Photo via Twitter, @J_Tsar.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece for Slate in which I told a personal story, much like I often do. That story, however, had a graver agenda. Regrettably, I think the phrase “AlternaMuslim” was thrown around as an idea for the title. The point of the piece was that I, as an assimilated, non-religious Muslim American, was ostracized by Muslim religious communities despite the fact that my lifestyle might have represented a way for Muslims in America to be viewed as “normal.” Being fully Americanized—not having an accent, drinking, dating outside the faith, etc.—made you less suspicious to watchful, stereotyping eyes. In retrospect I recognize how arrogant that argument is, but at the time it had some truth to it. I didn’t mention this in my Slate essay, but these days it strikes me that smoking pot (being a pothead, loving weed, whatever you want to call it) is probably the strongest indicator of being an Americanized brown person. If a Muslim American is packing a bowl, he or she probably isn't packing C-4, too.
The last flecks of THC-crystal pixie dust flaked off that myth last week when news outlets reported that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, turned out to be a Muslim who, like any normal American kid, was known to rip bong hits and sling some trees to make ends meet.
The Tsarnaev’s Chechen heritage complicates matters a bit. The moment that their Muslim roots were divulged, every single Muslim in America simultaneously thought, “Fuuuuccckk.” But minutes later, those “fucks” turned into “huhs?” and then into, “Oh, he’s not really Muslim,” because the guy is from Chechnya and apparently no one else in America is from Chechnya. So Muslims were like, “Well, he ruined it for all the Chechnyans, but whatever, the rest of us should be OK, because this dude is basically white and we are brown.” They are wrong about this, in that revenge-thirsty lunatics don’t discriminate between shades of Muslim when they are misplacing their aggression. The battle rages on, and the whole time I can only think about one thing: this (alleged) fuckbag was a pothead just like me.
As the story of Dzhokar Tsarnaev dribbles out through the news media’s wringer, the phrase “typical college student” appears more and more. As a stoner who has experienced the budgetary dismay that comes with the habit, one practice of Tsarnaev’s stands out to me in particular. As the Atlantic Wire pointed out, he sold pot to his friends and dorm mates at UMASS-Dartmouth to keep his own expenditures down. I totally tried that too, and sucked at it. At the time I was so focused on entertaining myself that it seemed prudent to create work just to make weed cheaper. I was a simple teenager with the attention span of a parakeet. How could a kid just like that possibly choose the horrific path that Tsarnaev did?
There’s another thing that this kid and I have in common, and it’s an influence that supersedes all others to any 19-year-old dude—an older brother. Throughout my life, I’ve always held my older brother as the highest authority on what's cool. In my case, that meant an obsession with electronic music and Coen Brothers’ movies. Seemingly, for Dzokhar Tsarnaev it was his brother Tamerlan’s obsession with radical Islam. While the dynamics of the brothers’ relationship aren’t entirely known, it appears that immensely poor brotherly guidance, in Columbine-esque dyad formation, had something to do with it. But that’s writing off the possibility that the younger Tsarnaev is as much of a militant psycho as his brother. I believe marijuana to be an enlightening substance, as well as an enjoyable one, and I can’t imagine how someone who smokes it regularly can justify such basic immorality. Then again, there are definitely murderous gangsters and neo-Nazis out there who smoke weed, so maybe I’m wrong about that altogether.
As I consider the repercussions of this whole situation, anticipating the profiling that is to come, I realize that the only component of my personality that has been formed by being both a Muslim and a pothead is my aversion to being hassled. Contrary to my position in the piece I wrote for Slate back when, I don’t want to be a spokesperson for Muslims in America. Hell, I’m not even slightly religious. I just happened to be born into a skin colr in the time when it’s undergoing a severe PR meltdown. I can equally blame Muslims and the forces stereotyping them for perpetuating a generalization that threatens to interfere with my life, but who really cares whose fault it is? After undergoing the shift once after 9/11, I know what to expect. Let’s just hope time heals this one as well and no more shitheads come out of the woodwork and kill everyone’s buzz.
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