What to Do in a Terror Alert by Maryah Converse

This morning he said, “Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it.”
Because the NYPD is deploying extra officers on my commute
Because this morning in Brussels….
This morning in Brussels
Like last week in Istanbul
And last month in Ankara
And last year in Paris and Beirut and San Bernardino
And almost every day in Aleppo….

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
Because he loves me
Loves my principles but worries about my safety
Like two Sundays ago, when I got catcalled outside the train station
It made him so quietly furious
That last Sunday he got up early
Put on his heaviest sweatshirt
Because there was snow in the air and he had left his coat at work
Walked me to my train
When he could have been warm in bed
Just so no stranger on the sidewalk
Would make my heart race on my commute.

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
And I didn’t, even
Though I made it for days like today
Because I am not immune to fear
Not above an over-abundance of caution
I fade into the fog of white faces
More often than I should

“Maybe today … don’t wear that pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
Because he loves me
And anyway, I lost my Peace Be With You pin
Brushed off my bag a month ago on my way into the subway
A fragile thing too easily lost
Like my conviction
Because I was silently relieved
Not to have to make that choice
Between conscience and security
Not to have to say, “I know it’s because you love me, but….”

Except, on the train into the city
After this morning in Brussels
I couldn’t stop thinking about
The women and men who will not
Hide their light under a bushel
Whose Muslim, Sikh or Jewish faith
Or just belief in justice and freedom
Won’t let them fade into that featureless white fog

I couldn’t stop thinking about
The women and men who cannot
Hide their olive skin, their black hair and bright eyes
Their African cheeks, proscribed beards or prayer callouses
Or whatever ethnic feature or accent marks them
Different.
Other.
Possibly Muslim.
Even if they’re Coptic, or Buddhist, or Mexican instead.

“Maybe today … don’t wear the pin with the Arabic on it,” he said
And I didn’t.
But maybe tomorrow … I’ll be strong enough
To wear those curling words
Peace Be With You
That I wear to say without speaking
Stand beside me.
You’re safe here.

Maybe today … do me a favor
Maybe today, when police are thick on the ground in your city
Today, when the airways tremble with nerves and fear
Do something extra nice today in your city
For someone who “looks Muslim”—
Whatever that means—
Maybe today … do something nice.
Maybe tomorrow … do it again.
And next week and next month and next year
When the news anchors have forgotten
The fear they sow today

 

 

 

Maryah Converse was a Peace Corps educator in Jordan, 2004-2006, and studied in Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. An essay about her experience with hijab will appear in the 2016 magazine From Sac. Maryah pays the bills by grant writing in Manhattan, teaches Arabic, and blogs intermittently about the Arab world at desertmirror.blogspot.com.