Prioritize Yourself: Building Resilience After ‘Terror’ Attacks Is Exhausting

Prioritize Yourself: Building Resilience After ‘Terror’ Attacks Is Exhausting

So you wake up nice and early, and surprisingly refreshed considering the busy family-involved weekend you just had. You feel ready for the start of the week — well, as ready as you are going to be. After all, it is a Monday.

You grab a breakfast bar and your water bottle, thinking “I really should start having breakfast,” while knowing deep-down that you value your 20 more minutes in bed much more than some eggs and toast.

The first thing that comes out of your mouth is “Here we go again!” – while simultaneously taking a deep breath, knowing that you are going to have to hold on to this breath for the next couple weeks of media-packed ups and downs. tweet

You still let yourself dream, thinking about how you could potentially reshuffle your schedule so breakfast is not an afterthought. And of course, as part of your regular morning routine, you do your social media scroll as you wait for the bus.

You “like” your friend’s new haircut and make a comment on your cousin’s latest selfie. You notice how two days off your newsfeed feels like a lifetime has passed in social media time.

Then your eyes freeze, your attention tunnels and your chest grows heavy as you enlarge a screenshot of a headline titled “NYPD Name Ahmad Khan Rahami as Suspect in New York Bombing.”

The first thing that comes out of your mouth is “Here we go again!” – while simultaneously taking a deep breath, knowing that you are going to have to hold on to this breath for the next couple weeks of media-packed ups and downs. This obviously is followed by a Google search of “Ahmad Khan Rahami,” as you’re thinking “Why, man? Why?”

But then you snap yourself out of it, mentally pinching yourself, and mumble as you read headline after headline, followed by a long sigh. tweet

Learning of the 29 injuries, you begin to feel guilty of your self-centrality; all you can think about is the awkward conversations with co-workers soon to ensue.

You find yourself automatically rehearsing your usual public relations tidbit, while thinking “Man, Trump is going to have a field-day.” But then you snap yourself out of it, mentally pinching yourself, and mumble as you read headline after headline, followed by a long sigh.

Your bus finally arrives. The wait was no longer than 10 minutes, but you feel, once again, you have relived the past 15 years in those few moments waiting.

A layered 15 years marked by a roller coaster that speeds from attack, public outrage, media sensitization, hijabi hate-crime incident, opportunistic politicians coming out of the woodwork, more hate crimes — followed by a little calm and a glimpse of hope.

But then before you know it, it happens all over again. And every time a tragedy hits labeled “terrorism,” you find yourself transported once again into the 15-year-old you sitting in English class watching the Twin Towers fall, selfishly thinking, “please don’t be Muslims.”

Building resilience

I am sure I am not alone in experiencing these trains of thoughts and confusing strings of emotions. As Muslims that are and/or have become part of the Western landscape, whether by ancestry, choice, circumstance or force, we have come to be intimately familiar with carrying the weight of more than a billion people on our shoulders.

We are expected to answer and speak for the politics and mindset of such a mind-boggling amount of diversity. We are not allowed the typical script of witness-grieve-heal-and-move-on when tragedy hits.

Every time a tragedy hits labeled ‘terrorism,’ you find yourself transported once again into the 15-year-old you sitting in English class watching the Twin Towers fall, selfishly thinking, ‘please don’t be Muslims.’ tweet

The manner in which the popular narrative of “Muslim” is constructed and juxtaposed to “terrorism” is such that it pushes us into spaces where we are made to immediately and intensely feel our Muslim-ness as the ultimate “incomprehensible Other.”

This, in effect, preoccupies many of us with mitigating, negotiating and speaking to this frame.

Living in a narrowly constructed caricature of the “scary unintelligible subject” is not simply an issue of living in constant conversation with an ill-informed stereotype. That, of course, is a major issue — but what’s more fundamentally at issue is our ability to simply feel, to simply be.

So among other things, this means for many of us Muslim-identifying folks, when a tragedy hits, there is no space to simply grieve and eventually heal for the human life lost.

Instead we have to immediately put on our game-face and activate our public relations mode. This is the consequence of living as indentured everyday ambassadors, whether we like it or not — an ambassadorship, which our safety and mobility often hinges on.

I hear a lot of my post-9/11 peers consistently talk about how they wish they could just take a moment and grieve on the human life lost when tragedies like this NYC incident takes place.

But when your very subject-hood, practice and movement is politicized, simply grieving becomes a privilege; simply “doing” anything becomes a privilege. We live with scripts on top of scripts — to a point where we may feel our sense of self split, blurred, buried or even lost.

For many of us Muslim-identifying folks, when a tragedy hits, there is no space to simply grieve and eventually heal for the human life lost. tweet

What I usually see happen when “terror”-deemed tragedies hit is that we have a group of us ready for the media circus, which means we have letters of condemnation, speeches and counter-analysis reports ready to go.

And the other group of us, which I would say is the vast majority, move to hermit-mode — the logic being, “let’s make ourselves scarce until things die off.” And of course, I have found myself moving back and forth between both camps.

But these strategies, although completely fit within the normal flight-or-fight index of responses, leave us vulnerable.

When your very subject-hood, practice and movement is politicized, simply grieving becomes a privilege; simply “doing” anything becomes a privilege. tweet

Yes, it is important to issue official letters and come out to public vigils, and no one would blame anyone for distancing oneself a bit when the storm is at its worst. Both these strategies, however, almost work from a standpoint that this will be the last: This will be the last letter, the last speech, the last vigil.

This will be the last time I’ll take the day off work, the last time I’ll skip my classes, the last time I’ll miss an event.

But the sad reality is, in the global geopolitical climate that has produced the likes of “Trump-land” and “Daesh,” more likely than not, this won’t be the last tragedy we hold vigils for or issue letters to. We need to orient ourselves into a marathon mentality. This is not a sprint.

You can perhaps hide or hold your breath for a sprint, but a marathon calls for a completely different approach.

We need to accept that we are living in a more divisive political climate of empire. Things calming down will require a steep curve of geopolitical reshuffling that many of us on the ground have NO control over.

But what we do have control over is how we respond, what we prioritize and how we decide to move forward.

Prioritize: It’s time to put you first

I think what many of us (talking to myself first, here) do not do enough of is prioritize ourselves.

We need to prioritize our communities; prioritize our young people; prioritize our visible Muslimah out there facing a vicious brand of gendered Islamophobia; prioritize our over-securitized brothers who are going to need to stay resilient and collected in the regular routine of ‘random’ security checks that have become their life; prioritize our community workers and activists who put themselves out there fighting the good fight everyday; prioritize our little ones that are going to hear remarks made in school about their identity and history that they are not going to know what to do with; prioritize our poor and highly racialized parts of our community that do not have the luxury of taking the day off, or resources to deal with the layered battles of classism, racism and Islamophobia.

Yes, it is important to issue official letters and come out to public vigils, and no one would blame anyone for distancing oneself a bit when the storm is at its worst. Both these strategies, however, almost work from a standpoint that this will be the last: This will be the last letter, the last speech, the last vigil. tweet

All this is not to say that as Muslims we should recluse and step away from the mainstream limelight. If 9/11 can be credited for doing anything for the Muslim landscape in the West, it is that it pushed many of us, especially the younger immigrant portion of our communities, to open up, engage and work much more actively to become part of the wider social fabric.

This is, of course, amazing and necessary — but along the way, we have also forgotten to take care of ourselves, and each other.

For us to be productive in our work with the wider community, we need to really think about what is it to build resilient communities.

The Muslim Western landscape is, of course, an incredible and diverse space, and talking about it as one entity is in itself the result of the climate we are living in.

But that being said, when it comes to atrocities/tragedies that are said to be committed by Muslims, we are all lumped into a rigid box. And however artificial this lumping may be, it comes to carry real consequences.

So the bottom-line is, in addition to all the amazing outreach work a lot of people in the wider Muslim communities are doing, let’s not forget about ourselves.

Let’s not forget that we also need to hold spaces to grieve, reflect and heal. The political climate we live in has made the manner we experience these tragedies peculiar.

We need to engage with this reality and intentionally carve out spaces where our healing is prioritized — especially where the healing of the vulnerable in our communities is prioritized — spaces where we can peel off the layers of script harped on top of us, and just simply be.

Written by Minifre Harak

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Prioritize Yourself: Building Resilience After ‘Terror’ Attacks Is Exhausting
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