Monday, March 19, 2007

the man gone

This is a letter Ahmed wrote to his friends to explain his decision to leave his job and take a linguist position in Iraq. I decided to post it here:

Dear friends,
A lot of you think I probably lost my mind when I left a good engineering job with the sharpest and smartest group of individuals at one of the strongest companies in the country. I suppose that your assessment is justifiable. I promised to e-mail you guys and explain the switch from engineering to work as an analyst. So, here it comes:

Well, engineering is and will always be my passion. I can not adequately express the ecstasy of developing cutting edge technologies that could potentially improve the world’s quality of life, protect our fragile environment or assist our soldiers by protecting them from harm in hostile environments. This type of work truly makes me proud to be an engineer. Making a difference in the world by being an engaged and productive member of our society is an awesome and sobering feeling.

But 9/11 had a profound impact on me. It changed everything. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in class. That day, the professor showed up late and informed us that the World Trade Center towers were hit by airplanes. I’ll never forget that day. “So, Ahmed, who did it?” a student asked derisively and mockingly. Since that day I have been looked upon with suspicion. In a few instances I have been ridiculed and insulted. I have been called names. One of my favorites is “Sand Nigger”. Because I have some African blood anyway; it gave me a perverse sense of pride. I guess I’m a little weird that way. Anyway, my loyalty to this country has been and is always questioned.

I had a hard time finding a job during my senior year, despite the fact that I was an honor roll student with more work experience in my field than your average graduating senior. By working all of my connections for months and with some personal ingenuity and sacrifice, I landed one job offer in Maryland. When the work climate at that job began to change I had to seek a new employer. This was one of the most interesting periods in my life. My friend, Kareem once sent me an interesting article about race in America. This article stated that highly qualified individuals in America are over looked by companies simply because they have Arabic-African derived names on their resumes. Out of desperation, I decided to examine the merits of this article. I submitted two resumes for every company I applied to. One resume using my name Ahmed and the other resume using a shortened version of my name: Ed “AhmED”. The results were astonishing and quite disturbing. I had on average 2-3 calls a day asking and begging for Ed. I guess Ahmed is not as smart as this Ed guy. This happened with almost every company I applied to with the exception of one company that discovered that the two resumes belong to the same guy. They called Ahmed after they realized that they called Ed. The interview with them was quite entertaining for me. I don’t think that they found this as sadly humorous as I did. But that is another subject that I’ll write about in the near future.

I’m currently here in the South (USA) as part of military simulation exercises, working with world class individuals. And I’m truly impressed by everyone I’m working with. But outside this group, it is disturbing how people in the South make an Arab feel “special”. For the simplest things that I have to buy or get, people on the base have to look at my military orders not once but twice then look at me. It’s so painful to force myself to smile and pretend that race is not an element here. The sad thing about it is I don’t see them asking other more white looking contractors for their orders. Once in the Post Exchange the lady at the register made a scene over a lousy can of shaving cream. “Civilians aren’t allowed to shop here,” she said. I had to get a memo in addition to my orders so I can buy simple hygiene products.

Well, the other side of the story is even more depressing. How do Arabs feel about me? Unfortunately, the picture is extremely distressing. The way they feel about me is worse than my follow Americans. I have lost my relationship with my own family over my loyalty to this country. I have lost friends because I questioned Islam and its values. I can’t even go to the country of my birth because of these issues. I was accused of being an infidel, corrupted by the great Satan (the US), liberalized by homos, brain washed by the unbelievers. What’s most hurtful is when your own family tells you that you’re a mistake.

I hope that you are starting to see my predicament. There is a disconnect here. Am I an Arab? I’m not sure. So what makes me an Arab? Is it blood or principles? I no longer adhere to the principles of Arabism. Then it must be blood. Wrong!! Where I come from we’re mixed creatures conquered by the Africans, Persians, Turks and the British. There is no pure Arab bloodline in me. So, am I an American? I’d like to think so. And this is why: America to me is not just a country, but an idea, not just any idea but a noble one. America is the words of its constitution. Friends, I’m physically tired, very tired from the speechless communications that I get from people saying to me that I don’t belong. It is extremely fatiguing to see the looks in their eyes telling me you’re not one of us. But this America, the noble idea, makes me hopeful. Friends, I’m proud to march into the unknown to take a risk to serve with our soldiers, in spite of my views on the war. I want to be able to say to anyone who questions my patriotism “Fuck you, who are you to judge me? I put my life on the line. What have you done?”

We’re really living in an interesting time where patriotism is misplaced, liberalism is adulterated, diversity is under vigorous attack and intellectualism is considered heathenism. I really have to do this. I just have to. I don’t know if it’s going to help me with my disconnect dilemma or my severe lack of identity. But I have to do something, anything to deal with it. I have to connect the pieces or I’ll go crazy. I have to face this conundrum everyday. I tried to ignore it, but I failed miserably. Believe it or not this is the story of the Arab American man here in America. So, I march into the unknown with nothing but hope and faith in this noble idea.

Barack Obama once said: “There are those who are preparing to divide us … Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” I hope he’s right. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

God Speed;