Count of Monte Cristo: Reloaded

Category: Americas, Life & Society Views: 2353

Not long ago I rented the movie "The Count of Monte Cristo" to watch with my two sons, who I thought would enjoy the exciting, action-packed tale. My 11-year-old surprised me, though, by becoming very agitated as the protagonist, Edmond Dantes, was banished to the Chateau d'If, a grisly prison on a desolate island where torture was the order of the day.

"Are people tortured in prison today?" he asked.

"Well, yes," I admitted.

"What about here, here in America?"

"No, of course not," I reassured him. "It's something that only happens in other countries."

"Can they take you out of prison here and send you somewhere else to get tortured?" he asked.

I am usually honest with my children. But not this time. I had recently read that U.S. officials had admitted to sending detainees abroad to countries with regimes that have no qualms about using torture to get people to cooperate. This was not information my son needed to hear.

"Absolutely not!" I assured him. "Why are you so worried about this?"

"Well, what if they make a mistake and you get taken to jail even though you didn't do anything wrong? I mean, what if they sent you to jail just for being Muslim? Everyone thinks Muslims are terrorists and bad people."

His fear of arbitrary arrest and torture disturbed me, especially since this is the reality for some Muslims here and many more abroad who have been incarcerated as suspects in the "war on terrorism."

Our family has roots in Palestine and Iraq, so naturally we are preoccupied with events overseas, but we limit the exposure of our children to media coverage of the Middle East. We don't discuss the threats to their civil liberties at the dinner table.

Though our children are proud of their ethnic heritage, they identify themselves as Americans. At their Islamic school, parents and teachers reinforce the notion of an integrated Muslim American identity. Muslim values, they learn, can contribute to the betterment of their country. Some of the kids have ties "back home," visiting frequently, perhaps creating a dual allegiance. Not so in our family. We don't spend our summer vacations in Baghdad or the Gaza Strip.

I don't have the heart to tell my boys that, if pending legislation passes, our security as Muslims living in America - even as citizens by birth - will be at risk, or that my son's questions might foretell his own future.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department prepared a draft proposal to revise the USA Patriot Act, a post-Sept. 11 law that greatly expanded the ability of law enforcers to track suspected terrorists. If the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 outlined in the memo (known widely as Patriot II) is ultimately passed by Congress, the government would, in the name of fighting terrorism, be granted sweeping new surveillance powers, more leeway to detain citizens indefinitely without charge and the ability to present secret evidence against those accused of supporting terrorism. The death penalty would be expanded to include certain terror-related crimes. The government would also have the authority to strip Americans of their citizenship for providing support to an organization deemed a "terrorist group," a term that is broadly and vaguely defined.

I want to tell my children that as law-abiding American citizens, they have nothing to worry about. But I know that simply obeying the law won't keep them from being profiled at the airport, monitored while attending the mosque or wiretapped if they participate in Muslim-oriented activities on campus when they go to college. The truth is, they will be suspects, simply because of their identity as young adult Americans who also happen to be male, Muslim and of Arab descent.

We can hope that our elected officials won't agree to the further erosion of civil liberties and will refuse to pass Patriot II. But if they lack the resolve to question something that wouldn't make us more secure but would render America unrecognizable to our founding fathers, then we're all in trouble.

"The Count of Monte Cristo" raised frightening issues for my sons. But it also made an important point. When Dantes was at the height of despair during his imprisonment, he rejected God for having abandoned him. Later, when the words etched on his cell wall, "God will give me justice," were proved true, he vowed never to lose faith again. His troubles may have caused my son to agonize about the injustices that could befall him one day, but perhaps he also learned from the film that God's justice prevails despite man's injustice to man.

Dr Laila Al-Marayati is a physician and spokeswoman for the Muslim Women's League based in Los Angeles

  Category: Americas, Life & Society
Views: 2353
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Older Comments:
To Syed responding to Count of Monte Cristo.
Why disgusted with people who critisise America? Or who say "America and the Ummah are on a collission course"? Most "American" values are not Islamic any more than Hitlers were Christian. Excusing American foreign policy "because the Zionist or Christian right have a stong lobby" is showing a lack of faith in Allah. Al-Fatihah verse 5. "You alone do we worship and to you alone do we turn for help". There is room for doubting ourselves but not the word of God if we are muslim. Ignorance of the facts is not a defence, we are obliged to educate ourselves,men and women. If "Muslims are treated far better in America" that is because those Muslims don't rock the boat. Muslims who stand up against American injustice are imprisoned,tortured,and killed in their thousands. And this is a pattern of Americas past also. Remember Vietnam,the illegal bombong of Cambodia,the support for South American death squads. American is the only country to use atomic weapons,used chemical weapons in Vietnam,and even has a president that was not elected,a coup by any other name. No America is not Islamic,nor are the majority of its people and Syed, a person surrenders either to God or his country. He cannot do both. You choose which you will surrender to, which will be your guide and who you will turn to for help. The Ummah is the society that I belong to,I just happen to live in England.

The author has raised serious issues. We should all pray that may Allah grant peace and security for all mankind. We must put our trust in Allah and should not be frightened by insecurity.

As good law abiding citizens we must work with other fellow citizens to observe freedom of speech. One must not forget that man made laws will always have their problems. However, we must preserve what the pioneers of democracy and justice have worked so hard over the centuries. Freedom for all, basic human rights for all, and so on is not something you get over the counter. One must work hard for it.

I hope we can all be it muslims or non muslims do not lose our global basic human rights such as the right to freedom of speech. When God created us he created us with free will. The will to choose and worship him, the will to live freely on our earth. We all are created equally and the basic step of this creation starts in our mother's wombs, where we get nourished and looked after.

Muslim citizens around the globe should not be complacent and should work side by side with other nations in global campaigns for democracy and justice. Most of us are fortunate to help others and should not see ourselves as victims all the time. Our children should not be given negative news at an early age for it will only confuse them. However, we must teach them about the pioneers of democracy of the country they live in as well as those of other countries and teach them based on their age. The youth must work at school level to get involved with these issues. Problems should be defined as challenges so that they can tackle it in a positive way.

No one is or will be free from the impact of 9/11 but if mankind got together in a positive way solutions can be found, surely God helps those who help themselves. American muslims must first define what America means for them, with time and in solidarity with other nations around the globe they will overcome these barriers.

Excellent article, and sad but true. Of course people here are wary of others who are obviously Muslim or Arab. Almost all of the people who have attacked Americans in the last 20 years belong to one of these groups. What then do we do? If we are not Muslim then we need to stand up for our Muslim friends. If we are Muslim, then we need to denounce terrorism by others. I have never felt more frustrated and anxious than I do now. I am a target for whatever group wants to kill Americans because of what my government has done. On the other hand, people like the author are paying for what radical Muslims have done and this makes me very sad. The September 11 attack made it a hundred times easier for the US government to attack Iraq, and to pass laws that violate civil rights. I HAVE NOT SEEN ONE INSTANCE WHERE TERRORISM HAS MADE THE PERPETRATORS LIVES BETTER - NOT ONE! Worse still, it causes great loss of lives and property when the people who were attacked, retaliate. Everyone knows what is right and wrong, and all people of faith know that God tells us to care about our fellow man. As long as we put aside what we know is right in order to advance a political or cultural agenda, then we will always fight. After all, even interpretations of our most holy books can be twisted to suit an agenda. With all the disease, earthquakes, tornadoes, and accidents, why on earth should we work so hard to add to the millions of lost lives?

I am extremely disgusted with anyone who says that America and the Ummah are on a collision course or that they are incompatible. Most American values are in fact islamic. Therefore, the question of america before the ummah or ummah before america shouldn't even arise. For those who are critical of american foreign policy, should remember that the zionist lobby and christian right(which includes bigots like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc.) have an extremely strong grip over the media, politicians, etc. Therefore, most americans, if shown the truth through independent media would probably be against their foreign policy. However, they don't know the truth, so they are unable to do anything about it. Therefore, the injustices that are being done in the name of america are unamerican. This is why it is extremely stupid and ignorant of people to even mention resisting "american" injustice in the name of the ummah/ for the ummah etc. Moreover every muslim should realize that even considering the US government's profiling of american muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, it is a fact that muslims in america are treated far better than muslims anywhere in the world, even those in majority muslim states. Once muslims are able to realize these basic truths, they would be far more careful before making stupid statements such as those posted in several of the previous comments.

Children of today understand more than the grown-ups and are more questioning, I know this because I myself am teenager and have younger btrothers. In our family we do not hide the reality from them, in the hope that when they become tommorows leaders they will have to confront the reality and fight injustice. What the author here is sugesting is that we abandon the reality and not tell the truth to our kids, but rather tell them fantasy about american identity and the fantasy world america would offer them. The following is what I would sugest to the author in dealing with her boys.
1- Remember that tomorrow as muslims these boys will hold the banner of justice in the face american injustice (Jihad)
2- Teach them to fear Allah alone
3- Keep in contact with your family back in the motherland
4- Simply tell them the truth, this is the difference between us and the non-muslims.

I liked the article and I completly agree with the brother Kashif who wrote a comment before me. It seems like it is very hard these days to call yourself Muslim and an American. I personally am a naturalized American and a very proud Muslim. However, I would call myself Muslim more than an American. It's not because I am an antiamerican or a racist but because we, the Muslims, are suffering from the attitudes of unbelievers on regular basis. It's like you go to Kroger for some grocery shopping with a hijab on your head, and almost every other persons' eyes are on you. Some might smile and say hi, while others would stare with hatred in their eyes. That's just the everyday public. If we look at the government, it's ten times worst. I still love my homeland of Pakistan more than anything in US. there are alot of opportunities in this country; however, it's almost impossible these days to change the behavior and the thinking of people toward Muslims. And as the author implied, it is hard for us to explain it to our children. May Allah Bless us and Protects us.


To the previous commentator,

First of all, I personally thank you for your comment. We need people like you to stir up some heated debate in the hope we can all, one day, educate people on how to look at life and deal with it in all of its spheres, particularly socio-religious issues. Nevertheless, we have to come to terms with the fact that "Ummah is a thing of the past" with all due respect. We, Muslims, are at times day-dreaming and not being aware that the majority of this "diseased Ummah" will hate you just because you live in America. In other words, the Islamic culture has become so warped to the point that many of us hate each other based on no reason whatsoever, or should I say: just because you are more educated, more cleanly dressed, etc. I am a Muslim and I see that the majority of those who brandish the word "Ummah" are perverts. They do so much preaching, and yet if you take a look at what they do, you will be disgusted. The Muslim world needs to wake up and cease living in the dark ages. If all of us need a "true Ummah" to be reborn, then we have to exert an infinite amount of pressure on most Arab leaders to stop corruption and their encouragement for hate toward the Jews and the Christians. Islam, as you and I well know, does stand for "Silm=peace." The Ummah should stand for harmony, peace, love, sacrifice, etc. in order for it to exist and prosper; otherwise, we can all keep talking about this fantasy for millennia to come. Look at the way the Saudis treat their servants who come from other countries!!! If the Islamic states cannot uphold justice, human rights, equality, and the rule of law, then what Ummah are we talking about???

We must fear them and be aware! America NEEDS enemies to fight and bogeyman to blame for their own faults. Soon the dust from Baghdad will settle and bush will need another enemy...

"First they came for the Jews, and I said nothing because I was not a Jew, then they came for the Communists, and I said nothing because I was not a Communist, then they came for the trade unionist, and I said nothing because I was not a trade unionist, finally they came for me, and nobody helped me" - A Protestant pastor, before being dragged to the Lager.

The Doctor raises a good point that is a sad truth. Not all terrorists are Muslims of Arab descent, and not all white christian americans are good. We live in a society that stereotypes based on widely accepted lies. To me, this is a sad thing.

The fears that the author express about living and raising her children in the US are real and important. However, no Muslim should be raising their loved ones to integrate into a society that is non-Islamic or to identify with its core values - which, in the case of the western countries, are based on non-Islam (Kufr). It IS allowed to live in such environments but NOT to assume the identity/nationality of the place/country concerned, except insomuch as it becomes a bureaucratic necessity - i.e. is written on one's passport etc. Muslims are Muslims first, second and third and never British Muslims, American Muslims or whatever. I am surprised that the author, an educated Muslimah, appears not to be cognizant of this basic reality.

Totally support S. Kashif Haque!! The authoir has written an excellent article, but we should look at this from an Islamic perspective. Would we as Muslim still passionately swear allegiance to our respective countries if we knew they were engaged in wrongful acts? Or that the victims of these acts are usually Muslim? Let's keep a clear head and not be too enchanted by this thing called "patriotism". The thing is that now we are seeing a fine lin between good home-grown patriotism and fanatical nationalism as demonstrated in certain countries. That would mean forcing personal cultural values of foreign nations.



Assalamualaikum,to all,i do not live in America and i do not know what u and your family are experiencing right now.However i hope that the law will not be passed on and that muslims in America can live in peace and prosperity.May Allah S.W.T bless and give security to all muslims living in America.Amin!!

Salaam aleikum,

While the author raises up a lot of good issues in regards to personal/civil liberties in the U.S. and the possible impact of Patriot Act II, the author, like others who push this line, should seriously ponder and reflect on the statement of whether we should call ourselves as "Americans" rather than "Muslims". For though we may be born here, do Muslims have loyalty and allegiance (wal'aa and bar'aa) to America over and above the allegiance to the Muslim Ummah? How would she reconcile this apparent paradox? Is a Muslim's loyalty based solely to where and which land he/she was born in or is it based on rather identifying with all of those who profess to believe and wish to live by the same ideology (Islam)? Can two ideologies (the dominant American one and the Islamic one) that are apparently and in many ways in conflict,(militarily and geostrategically),coexist in one person? Exploring these issues and explaining them from an Islamic perspective, would be more useful to both muslims and non-muslims as well in the current context we live in today.

salaam aleikum