Veiled Truth

Sara Grace O'Connell

Sara Grace O'Connell
SF Bay Area, California,
April 03
What does one write here?


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SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 2:51PM

Fear and Loathing in America (and beyond)

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I have slowly reached the point where I realized I not only should, but must write. I must speak my voice, in response to the intolerance that has plagued humanity. From the most recent Newsweek cover headline that screams “Muslim Rage”; to the tragic murder of Ambassador Stevens in Libya; to the increasingly widespread climate of Islamophobia in the United States, and beyond; to the provincialism that many Muslims so strongly cling to. Yes, I must articulate that which lies restless within me.

I just finished meeting friends, two sisters, for coffee. Following their departure, I sit at my laptop typing furiously. Sabina and Saira, one an accomplished writer, the other an aspiring filmmaker. Both highly opinionated, outspoken Muslim women (the best kind, in my humble opinion), working toward creating a better world, through the use of their respective gifts.

We met at Starbucks, along with Sabina’s charming, and very flirtatious, 7-month-old son, Musa. Sitting outside on a beautiful Fall day in the Bay Area, there was no shortage of topics to discuss amongst ourselves. 

Sabina and I talked about the challenges we both face in wanting to remain truthful and honest in our writing, while at the same time, not wanting to hurt those we love by revealing too much. Although Sabina and I are both grown women, raised in America, we have not forgotten that we come from close-knit backgrounds, in which our personal confessions can often lead to judgment and isolation within our respective communities. We agreed that in our experience, there is almost an unspoken rule amongst Muslims that we are not to air our “dirty laundry,” as we are already under intense scrutiny by media, government, and people in general.

Saira shared her newest film project with me, in which she hopes to tackle the very relevant issue of Islamophobia, particularly in light of the global response to the film about Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).  The three of us mutually opined that it is disturbing to witness a number of Muslims who immediately set out to apologize for terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. Personally, I don’t feel the need to apologize, for I in no way associate with those who hold the blood of innocent life on their hands. To me, they do not carry the right to call themselves Muslims.

I graduated from Portland State in June, majoring in communications. I left the path of least resistance, two scholarships at prominent schools in Northern California, the comfort of a tight-knit circle of family and friends, in pursuit of a greater challenge; I wanted to find out who I really am.

With a degree under my belt, and what feels like double my age in life experience, I still couldn’t honestly answer who I am, because as it turns out, life is full of constant transformations. Since graduating, I have struggled with being able to turn out a decent piece of writing. While I realize that I am my own worst critic, I still can’t help but listen to the doubtful voice in the back of my head. It’s all been said, and by those much more eloquent and intelligent than myself.

I’ve published before, each time receiving myriad responses. My writing mirrors me; it’s either a love/hate reaction, rarely in-between. It’s difficult coming up against that. While I would love to say my skin is thicker and that I’m able to brush off negative reactions to my work, I’m simply not at that point.

I have to be honest. To whoever ends up reading this, but mostly with myself.

This is where the fear comes in. Fear is what has crippled me as a writer. Fear of judgment from those within the Muslim community, fear of not being good enough (for whose standards I still haven’t figured out), fear that I’ll be labeled as “too religious” or “too liberal,” and fear of a thousand other things, which has now morphed into what we know as writer’s block. It turns out that me, the strong one as I’m known in my circles, is nothing more than a big baby, all 6’1 of me.

It’s not just fear-- I’m filled with, as Newsweek oh so eloquently labeled it, Muslim Rage. Mostly because I’m tired of being lumped into groups I do not associate with. Labels can be dangerous, even if they are convenient; I for one do not want to be pigeonholed into a specific category. If all you view me through the lens of your own limited scope, you will never get the chance to see the real me. You will not understand who I am as a person. In the end, our humanness is the tie that binds. Until we are able to get past forcing each other into these narrow boxes, and limiting others to the standards that we set for them, true change will never come about.

“You have to write,” Sabina told me. “You’re a good writer. I’m not just telling you, I see it as your duty.” I agreed with her, albeit sheepishly, staring at the faux brick wall. As difficult a pill it is to swallow, she is right, it is my duty and I have not done enough.

In the past week, I’ve been disheartened by the ignorance and distrust which runs rampant in the West, as well as the Muslim world. But I’ve also seen great acts of courage and love. A group of Libyans holding signs, apologizing for the outrageous acts committed by a small group of their fellow countrymen. I grew up around Libyans, those are the Libyans I know. Warm, courageous people, who are generous to the point of almost embarrassing the recipient of their hospitality. Individual Americans who sent messages of hope and support to Muslims globally. I am American. It is in this country that I, and so many others, were able to foster and create a unique Islam, outside the limitations of that which is culturally-imposed.

Maybe the woman on the street was forced to wear hijab by a man, maybe she wasn’t. Maybe the person on the train who you perceive as staring you down is prejudiced, maybe they’re curious. Maybe the man on the street wearing a turban is Muslim, maybe he isn’t. Have a conversation. “The fool wonders, the wise man asks,” wise words once spoken by Benjamin Disraeli. It is only through asking questions and challenging our own deeply ingrained assumptions, that we will be able to liberate ourselves and others.

Ambassador Stevens was a martyr. Living a life of servitude and ultimately dying in defense of the freedom for a people he loved—he was more of a Muslim than the cowards who murdered him in cold blood. His death, and the deaths of countless others, is only in vain if it is a cause of division, rather than unification. I promise to lift the veil of fear from my eyes, and to speak truth in every form, regardless of personal ramifications, as I hope others will continue to do.


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Eloquently said. Bravo, Sara.
"Fear is what has crippled me as a writer....which has now morphed into what we know as writer’s block." Me too, that's what brought me to Open Salon. I've got a third of a first draft novel about the Courts of King David and Solomon completed and a ton of research that adds up to nearly two years of work but I'm stuck with the ennui of who's going to read it? I'm glad you posted today.

I invite you to read my meager offering:

Thanks again, JMac
Please do not give up writing. The writing world cannot afford to lose a great contributor such as yourself.
As a poet, I labor - sometimes for weeks - waiting for an inspiration to strike and, when it does, I write it down and publish it here on Open Salon (and, increasingly, other places) as soon as I possibly can for two reasons: If I don't publish immediately, I never will and, until I publish the poem I've just finished, I won't get another one.

Publishing is about creating the vacuum that draw in further inspirations.

Now, free of charge, and just between us chickens, let me tell you one of the most closely guarded trade secrets of ghost writers everywhere: use a pseudonym.

I've written under so many names in my life that I literally can't remember them all. Right now, I have two blogs on Open Salon. One was supposed to be for fiction and poetry and the other one was supposed to be for essays on religion, politics, philosophy, know, the charged particles of prose.

I was supposed to use this account for the heavy stuff and my real name for my fiction and poetry....but I keep forgetting which identity is which.

My point to you, however, is that there's a litmus test of intention here. If you feel blocked because you fear the repercussions that might ensue from your writing....then, for goodness sake, use a pen name.

Writers are very peculiar people. We're very private, but we want everyone to know what we're thinking.

So, here's my challenge to you: Set up another blog here under a pseudonym and use it for awhile. See what that does for your writer's block.

It's not cheating. Mark Twain. O. Henry. Woody Allen, Bob Dylan. Joseph Conrad. George Orwell. Oscar Wilde.


Maybe not.
As far as the content of your article is concerned, as Rumi put it, there are many drops but one sea, many sects but only one truth. rated
Dialogue is key, I agree.
I usually don't comment outside my favorites but I found those piercing blue eyes enchanting. There is an element of desperation to your writing that will draw people in the same way your eyes do but there is also the obligatory but, which your probably not going to like. “Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)” “I for one do not want to be pigeonholed into a specific category”. Contradictory statements no?

If you write without honesty then you waste your readers and your own time. I only read what others think so I can learn what is going through their heads. When you lie you have cheated me out of the rewards for my actions, and I am not an adherent of the Bhagavad Gita. When I plant a tree I expect it to bear fruit. Brutal honesty is the only way to write. Most of what is getting published in America today will fuel the bon fires of tomorrow for the simple fact that it is nothing but lies. Nobody wants to stir the darkness that sleeps deep within the heart of America (except me). Like the God of Abraham says in the Book of Job “nobody is so fierce as to arouse Leviathan.”

One other thing, which just may be pedantic, but I just have to say it. I find it very strange that a Muslim would quote Benjamin Disraeli since he systematically raped the third world, over the strenuous objections of William Gladstone, starting with the Suez canal. Are you trying to ingratiate yourself with perspective publishers? If that is the case you are lying.
better to write, and let others judge as they will. the only critic you must listen to travels in your head.
There are a couple of points worth noting. It is common amongst human groups to close ranks against criticism. All religions do this, Catholic, Jewish, and of course, Muslim. The arguments and brutality amongst Muslims and some of the restrictive traditions that are not necessarily part of the religion are somewhat outstanding but traditions and customs are exceedingly difficult to change. It must start with individuals but only large groups who foster change finally gets it done.
This resentment against outside criticism is common to doctors, lawyers, academics, the police and many other human areas, They are tough to change but worth the effort.
There is strong indication that the death of Ambassador Stevens was more due to misbehavior of the CIA than any religious fervor.