Growing up, politics was completely an invisible subject in my life. I spent my earlier years not knowing the difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party --- I had incorrectly believed it was something much simpler -- just two people with completely different opinions vying for the same post. It is safe to say that I had no party influence from the beginning.
When I turned ten, I wanted to be one of those two people. I had this extreme sense of patriotism that often seemed embarrassing for both my family and friends. I likened the fourth of July to my second birthday, and in fact, enjoyed it more. I cannot say much has changed from then and now, except the fact that I no longer have any interest in becoming a politician or anything of the sort.
At the age of twelve, I began going to the polls with my parents and soon enough, election days were added to my list of "holidays." Most kids at that age cannot wait to learn to drive or have their sweet sixteen, but I was the clear aberration: all I wanted was to be able to vote.
High school was the perfect outlet for me to unwind. I was elected as vice president to a class of five hundred, and re-elected to be their vice president until senior year. I became active with numerous clubs within my school, and found my voice. I spoke against Governor Chris Christie's budget cuts, and was adamant on having our school budget passed. I was able to organize a "Rock the Vote" event that featured our state senator, Barbara Buono and I personally mailed out 143 voter registration ballots. I became known as a student activist -- someone who once passionate about a cause or subject would, frankly, never shut up.
Soon enough, I knew where I stood. I learned I was a progressive and consistently allied myself with liberals -- and so, declared myself a Democrat once I turned eighteen (this past February). Although allied with a party, I do not vote blindly. I have to do my own research, before I "endorse" my own candidate -- and it is for this reason why I have been watching the Republican presidential hopefuls so closely. If a Republican candidate seems worthy, then I would support him/her. Unfortunately, especially with these recent debates, I am losing faith in the contenders the GOP has put out.
Last night's debate has hit me the hardest. American Muslims were a topic. Here is another thing about me: I am an American Muslim, and damn proud of it. In fact, I even started to wear the hijab, the headcovering, this past August on my own accord (a note: I was not forced) -- but that is a subject that deserves another blog post.
Herman Cain was already a thorn in my backside. His anti-Muslim comments were made without feeling and without justification. Just a couple of days ago, it was released on how he was relieved that his doctor who sported the name, Dr. Abdallah, was not Muslim. My reaction to that was: "What if he was? Would... he then deny treatment for the man who was attempting to help him?" I know if I was getting treatment, I would focus on the quality of treatment I was receiving, rather than the belief systems of the doctor and nurses around me.
Then of course, Herman Cain's comment in March, on how he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or as a judge because he did not feel comfortable, really hit home. I have given my backstory: it is clearly evident that I am as passionate about this country as none other. I dress up not for Halloween but for the fourth of July. That should speak volumes about my own character. But when there exists a candidate, who blatantly says to the media that he would not trust a Muslim in his cabinet -- well, then that shows disrespect to American Muslims, and becomes a huge blow to my pride. I must have lived under a blanket because there was a point when I had sincerely believed that I could become... something in the political sphere. This, of course, I learned to be a distant dream.
Rick Santorum. Enough said. During CNN's National Security debate, he pointed to focus on Muslims (with the word, "obviously" preceding). Ron Paul's response was key: "That's digging a hole for ourselves. What if they look like Timothy McVeigh?" Terrorism is an awful, horrible thing -- but it is not endorsed by any religion -- and I think all of the GOP contenders but Ron Paul simply do not understand that fact (do not assume now, that I support Ron Paul). Some say the GOP targets Muslims because they are looking for a scapegoat. But why? "Islamophobia" is not necessary, and as a young, American Muslim -- I can say for a fact, that these contenders are just worsening the conditions. I'll tell you something. I'm not scary, I promise. But, both these candidates and some parts of the media brandish Muslims as the enemy -- but we are not. I am not.
Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali -- these are all household names. These are also some notable American Muslims from our own history. Names like Muhammad, then, were not considered a threat. Unfortunately, now I see people cringe when they hear any Muslim sounding name (like, Mr. Cain, here). It should not be any different now.
I think the GOP often forgets that Muslims started immigrating to this country in the 1880's, and that America has been their home for decades. We have not just come in the past decade -- we have been here, so when hurtful comments pressed by random passersby (and by anonymous posters) say something along the likes of "Go back to your country" -- how am I to respond? This has been my home, and will always be.
My only hope now is to clear up misconceptions.
Follow Ammaarah Khan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ammaarahk