Begging for your freedom is utterly humiliating

on 19 Comments

When I was in the second grade, I barely escaped a kidnapping.

A few days before I had a nightmare, a premonition, if you will, of what was about to unfold. In my dream, I found myself in a dark room with no door. There was a tiny window, way up high, through which a little light was shining. Every few years, the dream still haunts me, and I always wake up in a sweat, shaken and scared.

When it actually happened, my captor threw me inside an empty room and locked the door from the outside. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed a brick was missing from one of the walls through which a little light was coming. I ran to it, and peeked out. I could see legs walking at a little distance. I shouted for help. No one heard me.

With my backpack still on, I sat down on the floor facing the doorway. Suddenly, he opened the door and stood right in front of me, staring. I started to cry. I begged for him to let me go. I said I was late and that my mom was waiting for me at home. I told him I had to do a lot of homework. He never said a word. I looked up at him, right into his eyes. He was a young boy, a teenager. I had seen him a few times on my way from school.

Then I started to beg. Even at that age I was immediately filled with shame for having to beg. But I begged anyway. I clasped my hands in front of me and I begged him to let me go. If he didn’t, my mom and dad would miss me. My brothers would cry for me. He just stared. I don’t remember the expression on his face as clearly as I remember my humiliation. Even at that age, at that moment, I knew that I was doing something a human should not have to do. I felt like dirt, and yet, I had to do it. I talked and talked. I told him whatever came to my mind. I told him about my friends. I told him why I liked the swings better than the slide.

He never said a word. He never threatened me. He just stared. Suddenly, he stepped away, and then very casually took out a cigarette to smoke. At first I didn’t know what to do, to bolt through the open door or to wait for him to say something to me. I mustered the courage and bolted.

I wrote my earlier post about having a back-up plan, of having some sort of a home in Pakistan, something to "return" to If America ever becomes hostile to Muslims. I do not wish to live through the humiliation that I suffered as a child in my narrow brush with the kidnapper. The act of begging from another human to show you some grace, to allow you freedom, is utterly humiliating.

I wish to always live freely, without feeling ashamed, without humiliation, as I do now, in the country that I love and call home.

19 Responses

  1. Colin Murray
    August 25, 2010, 10:06 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insight.

  2. Seham
    August 25, 2010, 10:35 am

    Amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Taxi
    August 25, 2010, 1:21 pm


    Survival at the expense of one’s dignity can indeed lumber one with a mixed bag of strong and everlasting emotions.

    Reading your story, I’m left with this impression though: that you must really have the gift-of-the-gab to have so effectively softened and moved the stony soldier to release you from captivity.

    Wow. For THAT you should definitely hold your head up high forevermore.

    Because of Palestinians like you, courageous and undeniably humane and sweet, Palestine will soon be victorious and free.

    Don’t get too hung-up on the sacrifices of the journey. It’s the destination, the arrival, that is the ultimate goal.

    Good job, Saleema!

    • Schwartzman
      August 25, 2010, 10:53 pm

      Isn’t she Pakistani?

      • Chaos4700
        August 26, 2010, 12:16 am

        Aren’t you a day late and a dollar short, proverbially speaking? Would it kill you to read something thoroughly before banging out any random comment? Some of us are trying to have a serious conversation here and you’re slowing us down.

  4. Seham
    August 25, 2010, 1:34 pm

    Saleema, habibti, I can’t stop thinking about this or you. I added a feature to my news lists over the last few weeks “Islam in the U.S.” and have come across so many items that are hostile to Muslims. A few days ago an African-American male was verbally attacked because racists thought he was a Muslim. The on Monday a Muslim cab driver was attacked, it was a hate crime: link to

    Yesterday a Muslim woman was suspended from her job at the happiest place on earth, because she wants to keep wearing her hijab:link to

    I don’t understand when men (power structure) will stop worrying themselves with what women wear. Either they want to force us to wear less or more but quite frankly I am sick of both extremes.

    I worry about cousins that wear hijab. There have already been incidents. My aunts and uncles ask me to talk “sense” to their daughters and tell them to stop wearing hijab because they are fearful that their daughters will be either attacked or discriminated against. My cousins are very religious and don’t want to take their hijabs off. People see them and assume that their parents (fathers) force them to wear it.

    I recently had some blood work done which resulted in a large bruise on my arm. I was approached by a well-intentioned white woman a few days ago, she heard me speaking Arabic to my love, she told me that in America I don’t have to put up with abuse. I was so shocked, I couldn’t do anything but laugh at the absurdity. Then guilt for not defending my love.

    These are trying times indeed to be Muslim or Arab or brown in the U.S. and these are all efforts to intimidate us, to silence us so that we shut up about everything that is being done to our people all around the world.

    So I am torn between feeling that this is our moment to have our own civil rights movement in this country and I am hopeful that we are up to the task and wondering whether I should leave. Should I stay in this country? I was born here, I am more American than I would like to admit, culturally. But, do I want to raise children–Arab children in this environment? Certainly in other countries, Arab countries, there would be many obstacles but my children wouldn’t have to worry about being Arab.

    I work in Public Health, specifically around health inequities for African-American communities. You may or may not be surprised to know how the STRESS from the effects of racism can wreak havoc on African-Americans despite socio-economic lines, i.e., an African-American woman who makes a million dollars a year and is extremely healthy in diet and exercise is still at a higher risk of disease, miscarriages, etc simply because of how stressful it is to be African-American in the U.S. in 2010. I recently listened to a lecture by a woman named Dr. Joy Degruy, she wrote a fascinating book called “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” and she wants that condition incorporated into DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). She argues that the holocaust is listed as a stressor why not PTSS? It was fascinating. Anyhow, she talks about going to Africa for the first time and how she was embraced and welcomed, “welcome home, you have been forcefully exiled from your home for over 300 years, we have been waiting for you to return home…” Every time that I travel to the Middle East, I always have some profound moment where I realize that… whoa, I don’t have to identify myself as an Arab or explain “Arab behaviors” or any of the other annoying crap I deal with in this country, I can finally just be me.

    So I understand you Saleema, and it’s hard when you have a foot in two different worlds. But, in the end, we can’t let those bastards in this country that want us out win.

    Stay strong.

    • RoHa
      August 25, 2010, 7:52 pm

      Seham, you were born in the USA, so you don’t need to identify yourself as an Arab there. Indeed, I would say it would be incorrect to do so, since you are not a native of an Arabic speaking country.

      Your ancestors may have been Arabs, but that doesn’t make you an Arab. You are not them.

      Can you not simply identify yourself as an American? I know Americans like to slot people into tribal catregories, but you do not have to do every stupid thing other Americans do.

      • Seham
        August 25, 2010, 10:53 pm

        RoHa, I should be able to call myself Arab if I want to. I am not one of those “melting pot” people, I don’t believe in melting pots, I believe in multi-ethnic societies where it’s ok to celebrate your religious, racial and ethnic differences and I am instantly weary of those that recommend that I self-identify as American. Please allow me to indulge in some ethnocentrism: the resilience of the Arabs never ceases to amaze me. When I think of Iraqis, braving bombs, 120 degree weather, sandstorms, no electricity or running water and still facing each day with renewed determination -and- Palestinians who maintain their humanity and dignity as they face the reality of knowing that their fate and the fate of their loved ones is in the hands of whatever 18 year old Israeli is manning their checkpoint on a given day, I am filled with awe.

        Is it not enough that my parents came here to flee unbearable conditions in Palestine that were created largely with the political and financial support of the United States? Or that many other Arabs are here because they fled their mother countries which were ravaged by American/Israeli wars? We are a tax paying, law abiding people and whether we were born here or born there still feel estranged from our land. As long as I continue to play by the rules of this country and be a productive member of this society why does it matter to you if I identify myself as Arab or not?

        If I decide to wake up and start calling myself American tomorrow what will that change? Will they stop ethnically profiling me? Will Arabs be able to build mosques or community centers freely? Will the American government take me seriously when I say, “Free Palestine”? Why would I eagerly define myself as American, when this country obviously reviles everything about me and my Arabness? As Saleema pointed out “begging for your freedom is utterly humiliating” likewise I can’t happily refer to myself as American when I see the hatred and or indifference that many Americans have for Arabs, and especially the indifference of the government and the little value they place on their lives, freedom, etc.

      • Danaa
        August 26, 2010, 12:18 pm

        Seham, there are many in America who are profoundly ashamed of what’s done in their name, yet continue to call themselves American because they identify with a deeper sense of what America COULD be. i.e., they may reject the reality of what America ha become, but hold fat to the ideals that made it such a magnet to so many over the years. Admittedly, even at it’s most idealistic basis, the settlement of America came with a price – the enormous injustices inflicted upon the indigenous inhabitants. Still, one of the ways – historically speaking – to address (a opposed to redress) some of that original injustice is by trying to live up to the greater ideals that came with the founding.

        Imagine how many of people on the progressive left feel when witnessing the tea party pronouncements and behaviors. It’s a travesty of the founding fathers’ (never mothers’, mind you) principles, yet it is as american as apple pie.

        My way of looking at things is to try to avoid either/or situation and maintain a sense of realism – even compassion – when confronted by egregious actions and words of those who subvert ideals – in the name of those ideals – whatever their underlying cause may be (usually ignorance, propelled by fear of change, and resentment at loss of privilege). Admittedly I have the luxury of being neither black nor arab, and can freely speak of “Americanism” a an ideal. But I’d imagine that even for the black visiting Africa, or the arab-american or muslim-american visiting the ME, once the sense of comfort at “not having to say you are sorry for being what you are” evaporates, the wrestling with applying ideals to human affaires remains.

        Sometime ago, as a long time immigrant to this country, faced with many conflicting thoughts and having the freedom to react to things that are going on by cutting and leaving – among other options, I chose to stay put. Having realized that at its most fundamental level, to be American is to not a state of being as much as it is a commitment to a process of improvement. Of both self and the human collective, at large. On that level, one can be American while being Finnish, or English or Pakistani, or Israeli. So it’s no longer necessary to move somewhere else to retain either/or identity and commitment to certain values. No matter where I go, I’ll remain American, so might a well stay in America.

        Not sure this helps any when confronted with actual, real discrimination. But thinking on this larger level, has allowed me, personally, to maintain a reasonable peace of mind, so I can better focus on the enormous uphill battle of fixing that which needs fixing. Not that conflicting priorities are have become any easier to handle, given limited time, but at least in the spiritual/intellectual spaces, the internal conflicts – have been reduced to manageable levels.

      • RoHa
        September 1, 2010, 7:45 am

        I have taken a while to compose this reply, because I want to keep it fairly short and to the point.

        It is disappointing to see that you are prepared to subscribe to the same sort of ethnocentrism as that which is responsible for the creation of Israel.

        Your rationale for calling yourself an Arab in unintelligible. You refer to what happened to your parents, but that was them, not you. Before I was born, my parents lost their first house in Manchester to German bombs. Their second house was damaged in a bombing raid. But how can this give me a reason for calling myself British? I simply cannot see the connection. It does not seem rational, and that which is not rational is not likely to be moral.

        When I am in Britain, I call myself British because it says “Nationality: British” on my British passport.

        You also say you admire the resilience of the Arabs in Palestine and Iraq. So do I, but it does not give me a reason for calling myself an Arab. How, then, can it be a reason for you?

        I also admire the resistance of the Australian soldiers on the Kokoda trail, but I cannot understand how that would give me a reason for calling myself Australian. I call myself Australian because it says “Nationality: Australian” on my Australian passport. And since it is Australian society that sustains and protects me, that is what I should call myself while I am here.

        Similarly, it is American society that sustains you, so you have moral obligations to American society which you do not have to Arab society..

        (I know that there are aspects of American society and of the conduct of the American state which you find outrageous, but are you totally happy with all aspects of Arab society, and the conduct of Arab states?)

        Will calling yourself an Arab rather than an American contribute to any improvement in American society? It seems to me that it will just help to sow more suspicion and disunity. Calling yourself an Arab-American might help, though.

        At the risk of sounding like Witty (which would be as disturbing for him as it is for me) I think the emphasis should be on unity and common humanity, rather than differences and separation.

      • annie
        August 26, 2010, 6:16 am

        Your ancestors may have been Arabs, but that doesn’t make you an Arab. You are not them.

        this seems rather nonsensical to me. why would anyone desire to relieve themselves of their birthright? just because there are a bunch of racist islamophobes cluttering our reality doesn’t mean we need to cater to them or conform to that ugliness. i also think it is a generalization to state Americans like to slot people into tribal categories. lots of people here embrace multiculturalism. it’s beautiful.

      • RoHa
        September 1, 2010, 7:53 am

        “this seems rather nonsensical to me. why would anyone desire to relieve themselves of their birthright?”

        I don’t understand. What do you mean by “birthright”? My father was a structural engineer. Do I have a “birthright” to call myself a structural engineer?

        Nor am I suggesting that she cater to Islamophobes. I am suggesting that the reality is that she is not the same as her parents.

        I lived in the U.S. for a number of years, and I know that many Americans do like to slot people into tribal categories. (That is part of multiculturalism. Multiculturalists treat people as though their ancestry and the “culture” of their “tribal” community is more important than the people themselves.)

        I also know that there are some who don’t. They treat people as human beings.

  5. Seham
    August 25, 2010, 1:36 pm

    Taxi, she’s Pakistani not Palestinian ;)

    • Chaos4700
      August 25, 2010, 9:44 pm

      Given the frequency at which American-made bombs are dropped on both peoples these days, as there a difference in this context? I suppose at least Pakistan isn’t occupied, per se.

      Some days, I really hate being white.

      • annie
        August 26, 2010, 6:45 am

        chaos, there’s a huge difference between pakistan and palestine. it has only been very recently the term ‘middle east’ has even been applied to pakistan (because it isn’t a middle eastern country). i’m sure someone will correct me if i’m wrong. an iraqi told me this years ago, and i defer to his expertise.

      • Chaos4700
        August 26, 2010, 9:47 am

        You know it, annie, and I know it. But to most Americans there both just “brown Muslim people.”

        This is where my personal racial angst is coming from. Sometimes it feels like the only thing Caucasian Americans are good at are hating other ethnic groups. We can’t even pick up guns and shoot them without hitting children, anymore.

      • annie
        August 26, 2010, 3:12 pm

        But to most Americans there both just “brown Muslim people.”
        ….. Sometimes it feels like the only thing Caucasian Americans are good at are hating other ethnic groups

        take a breath chaos. for every person out there whose heart is full of racism there are many more hearts that are not. i come from a large caucasian american family and can’t recall ever hearing any utterance of anti muslim rhetoric. not because it was frowned upon, just because it never had any relevance or place to grow. racism is learned and our current media is dishing up a bunch of ugly anti muslim crap right now but i believe we’re stronger than that. this ugliness is like the tea partiers, they are loud but they don’t represent all of us. hating being white isn’t going to solve this problem, it’s better to embrace who you are and show the world those with ugly thoughts don’t speak for us.

        there’s lots of good people out there of every race and ethnicity and we need to stick together and say to the world were stronger than the fear that guides the others. this battle needs good white people too for an assault on muslims is an assault on me. i take it personally both as an american and a human being.

  6. Shafiq
    August 25, 2010, 3:13 pm

    Taxi, Saleema’s Pakistani – I don’t think the attempted kidnapping was done by a soldier, it was probably just a ?normal? kidnapping.

    When I hear stories like the one’s in Seham’s post and the worries of Saleema, I always feel grateful for living in a country that is pretty tolerant. I live in an area where the far right BNP has lots of electoral support, but never do I feel unsafe. Most Muslims here are pretty visible – long beards, hijaabs and even niqaabs are very common, yet incidents of people being attacked for wearing a Hijaab or Niqaab are almost unheard of. Native Arabic speakers can speak the language without even having to give a second thought as to what other people will think.

    Obviously, it’s not guaranteed to be like this forever and not all places in the UK are like this, but I’ve put off making a back up plan. I’m British first and foremost, simply thinking about moving to another country is a big step and secondly, as my country of origin isn’t a Muslim state, I would face exactly the same difficulties there as I would here should I decide to move.

    • Taxi
      August 25, 2010, 4:06 pm

      Thanks for correcting me re Saleema’s nationality.

      Even though Pakistan is mentioned at the end of her story, it’s still ambiguous to me that it’s her homeland.

      Nevertheless, my message still stands: Saleema has the gift-of-the-gab and a courageous and oh so sweet a heart.

      An inspiring story.

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