Where Have All The Muslims Gone?

by Azreel | March 26th, 2003

This information was taken first hand, posted verbatim.

Where Have All The Muslims Gone?
Remember Ali, the Iraqi student I wrote about a few weeks before leaving for Italy when telling about going to the antiwar rally?

He’s gone. Disappeared.

His parents’ phone number is disconnected.

His mother cannot be reached at work.

His father disappeared first… and now, one of our babies is gone!

Where Have All The Muslims Gone?
Remember Ali, the Iraqi student I wrote about a few weeks before leaving for Italy when telling about going to the antiwar rally?

He’s gone. Disappeared.

His parents’ phone number is disconnected.

His mother cannot be reached at work.

His father disappeared first… and now, one of our babies is gone!

His counselor said to me this afternoon: “Either the parents have been called in by the government for questioning, or else they’ve all fled.”

Oh, my God.

Just three weeks ago…

Miss Thomas, can I please have more time on this essay test? My father’s gone and I had to get a job to help at home.

Sure, you can come here during your lunch hour and work on it.

Thanks. I really appreciate it.

He didn’t let me down. He came. He did good work. But the last week that I saw him, it seemed as if he couldn’t concentrate. His usually interested face seemed to slump; his bright brown eyes were dull. (Teachers, at least good ones, notice these things.) I kept asking him if everything was okay. He assured me that it was, and that he appreciated me asking after him.

But now he is gone.

I spent most of the next hour crying. I was absolutely hysterical. Thank God my students were in an assembly. Some of the other teachers tried to console me, saying they likely fled to Canada when our local news reported that all Iraqi nationals and Iraqi Americans in the Detroit area were being questioned by the FBI. Saying that I *couldn’t* think they’d been detained or deported… that I couldn’t think the worst.

Even if we are starting to notice that a few of our Middle Eastern students and parents and neighbors are disappearing. Another teacher said that my story made her realize she hasn’t seen a certain Palestinian student for three weeks.

The Detroit area has the largest concentration of Middle Easterners outside the Middle East, and one of the oldest Arabic-language and Muslim communities in the country. The Nation of Islam began here, too…

And now, people are scared.

I’m scared.

There were other countries in history where people of certain ethnic groups disappeared without a trace, without protest from those who were once their neighbors.

Speaking of history, I was informed by my assistant principal that it likely wouldn’t be a good idea to get certified in history… as there is now a statewide initiative to take all social studies out of the core curriculum save for American History and to replace it with foreign language. While I applaud global language learning, I was shocked at this news. World History has already been removed from our state curriculum on the K-12 level… you have no idea how hard it is for me to teach these kids Shakespeare or comparative mythology when they don’t understand *anything* about other countries.

And as of Friday all faculty and staff have been ordered by the district (which gets its directions from the state, which gets its directives from the US Department of Education) not to speak against the war or the government in the presence of our students. Not asked, ordered.

Something is being done to our nation deliberately, something sinister… something horrible.

When more than 50% of Americans say that the First Amendment goes too far…

When more than 60% of Americans feel that not only is this war just, but that to speak against it is a treasonous crime…

When more than 70% of Americans feel that only people of certain races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds ought to be allowed access to higher education…

And when a child named Ali who met Saddam Hussein and then fled his regime in the dark of night, who saw his uncles murdered before his eyes, when all that child ever wanted was to learn how to read and write good English, and to be accepted in a country called America…

Too bad no one ever told Ali that America wasn’t for people like him.

And so, he is gone. A red line has replaced his name in my gradebook; an empty seat marks his place in my classroom.

A classroom where the American flag has a place of honor.

A classroom where I looked at the American flag today and raged at it, and at the republic for which it stands.

Once, I thought that the republic was governed for the people and by the people.

Today, I realized that people are the very last thing that this republic cares about.

one nation
under God
with liberty and justice

The question remains unanswered.

And wherever my young student is, I hope he’s safe. I hope he’s got enough to eat. I hope he can find a good school and continue to learn. I hope that he remembers what I strive to teach all of my students, that there is love in the world, that every man and boy is your brother, and every woman and girl is your sister, and that in the eyes of eternity good always, always prevails over evil.

I hope he finds a nation more worthy of him and his people than America is.

Update from the author
Questioning his peers, and pressing them to remember, revealed much. Apparently, he talked to one of his friends the day before he left school. He told this student in confidence that he was going to “stay with his uncle in Europe, in Amsterdam”. So whatever happened, the family likely had anticipated it and left of their own volition. Also of note is the fact that he told another kid about it and not administration or teachers… not even me, who (I think) spoke with him most.

We’ve contacted the Arab-American immigrant aid organization here and have asked a few other Arab students to see if they can at least confirm that the family is okay. Short of that, there is nothing else left to do but to file a missing persons report with the police, and considering what he told his friend, they likely are either not in the country any more or if they are, do not want to be found.

I suppose I am not surprised at this, once the initial shock from Monday wore off. Long ago, my own people sought sanctuary in Canada, and in other lands. My grandparents’ generation, fighting in the world wars and finding a place for their art, spoke of other lands where a person with dark skin could hold their heads high and feel beautiful and strong.

My own experiences traveling overseas can be summed up with something that I told all of my friends of color when I got back the first time: “I felt as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders… and then, when I got back, the weight was back by the time I left the airport.” When I experienced that, I had to start sponsoring study abroad trips… I had to let my kids know that this, our reality, is not all there is.

So I hope that what Ali told his friend is true, and that he is indeed in Amsterdam, in school and learning.

He’s left something behind with us, though. My writer-in-residence (a wonderful local poet whose father is Iraqi and who has been there) reminded me of that when she came in to teach today.

One of his poems had been selected last month by peer review for our school literary magazine.

So he’ll always be part of our student body and our school history, the story of a young boy who came to a land which promised freedom.

And I’m so glad that he was with us and not somewhere else. I’m glad that he got to see the other side of America, the underside, the dirty side, the side that doesn’t get into the movies and the pretty pictures. I am glad that he got to laugh in class, and smile, and write rap songs with the other boys during our poetry slam week. I’m glad that he made friends and connections and got to see beyond the smoke and mirrors of life in these United States.

Now that I know that he is likely safe, I pray that he doesn’t forget.

I am sorry that I cannot give out any more personal information about Ali or the situation on this forum or via the Internet. While the interest, support, and love has been astounding, the fact remains that I am an employee of the government and as such am not at liberty to discuss particulars with those outside of my building.

Just know that I’m not special or unique… I’m one of many, which is why I get rather testy when my profession is badmouthed. Most teachers are decent, and some are definitely among the best people I ever met in my life.

There are some professions that are a calling… and there have been many times when I’ve resented being called to doing this, and not something more respected or financially lucrative. All modern American teachers have Mr. Holland-esque regrets, I think… it’s rather poignant to know that your lifework is to build a bridge that you will never cross, that leads into a land that you will never see.

And then there are those times when you are humbled… when you realize that the words that you say and forget on a daily basis are words that a young person might remember forever.

The last thing I say to my students at the door, every hour when they leave my room is this:

“Have a great day. Please take care and be safe.”

I’m glad those were the last words Ali heard me say.

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