Mere hours ago a stranger walked up to me on the street and threatened to kill me.
A provocative way to start a story I know, but I’m not really in the mood to sugarcoat this. Walking along with my earphones in I was enjoying a pleasant walk from my friend’s place to the bus stop when a man in a blue hoodie approached me and began to say something. I paused my music so as to inquire what he was saying. He began to ask me if I was “That f**ker’s brother?” Unsure what he was talking about, I simply replied “No”. He then began to walk away, but no sooner had he taken a few steps ahead that he turned around and began to berate me once again. “You’re one of those c*nts that killed that guy didn’t you?” he said, “You think you’re gonna get me?!” I was speechless. I have had “encounters” before when people have made derogatory comments in my direction, but they have usually been in passing, usually by someone who has had one pint too many. But this man did not seem intoxicated, he seemed angry. He repeatedly lunged at me while repeating accusations that I was “one of those arabs that did that thing“. When I replied that I was Indian, he retorted, “You got the same f**kin brown skin don’t you, you f**kin c*nt!” At this point I slowly started backtracking as he angrily walked on. The last words he yelled at me, as he thankfully kept on in the opposite direction, were “You better watch yourself. Because I am going to slit your f**kin throat.”
Sitting in my room, even after talking to my friend for an hour and a half, I feel anxious and distressed. I am truly torn about how to deal with what just happened to me. I have been living in London since September last year and despite all the gossip and talk back home, despite all the “warnings”, this is the first time I have actually felt afraid. The entire rest of the trip home, which involved some unavoidable walking, I found myself crossing the street every time I saw a person walking alone. But fear is not where the story ends. It may sound supremely cheesy to quote Yoda right now but, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And the truth is, I am angry. I am angry at this one person who threatened me just because of the color of my skin and because I have a goatee. I am angry at the fact that he seems to have robbed me, be it to a minimal extent, of my trust in the hundreds of decent and kind people I have encountered since I have been here. I am angry that he has made me afraid.
At the same time, quite possibly, he was not a bad man. He was likely your average Joe living across the street. He may have family he cares for. He may have parents he supports. And he may have found himself afraid that those loved ones would be randomly targeted by some psychopath who thinks cutting someone’s head off will send some sort of message. And being afraid, and possibly feeling helpless, he may have found himself lashing out at someone who he thinks represents “the bad men”. Which means, in the end, that we were both in the same boat. We were afraid. For my part I will do my best to understand my fear, and not let it out on someone else, a mercy I hope dawns on him before he encounters anyone else that summons his frustration. I am not going to sit and try to explain where this man went wrong. If you choose to keep yourself informed you know where he did. I am a Muslim. I make no apologies for that. The man guilty of the heinous crime that inspired this unfortunate event may not be brown, i.e. Arab or Indian, but rather Nigerian, but he is Muslim too. But that makes me as responsible for this vile murder as an average American Caucasian would be for the murder of President J.F.K. at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald.
People are afraid. Their fear is turning to anger. My plea is for them not to let their grief and their frustration turn to anger and hate. The people of this city are understanding and kind and accepting. How else could a society consisting of so many diverse cultures survive all these years? Yes, events occur that threaten that balance. Events such as the gruesome murder of British soldier Lee Rigby. And this plea does not end with every White Britisher who looks upon a Muslim boy on the street with daggers in his eyes, but extends also to those attempting to retaliate against the outcry. Defacing memorials to the dead is no way to lodge social protest. Though I am highly against warfare, honoring those that give their lives to protect the liberty of others is one of the highest endeavors. What good will dishonoring their memory do to help your cause to be accepted?
Those in the country of England find themselves being pushed to take a side. But the truth is, in conflicts such as these, there is no right side. I pray that the killer(s) of Lee Rigby is/are brought to justice, and pay, within the bounds of the law, for their crimes. I also hope that no young Muslim boy should fear walking the streets of this fair city because of the mistakes of another who professes to share his faith. But I do not base this appeal on extolling the virtues of Islam, or denouncing certain elements as “extremist” and “not the norm”. I base this plea on the idea that mankind has the potential to be truly great. We have the potential for unlimited compassion and understanding. Let us chose this precipitous moment to harness some of that potential. Let us be kind. Let us hold our brothers in this time of conflict and turmoil and say to them that we love them, and we trust them. Let us prove wrong the cynics and the critics and the hate-mongers.
And please. Let us not fear.