Ihsan

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reaction to Bullies

contributed to the ihsan blog by Zaynab

I have a lot of experience with bullies. As a child who was by nature introverted, quiet and meek, I often became a target of bullying in my early childhood. It didn’t help that my mom told me to get along with everyone and not to fight with anyone. The bullies bullied, and I obeyed my mom’s order faithfully by not opposing these bullies. I spent miserable two years in my first and second grade. It was only when I finally stood up to these bullies and said no to their demands that everything stopped. I learned a very hard lesson and a lesson that lasted throughout my life.

Shortly after this, my mom took me and my younger sister to our aunt’s new home for a get together. I was delighted to see my cousin there, who was 6 months older than I was. As our ages were so close, we always had tremendous amount of fun every time our relatives got together. My cousin, who was taller, extraverted and exposed to popular culture was always a leader in our play. My sister and I always admired her for all the things she knew and the ideas she had to make our play more fun.

On that cold winter day, three of us kids ran out to play in a nearby playground. While we were running around and having lots of fun, there appeared two girls of our age with a cutest Maltese puppy on a leash. How cute! Three of us immediately ran towards the puppy to pet him, as you know, how can anyone resist the temptation of a soft, fluffy puppy?

At that moment, one of the girls, the owner of the puppy, yelled, “YOU TOUCHED OUR DOG!” as if it was a crime. It was THEIR puppy and we needed their permission to touch it. Unfortunately or fortunately, none of us even got close enough to stroke the puppy. It would have been worth it if we had petted that adorable puppy, but this was a total lie and a false accusation.



I said, “No, we didn’t.” The girls insisted, saying, “Yes, you did!” They ordered us to go up to the top of the slide that was in the playground. I looked towards my cousin, and saw that she was obeying them. Feeling a little confused, I went along with her. Sheepishly three of us were backed up on top of the slide, blocked by one mean girl on the stairs and by the other mean one on the slope of the slide.

There they demanded that we admit that we touched the puppy and to apologize.
I repeated, “We didn’t.” At that moment, I felt something come up within me and knew that I was not going to let them have their way. I was not going to let them bully me. I will not submit and I will not apologize for something we didn’t even do.

The bullies insisted that we touched the puppy. I said again, “We didn’t.” As these girls talked about nasty plans as to what to do with us next, my cousin who has been silent till then stepped forward to speak. I felt a sense of relief, feeling that our strong cousin will now speak for us and get us out of the situation.

What came out of my cousin’s mouth completely took me by surprise. She took a subservient position and offered to do anything they wanted her to do. She pleaded and appeased. I couldn’t believe what I witnessed. I never saw it as a part of her character. Where did this come from? With this new ‘weakness’ that I saw in my cousin, she was now a different person in my eyes.

I stubbornly refused to obey the mean girls. My loyal younger sister stuck by me silently glaring at them. Pretty soon, the mean girls invited my cousin to go with them and left us behind. We went back to our aunt’s home, reported what had happened, and wondered whatever had happened to our cousin.

A few hours later, our cousin returned to aunt’s home with lots of excitement. She told us how those girls took her to their home, played with her and showed her their treasures; how they were so nice to her and gave her gifts. She was happy. Even in my childish mind, I was able to figure out that my cousin gained the bullies’ favors by becoming their servant and a pet, not as their equal friend. In return, they bestowed on her their special treatment and wonderful material rewards for her obedience, subservience and willing acknowledgement and acquiescence to their power, while my sister and I were ‘cast away’ for opposition, resistance and disobedience. For a second, I wondered if I should have done what she did, but even in 8 years of my short life, I knew that it would not have felt right.

Why am I telling this story? In face of bullies, I think adults react more or less in the same way as we did as children. We all have our own style. Some of us are like me, become stubborn, obstinate and resist. Some are like my cousin, and volunteer to serve the bully, cooperate with them hoping to secure safety. In return, they receive acceptance and favors from the bullies. In this, they find happiness. Others may stay silent and just watch from behind, just like my little sister did at the time. I must say that my sister turned out to be quite a fighter as she grew older. So there are some brave people who take action, and are willing to face negative consequences of speaking up against injustice.

Many American Muslims and Islamic organizations after 9/11 behaved much like my cousin. The U.S. government acted much like those bullies who told us that we touched their puppy. The government accused us of something with which we personally never had anything to do, suspected that we were up to no good, and instituted oppressive, unjust policies against Muslims.

In return, many Muslims and Islamic organizations in the U.S. chose to cooperate with the government agencies, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security, who were enforcing those unjust laws. Some even went to the extent of ‘condemning’ all those ‘bad Muslims’ in public statements (because that’s what Uncle Sam wanted us to do) while never before publicly condemning any acts of oppression and injustice either by Muslims or by the U.S. or any other country.

We now try very hard to be ‘moderate,’ as we feel the pressure from the U.S. government to be nice and agreeable. Some individuals and organizations even run programs for “moderate Islam” on funding that they receive from the U.S. and British government. The imams who were recently harassed by American Air for praying in the airport lobby, said that they notified the police and FBI about the conference they were attending in advance. Since when did it become necessary for law abiding citizens to notify FBI before they attended a meeting? To avoid ‘problems,’ these imams voluntarily cooperated with the system and still ended up being harassed.

The experience of Japanese Americans during World War II should be a lesson enough for us Muslims now. They cooperated fully with the authority, were obedient model citizens, died for the U.S. fighting against the Japanese, and still ended up in concentration camps in California, Washington, Arizona and elsewhere.

Children know that bullies become more powerful and more arrogant when we obey them, cooperate with them and when we consent to their power. Bullies only stop when we stand up and say no more; when we stand in front of them and oppose them with an equal sense of power and strength.

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