Metro State Forum on Islamophobia
by Patty Guererro
James Yee, a former chaplin and also prisoner at Guantanamo and the author of the book For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire about his experiences in Guantanamo as a chaplain and then as a prisoner, was the featured speaker. I had heard him before and knew his alarming story of unjust accusation and confinement, as well as the story of the prisoners from inside of Guantanamo.
So for me the real thrill of the assembly was hearing a new voice, Hisham Tawfig, a New York firefighter who responded after 9/11. He is Muslim and hearing his life story was so inspiring. He is a beautiful person and so calm. He lost buddies that horrible day. He spoke of how his dad raised him and his five brothers in the true faith of Islam, how it really works if one lives the faith.
He was raised to be of service, so before he was a firefighter he was a Corrections Officer at Sing Sing prison and also a Marine. He has had to “fight” all of his life because of being a Muslim─in all of his places of employment and in the public schools when he was young. He had to constantly be defensive for being a Muslim, but he learned to just keep still unless it was important or when he knew he wasn’t going to win his battles.
Hisham’s dad was an Imam and they lived in Mecca for a whole year when he was young. While a firefighter he had to be like a fly on the wall because he heard the most racist and hateful remarks he has ever heard in his life, but he also had great buddies. If you ever saw the Public Service Announcement (PSA) on TV of a firefighter talking about responding to 9/11, and then the last bit saying “and I am a Muslim,” that is Hisham.
After that PSA, he got even more racist remarks and hateful attacks. He said “Ignorance is fashionable” to a large segment of American society, but that life is short and that we need to speak out and to live our lives trying to do what is right and good. We need positive dialog constantly. Islam is a religion of peace and goodness.
I am so glad I went to hear him speak to a packed room.