The train intercom interrupted his reply. I apologised and quickly said it was our stop (it wasn’t) and we hopped off the train.
Hage explains, “there’s no point communicating with racists who desire to hurt. But there’s a point to communicating with racism borne of ignorance”.
The weary war veteran desired to hurt. He directed the pain and anguish that his war days left him with into racist rhetoric. In his mind, us “camel-fuckers” were the reason he couldn’t sleep at night. Why his nightmares were still full of the cries of dead men. Abdel-Fattah comments that this aspect of racism can be so specific, but also fluid, making it difficult to fight. When Australians embraced the metonym of the ‘Leb’, as Ahmad puts it, they did so to justify the stigma and prejudice heaped onto Muslims and Arabs alike post 9/11. My friend was Bangladeshi. She wasn’t even Arab, but that didn’t matter to the war veteran. Her skin was brown. She had the veil on. Across the globe, different kinds of Arabs and Muslims were targeted. In the UK, the ‘Paki’ was vilified. In the USA, the ‘Saudi’ became the common enemy. In Australia, the ‘Leb’ was an identity bestowed on anyone Arab-looking and Muslim. This made Rameesa every bit the ‘Leb’ that I was.
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 anniversary passes, I think of my lasting friendships with Rameesa and other high school peers. When 9/11 happened, we were kids, barely in Year 1. As we grew up, a unique phenomenon became apparent at our strictly Muslim school, where we existed in our own personal bubble devoid of the distinctive brand of Islamophobia and anti-Leb rhetoric that had overtaken Australia since 9/11. Within the grounds of our school, it didn’t matter if you were Lebanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Iraqi. It didn’t matter if you were Sunni or Shia, or any other sect of Islam. You were simply another Muslim student once you entered through the gates.
I think that’s why it was so confronting to realise I was a lesbian, no longer just another Muslim student shoehorned by the stereotypes of a post-9/11 era. I was distinct, just as much as I was a member of this community.