paranoid.
Valley Voices is a series of guest commentaries featuring Castro Valley’s community leaders. Feel free to submit your own story, or suggest others whom we should contact for a submission.