A Marine's Experience With Muslim-Phobia
I have a Muslim friend whom I met in college. Her name is Sara, and she is a devout Muslim and wears a hijab and a very loose black dress. For a run down on how a Muslim woman dresses, the hijab is just a scarf a woman wears to cover her hair. The niqab covers the woman's face, and everything except the eyes is covered (most of these women almost always wear all-black clothes), and lastly, the burka. A burka covers the entire body, and the only way to see is through a mesh netting.
First off, yes, it is hard to have a Muslim friend after I have gone to war in Iraq. It's not politically correct to say this, but it's the truth. I still do associate Muslim garb with the deaths of my best friends, who were my close Marine brothers.
Sara, my friend, is a very nice, kind-hearted girl, who is also super-smart. We were put together by a Sociology class we were both taking, and had to do a final project together. This meant Sara, and I would be working very long hours closely together over a period of weeks. At first, I considered going to my college professor to tell him how I felt about being partnered with a Muslim. I thought to myself, 'What kind of person would that make me if I would ask such a thing?".
When Sara and I first met out of the class, we met at our local Chilis. Since I knew that Muslims don't drink, I showed up twenty-minutes early so I could order a drink in order to quiet my nerves, but it didn't work; a bottle of Jim Bean wouldn't have accomplished the mission.
When Sara sat down she was wearing this beautiful silk pink hijab, which had a thick brown headband to protect her bangs from being seen. Sara had on a pair of stylish brown jeans, and a pink long-sleeved shirt that matched her hijab, She looked super fashionable, and that just made even more nervous. I just spat it out. "I'm sorry if I seem awkward, I'm a US Marine. I've been to Iraq in a combat capacity, and all that entails (you can read between the lines. I use this sentence when I just don't want to state the blaring obvious)." She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that her family was originally from Canada and that they have lived there for four or five generations. Her lineage was comprised of Irish, Native American, and German. I thought "Okay Alli, you're a moron. Way to start the project."
Sara and I did the project and got an A+ for it. We became close friends afterwards, even though the first meeting was super awkward at best; we both laugh about it now. If we meet-up to go out to eat, and I happen to show-up early she will joke and say something like "Goodness grief, are you still nervous around me?". Then we both laugh.
Sara has invited me to go her house and meet with some of her relatives. I will go eventually, but honestly, I'm not there yet. I can't get past thinking I killed one of Sara's long lost cousins. I guess maybe that is a Vietnam veteran feels when comeback home to the States, then have to talk, work, or be friends with a Vietnamese person. I wish I knew how they did it. What if they ask me if I killed anyone in Iraq? Do I lie, tell the truth, or be vague and try to change the subject? Will they be offended by my uncovered hair? What if they start praying on their prayer mat? What if they want stories about my time in the desert? There are a lot of "what ifs."
I do want to get rid of any Muslim bigotry I may still harbor in my heart. There are a lot of good, kind-hearted, peaceful Muslims all over-the-world, even in Iraq and in America. I think a lot of this bigotry is due to how we were trained in the Marine Corps to think about Muslims as if they themselves were the enemy, our version of "Charlie". One reason I was likely trained this way is because I left for Marine Corps boot camp on September 11, 2002; the one-year anniversary of 9/11. At that time, America had not invaded Iraq or Afghanistan yet, and we were told that the war would last no longer than a year, but we would have heavy causalities. We were expecting nearly a one-third casualty rate; much higher than the one-out-of-9 my unit experienced.
When I was in Iraq, I saw people wearing Muslim attire killing my best friends. My battle partner had died right beside me before I was medically evacuated from the scene after an improvised explosive device (IED) blew-up our truck. I was the driver, and I should have been the one killed, but it was my partner who had all the crush injuries. Remember, we were told the war would only last a matter of months, so we only had armored plating only on the driver's side of the vehicle. It wasn't until the third year over there that we received the passenger's side plating, but, by then it was too late for my partner. Even these many years later, I ache inside when I think of him. I wear a black bracelet, like the Lance Armstrong one on my wrist that says "REMEMBER." I wear it so I can remember the happy times when we joked and pulled pranks on each other, and not the day he died, and I was nearly mortally wounded.
I have to remember that Sara didn't kill my friends, and I didn't kill anyone in her family. One day, hopefully soon, I can finally rid myself of the hurt, anger, guilt, anxiety, and fear, which I still feel today. Even though I am getting better, I am a work in progress. I realize that my problem isn't because of Muslims, it's because of me. I know that the reason I am having a hard-time forgiving those Muslims because I am having a hard-time forgiving myself.
Thank you for reading my article. I have only been able to write about my time in Iraq for about 6-months ago, and now it's like a dam just broke. Writing is very cathartic; it's my personal therapy session.
Don't forget, please support the troops.