Eight years ago on inauguration day I was not in the best of places. I woke up early and was kind of nervous. I got up, took a shower, prayed, and then went to a room where a TV was playing CNN.
I had no real idea of where I was going to go that today and sat alone with my thoughts. Sensing my dilemma three guys I knew came up to me to cheer me up; Lorenzo, a soldier in the Gambino crime family from Brooklyn, Johnny a Polish pimp out of the Irish neighborhood of South Boston, and Tommy a sometimes Muslim brother and heavy player in the black neighborhoods of Staten Island.
We talked for a while and they all gave me advice (Tommy seemed to encourage me to resume a life of crime). Then a corrections officer came and escorted me to another building where I changed clothes and received a paper bag full of my belongings. Another CO came and escorted me out of that building to a van and he drove me to a bus stop where a bus would take me from rural central Pennsylvania where we were at to another city where I could transfer.
I did not know where I wanted to go. I didn’t really have a home anywhere and did not have a solid plan for making any money. In my heart I wanted to go to DC to join the protesters who were gathered to challenge the inaugural of George W. Bush. Many, such as myself, believed that he had fraudulently won the election. I had lived in DC before and studied there; but from experience I knew it was a tough place to get a job.
I first went to Philly and decided not to go to DC as I sat a McDonalds and spilled a strawberry shake all over myself. Eventually I ended up in St. Louis and by that time W was the Prez. A few weeks later I was in NYC sleeping in subway cars and then at a masjid in Brooklyn with no heat I the cold winter until I found steady employment.
That is how the W years began for me, not so good. A lot has happened in those 8 years and the nation has been changed forever. I do not recognize the Muslim community of today that is how different it is. 9-11, the War on Iraq, the Patriot Act, and all of that has just totally changed what it means to be a Muslim in America and that for me is the biggest tragedy of the Bush years personally.
Brothers were much warmer back in the day and would welcome strangers. There were far fewer sellouts. I never heard of a “progressive” Muslim. Imams spoke of jihad from the minbar. The Sunnah was emphasized much more heavily. There was no mixing of Islam with the political-left in America. Hamza Yusuf was a fiery speaker opposed to American influence in the Muslim World. Ali al-Timimi gave his halaqa every Friday night. Jaffar Sheikh Idris was still here and teaching. Ismail Royer was coming home to his wife Mirsada and their children every night after leaving the CAIR office. Brothers in St. Louis had just secured financing to build a school in the city. IANA was operational. The Mahad was open in VA for Muslims all over America to come and study at for free. The Holy Land Foundation and many other Muslim charities were open and raising a lot of money for Muslims in need. The Bush years have ended all of these things.
I will look back at the years of Bush as bad times for the Muslim community and myself. It is his rule that led Muslims to become second-class citizens in a nation many of us were born in. However, for me, more than that Bush damaged our community because he created a reaction from Muslims that either has sent us to the fringes of left-wing radicalism or to the extremes of violet opposition. I can only look at the direction of much of our community today and be saddened and this is because of Bush. There is no question, that while Muslims have evolved in America on some fronts in the last 8 years, we as a community have taken a big hit and were much healthier and much closer to what I would like to see 8 years ago.
On a personal level many good things happened to me in the Bush years. There was trouble, for sure. My relationship to Ismail Royer and some in the Virginia 11 made me a suspect until it was found I never played paintball with them ( precisely because I knew it could only bring trouble). Then someone told the feds I was plotting a terrorist act, and that was bogus. Then it was found I had met and spoken with Zacharias Moussaui, which caused me more problems until it was determined that I had no involvement ( and couldn’t even remember his name or meeting him).
At the same time I lived a lot in these 8 years. Lived in many different places and saw a lot of things. Got married (twice to be exact), found my voice as a writer, made new friends, and learned a lot.
Now, the Bush years are coming to an end, and I have been tired of even hearing his name for the last couple of years, and I am very happy this era is over. What he has done he has done. The lives he has taken cannot be given back and he may have delivered a mortal wound to the greatness of America. Bush, like all of us, will have to stand in judgment one day, and on that day the tyrants of this world will get what they did not in this life.
Now, in just a few short hours Barack Hussein Obama will be inaugurated.
This is going to be an historic day for all of America. It is a day that I thought I would never see and I day many will take pride in. I voted for Obama but I am pessimistic as to if he will be able to deliver the change that he said he will bring.
I had some thought of going to DC today but I am short on cash and it is just going to be too crowded. A friend of mine living in the area is renting out a bedroom for $500 a night if that gives you an idea of what kind of crowd is going to be there.
It is my hope that Obama can make a few lasting changes in America. Bring universal health-care, reform the criminal justice system, give full voting rights to DC, fund education in a better way, support school vouchers, and work to create jobs.
Internationally I am much more pessimistic. Regarding the Israeli-Arab situation I do not believe Obama will be that much better than Bush. He will try and end the Iraq War but we will see how long that actually takes. Promising to put more troops in Afghanistan is a recipe for failure that could drain his Administration. There is a reason Bush didn’t send that many troops to Afghanistan and that is because he did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union, Obama apparently did not get that lesson. There are a couple of areas in foreign policy where I think Obama may do well and that is in opening up relations with Iran and Cuba.
For me though, as I take my wife to the doctor this morning as she enters her 7th month of pregnancy, I am in a better place today.