August 20, 2007
MOHAMMAD ALI SALIH
I have 12 brothers and sisters, more than 30 cousins, about 50 nieces and nephews and many friends scattered in seven Muslim countries. There are also tens of readers who respond to my writings, in Arabic and English, in print and on the Internet, from my post in
Washington as a foreign correspondent for a major Arabic-language Middle Eastern newspaper.
If the National Security Agency (NSA), using its new powers to monitor overseas communications without any approval from a judge, will electronically look into my communications for catch words like "Allahu Akbar (God in Greatest)," and "Kafir (infidel)," it will find them.
If the NSA is looking for certain names of terrorists, their supporters, helpers and financiers among my family members, it will not find them.
If the NSA is looking for Muslims who are very critical of
U.S. policies towards Muslims, especially in the aftermath of September 11, may Allah help all of us.
Now that telephones have reached Wadi Haj, my village, located near Argo, on the
River in northern
Sudan, I talk with my brothers and relatives who didn't move to the city or emigrate from the country. Last week, I talked to a farmer brother when he just returned home at sunset after a day on his farm, carrying milk from his cows and fresh vegetables (and a cell phone). Not really involved in politics, he joked about my living a scary life in the
United States, begged me to return "home," and cursed "Bush and the rest of the 'Kafirs' who are killing Muslims all over the world."
Another brother talked about the village's "madrassa" (the Arabic word is "khalwa," which literally means a place of solitude.) He said some Arab businessmen from the Gulf helped rebuild the madrassa, after it was destroyed by a flood a few years earlier. I joked that "hopefully, they are not one of those who promote terrorism by building 'madrassas' in Muslim countries."
A sister, also on her cell phone, sang an apparently popular local song about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that goes like this: "Rice, the best of all brides. If my father agrees, I will marry you. And I'll keep you at home."
Then there was my father, a religious man in his mid-80s who can barely hear me from 6,000 miles away (when I talk to him, I sit in my car and close the window so I can shout as loud as I can). At the end of each telephone call, I usually ask for his prayers and blessings, and I can recite by heart his favorite prayer: "May Allah guide you. May Allah protect you from evil. May Allah defeat your enemies."
A relative who seems to follow the details of events in the
United States discussed the NSA's interception of overseas calls and joked about the NSA listening to him. I had to deny his accusations that the
United States has become a "police state" (his words).
My relatives and friends are not exceptional. In next-door Egypt (a U.S. "ally"), according to a recent poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org covering four Muslim countries, 92 percent of the public believed that the United States intends to "weaken and divide" Muslims. Ninety-one percent supported "attacking
U.S. forces in
Another recent poll by
Gallup, conducted in 10 Muslim countries, found that an "overwhelming majority... strongly doubted the
U.S. is trying to establish democracy in the
Middle East." And an earlier poll by CNN found that people in nine Muslim countries called the
United States "ruthless and arrogant," with most describing themselves as "resentful" of this.
But, in spite of its faults, I believe
America is God's heaven on earth.
Never before in the history of mankind has a nation been so free, strong, advanced, diverse, proud and built on a strong faith. According to many polls, most Muslims, like others, would love to come to
America. That includes my relatives and friends; the young among them usually ask me "to find a way" for them to come to study.
But no one made me feel more proud of being an American than my 6-year-old nephew when I asked him last week my usual question to the young nephews and nieces: "What present do you want from
America?" I expected the usual answer, like a Mickey Mouse or a Texan hat, but he said, without any hesitation: "The Statue of Liberty."
Surprised, I joked about being inside it and climbing all way up to the crown. I apologized for not being able to send it to him because it was so huge. But I promised to send him a miniature (probably one of those with thermometers inside).
Of course, the NSA is not interested in phone calls like this one about the Statue of Liberty, but maybe it appreciates them.
Mohammad Ali Salih has been a full-time
Washington correspondent for major Arabic magazines and newspapers in the
Middle East since 1980. E-mail: