Katrina Through the Eyes of a Muslim

Americans for long have had a false sense of security. American children are raised to believe that we are living in an island of civilization amongst an uncivilized world. You are told that everything American is naturally better and all others live in a state of inferiority. Mass tragedy does not happen in America you are told; that is reserved for the third world.

September 11, 2001 woke-up a lot of Americans. “How could this happen here?” they asked themselves. Americans had a false sense of security and believed that they were immune to tragedy and thought they could live lives of leisure without giving thought to the problems of the world. The vast majority of Americans (contrary to what many in the Muslim World believe) could care less about what is going on in Palestine or Kashmir; they are concerned about football on Sunday, baseball in October and in checking out the newest restaurant or nightclub on the weekend.

Dead bodies in the street, collapsed buildings and mass casualties was supposed to be something that Americans saw on the nightly news just before flipping the channel to the latest reality TV show or sports program. So Americans walked around in a state of shock after 9-11 and since that moment have lived with the reality that things like that could happen in the US given the global political climate especially as it relates to Muslims ( and we as Muslims have now been scapegoated in America to be responsible for all ills in the world).

It is not only true that Americans have seen themselves as immune from political violence in the past but Americans have almost had the sense that they are immune from nature. Even if a natural disaster occurs Americans have historically felt that because of the quality of American architecture and the infrastructure of the nation that the US would be immune from receiving large loss of life. Then Katrina hit.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina hit residents of the Gulf Coast had been warned by the US government to evacuate and local authorities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama began to make preparations for the storm. This effort was hampered by the fact that the administration of President George W. Bush with Republican congressional approval had cut the funds that had been used under the Clinton Administration to build flood and hurricane protections. This money was diverted in order to aid the War in Iraq and to fund the various Homeland Security mechanisms that have popped up since 9-11. Therefore money that the people in the Gulf Coast needed was used to spy on Muslims domestically and conduct witch hunts of innocent Muslims and to attack and occupy Iraq.

The American National Guard is in theory the military protection for each American state. Each state has their own National Guard and the governor of each state is the commander-in-chief of the local guard. Katrina was an event, in New Orleans specifically, where the military was desperately needed to do much of the heavy lifting but this could not be done given the fact that the bulk of the Louisiana National Guard was in Iraq and left their homes and cities undefended.

When residents began to flee New Orleans and the Mississippi coast the roads quickly became clogged with vehicles. Train lines had been shut down and bus service out of town stopped and this left those without their own personal vehicles left to fend for themselves against the hurricane. Those with their money, youth and health left town before Katrina hit and those who were left behind were either poor, elderly, sick or black.

This has exposed some of the dirty secrets of America. The desperate poverty that exists in many American cities, racism that still exists and the fact that African-Americans are living as a permanent underclass in America and the US wants to brush the plight of African-Americans under the rug, the backwardness of the American South, the inadequate US rail system and public transit system, and the highly inefficient decentralized US emergency response system.

In the richest nation of the world people were stranded for days, went without food and water, and the streets of a great American city were full of looters and the desperate. It took almost a week for Americans to respond in any real way and by that time thousands had died. Now many Americans are asking questions; would the response have been greater if the victims had been white? Does America value the humanity of its poor or do they view the poor as sub-human?

President Bush didn’t feel the need to respond and go to New Orleans himself until his political advisors warned him that anger was brewing at his slow response. The mainstream American media largely focused on desperate people looting replaceable televisions and clothes from stores and somehow viewed this as more important than the massive loss of life and the message was clear; this is what black folks will do if our foot isn’t on their neck. Within the US refugee camps are now being set-up in Texas and other places and Americans do not want to recognize that there can be refugees in America. Out of arrogance President Bush has also shrugged off the help that other nations have offered and wants to send the message that America is so powerful that it doesn’t need help from anyone.

As a Muslim and an American my heart goes out to the victims of this tragedy and it reinforces my rage at the injustices that exists in this society. Any Muslim in America that doesn’t feel this way should leave and go somewhere that they don’t wish to be flooded. While we are here in America as Muslims, and not in internment camps yet, we should do our part in helping the victims of Katrina and spreading the Dawah of Islam. This is a tremendous opportunity for Muslims to show the compassionate nature of our faith and reach out to those in need.


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