Behind the Veil, or something catchy like that

8

With powerful words and vivid imagery, Zara Khan uses words to fight off attempts at false “liberation.”

Behind the Veil,

or something catchy like that

Zara Khan

american-flag

So suddenly everyone wants to know where my flag is.
But most days I don’t have to explain
how when red isn’t the blood of innocents,
Afghan or otherwise,
when white isn’t the color of supremacy,
when blue isn’t the police department’s résumé of brutality,
or that crisp prison guard’s uniform,
— well there’ll still be a long list of grievances to get through
before I can consider sporting red white and blue.

You expect my answer to be yes
to everything
blinding expectations, bleeding racisms.
But you know what,
No.
I will NOT participate in this
deluge of American flags
this patriotism
because I know better.

You want me quiet and doll-like.
Limited English Proficient.
[see, even I’m a victim of Americanism –
as though being limited in English proficiency
was a deficiency.]
You need to have faith in my docile nature,
need to believe there’s something backwards about modesty.
Something about this veil makes you think I’m mute.
[well something about that uniform has gone straight to your head.]

You want me oppressed,
so you can ‘liberate’ me from myself
from this way of life you know nothing about
from all the men in my life that cover me up
husband,
father,
brother.
Because you can’t even conceive of a woman
liberating herself.
Can’t conceive of a woman who’s not a slave
to man,
to money,
to materials.
A woman so liberated she wears the veil.
You talk about independence
but you don’t know the forms it can take.

You want all this and so much more.
But I won’t be your subject.
You won’t orientalize me.
I won’t be a victim of your ignorance because
you won’t stifle that scream that’s gonna rip they sky in two.
[like a woman giving birth,
guttural shriek of life passing life.]
My life,
my deen,
my veil,
my womanhood.
My every act is a dissent
from you and yours.
I refuse you.
I will outlive endure persist survive you.
And I’ll do it all
from behind the veil.

All the while you put me in a box
labeled “Muslim Woman”.
The walls are made of fiction that exploits
princesses, harems, and abuse victims.
The floor is volumes and volumes
of fifteen hundred years of racist history
crusades, heathens, and manifest destiny.
The ceiling’s a televised newscast
— proudly waving the American flag
and measuring progress as
‘the women of Afghanistan
have taken off their veils!’
congratulations.
on ‘liberating’ the women of Afghanistan
on saving them from that horrid dread
— the veil.
[at least now their children can enjoy Macdonnel Douglas Happy Meals
can enjoy cluster bombs the same shade of yellow as food packets.]
and besides, we’ll just ignore that the red white and blue
never passed the E.R.A.
that American women
don’t get equal pay for equal work.

[Sigh]
Muslim Woman-
Veil-
Oppressed-.
The triad is inseparable in your world.
But in my world, your rhetoric penetrates –
I wish it wouldn’t,
a testament of my own weakness –
But it does, it gets behind my veil and under my skin.
There it crawls, to my life vessels
vermin circulating in my blood.
I try to spit your words out of my system,
but sometimes I can’t.
Sometimes a bloodletting is needed.
And I bleed it out of me,
red stripes on a white tourniquet.
red stripes on white.
no white stars on blue, though.
I’d rather look for those in the sky.

But enough of this, khalaas.
Let me lead you somewhere.
Jumping out of your invented race and class
I’m gonna right-side-up that hourglass.
The era of your oppression has come to an end.
As the grains sit piled so calm and complacent
my mind’s wrath is gonna flip it violently.
I am that dark shrouded figure you can’t quite discern.
Take a closer look and you probably still won’t learn.
I’m dressed in all black from bottom to top.
The reins of the camel firm in my hands,
my squinting eyes make unapologetic demands.
The speed of my travels creates a sandstorm so turbulent,
it obstructs your vision.
A blast from your racist past,
I just won’t be your subjugated caste.
Orientalist missions and crusades from hell,
my weapon is my mind and my knowledge of you.
Take cover, because it’s been unleashed.

So I dare you not to fear my words
as they escape from behind this veil.
I dare me to be an agent of change.
Till then,
till justice,
till salaam,
the lines have been drawn in the sand.
And what do you know – I’m facing you.

______________

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