A 15-year-old student named Basil, who attends a racially and ethnically integrated, middle-class public high school, says, "When I walk down the street, I know they're thinking I may be a terrorist."
Over the last year, I joined colleague Selcuk Sirin of New York University in conversations with Muslim-American youth in the New York metropolitan region, in a small effort to bear witness to the collateral damage at home, in the bodies and souls of U.S. Muslim-American youth, a small but deeply affected part of the great mass of people for whom Barbara Lee was compelled to find a voice. These young people, aged 12 to 18, were unsuspecting teenage citizens of the United States of American — until 9/12/01.
Between then and now, our nation has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, exchanging Osama bin Laden for Sadam Hussein. We have constructed, detained, and abused at Guantanamo; passed the Patriot Act; and orchestrated mass detentions of Muslim Americans, including some young people under 18. We have elected George Bush to a second term, witnessed the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. Estimates range from 25,000 to 1 million Iraqis who have been killed, as we near the 2,000 mark for number of American soldiers killed.
"How do you know they're thinking you might be a terrorist?"
"I know," Basil replies, his voice dropping. "I just feel constantly violated . . . even if they say nothing."