An (Imaginary) Young Man in Search Of … Just, in Search

They tell you, when we finally arrive here, “You can achieve anything”. They tell us: “Work hard and you’ll be one of them”. (“And keep your head down.” Though they don’t actually say this, we get the message.)

I have a job, sort of. And I do work hard–at the factory across town. I keep my mouth shut. Except I swear like the guys; that’s cool. Gotta know sports too—American football especially. Mostly I’m invisible. Guys at work talk about ‘those f…ing hajis’, ‘towelheads’, ‘burqees’. Actually they don’t really talk about us. It’s more like something they spit out— like swearing–between stories of themselves and their buddies on the battlefield—you know, those “valiant American vets” they know all about. (I looked up ‘valiant’. Was that how they blasted away real people in Iraq? Putting themselves “in harm’s way”… Humph. Who invented that dumb logo “in-harm’s-way”? Americans sure swallow it.)

A lot of talk about girls too. When the guys insult our haughty Muslim sisters, I swallow hard, close my eyes. When they invite me to parties, I just say sure. Hal offers to share his girlfriend (his own girlfriend) with me.

Cousin Ahmed and his family (my aunti): they went to France because, he told me, the French understand Islam better than Americans do. Humph. He got work teaching in the banlieu. (Where else?) Ahmed has no plans either. We can’t think about returning home. What home? What motherland?

Ahmed gets the same shit about marriage from aunti as I do from mama. “We’ll find a nice girl for you.” (Muslim girls are virgins, they insist. Humph!) Meanwhile uncle offers to take me where I’ll learn about women–so I can please my wife. (Yeah, a wife actually meant to please mama.) Baba? He doesn’t care. I’m married; that’s all.

What do I want? I want to pump air, to be a hero too. To somebody, even to my cousins.

Actually I’m gawking at heroes every day. Not those guys at my work. I mean Batman stuff, CSI: Miami, and robot monster films. Still, nothing near like those sons-of-whores busting into our homes, real bullets flying into everyone– kids, mothers, it didn’t matter. Yassir joined the Americans after they shot up his new house. Yeah, he worked for them, wouldn’t say what he did. Actually he never spoke to us after. Gave him a visa, his woman and his babies too. (Broke his father’s heart– Yassir becoming American.)

Eventually we fought back, sort of. (A high price for us; lots of martyrs.) Our fighters sure knew where to aim. Do you know how much military research goes into penis transplants because of ‘smart’ bombing of US soldiers?

Hero stuff is big in USA. I’m following Rio Olympics—not wrestling– gymnastics. Fantastic! Watching Arab television sometimes too–not news–football (real football) and those old gangster films. Saudi TV ads are the best–you see those Australian surfers? And rock climbers? How about Ninja Warriors? On every night here. Some of them Ninjas are US soldiers, you know. (Not even ashamed to say so).

We know what kind of warriors they were, smashing through our streets back home. (Through our classrooms, through our dreams.) What gets them Americans so pumped up, I don’t know. They must pay marines a lot to do what they did to us.

Ninjas or surfers or Olympic races:–whatever, those are only films to me. For them though, it’s actually real. That’s how other guys really live! Even if they lose a game, even if they die. Walla, now that’s for me!

Winning doesn’t matter. All them Ninja Warriors can’t win. See how they battle anyway, punching air, crowds cheering. See how tennis stars growl and spread their thighs after a score. Me, it doesn’t actually matter if I win.

If only my parents would stop this wedding stuff. Do I need six kids just to show I’m a man. That’s heroic?

I was never ‘religious’, whatever this means. I went to the mosque with Baba. (There are government spies there. Baba says ‘nonsense’.) I know how Alaa got framed. (Baba’s sure he was guilty.) Alaa’s totally innocent, but stupid. Walking around in those Arab robes. (A white guy, not even Arab.) So dumb.

Actually Friday lectures are useless. How do these imams get visas to US? Our imam knows less about Prophet Muhammad than I do. He’s a phony. Actually Black American imams– they know Qur’an better than these Saudi fakes. Mama supported me when I stopped Friday prayers. Baba wants me to go just to show what a fine man his son is.

So I’m looking around. Tariq Ramadan? Yeah, a calm guy, professor– not my type; if he’s so smart why can’t he change how people treat us? And that Raouf guy and his fancy Wall Street mosque? Their fathers were sheiks; that’s all.

Only last month our imams told us: ‘Be a hero like Muhammad Ali’. I did try; I joined a wrestling club. But the fellows there… Never mind.

I have to say, those guys wrapped in scarves of bullets, riding like cowboys in stolen Toyotas… over there! They’re no more Muslim than me, I know that. But don’t they look like they’re in a film (a film whose ending no one knows). I remember Ismael (when he was alive) in Iraq. He said: “I’m in an epic film; the filmmakers know how it will end, but I don’t”. That’s no heroism.

Those sons-of-whores out there with the crazy black flag; they’re making their own film, even though, like Ismael, they don’t know how it will finish.

B. Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Her latest book is “Yogmaya and Durga Devi: Rebel Women of Nepal.” Find her work at