Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
I sound like a broken record, a chorus stopping and staring from apathy to tired tears. DJed by a neglected needle of a dusty player that hasn’t turned off since 9/11. The lights in Vegas will never shine as bright as they did in Viva Las Vegas, or as they did before Stephen Paddock’s domestic terrorism took the lives of 50 Americans while wounding countless others. I still can’t watch the videos, stomach the screams and crash of automatic rifle fire hitting living breathing people with families and friends, with stories—a mother that cooks breakfast for her family every morning, newlyweds honeymooning, a student in her early 20’s studying law. I imagine everything is slower in Vegas tonight, the show-girls just don’t look like they’re into it. The slots are filled with less coins, their mechanical cries amplified off ghost-town casino floors. The Washington Post framed this mark on American history nonchalantly, a cute millennial tagline; “gunman enjoyed gambling, country music, lived quiet life before massacre.” I woke up with the news and I can’t quite go to bed with it.
The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with questions that have crickets as their only answers; why was a millionaire allowed to purchase so many guns, how did he get into a hotel with so many guns, what does a man need with 30 weapons of war, and why won’t they call it like it is, terrorism. Motive is moot point when the term terrorist does more to disrupt my daily life than the actual threat of radical Islam juxtaposed to mass shootings. “Terrorist” is a constant shadow over my person as an Arab American, it is the vantage point where travel bans and patriot acts are summoned, the crime to which watchlists and no fly lists are composed. The word the cement-like foundation of places like Guantanamo bay, Gaza Strip, and the black-sites of the war on terror. It is the gloom of hate notes left on my mother-in-law’s car, the ransacking of my neighbor’s house because of ‘suspicious activity’, the touch of a TSA agent on my shoulder.
I’ve had my hands checked for bomb residue as I held my baby son alone at the airport flying to meet my husband in Des Moines. At 14, traveling internationally with my grandmother a Lebanese national with no English, and my 9-year-old sister I was led to a sterile room to be strip searched. Crying out to the female agent “wallah—I swear to god, I don’t have anything” probably didn’t help my case but I didn’t know any other way to express my sincerity. “Terrorist” has evolved from political entomology to racial profile, a raging bacterium with no qualms and no cure. I wish I could keep politics out of this discussion, but it’s hard to forgo when you’re told to leave “my country” for pointing out the double standard that has replaced the American dream. I know how Stephen Paddock fell through the cracks of government surveillance, he checks the big points of privilege; white, wealthy and male. Political whiteness in this country is like the sheet obscuring a Klan’s man face; it is protection from federal and state scrutiny. It is where the clause, “innocent until proven guilty” sticks like epoxy. I threw up on the way out of customs, guilty proven innocent and the Vegas shooter is remembered as a country-music lover. With each broadcast a nail scratches across coffin-lid of my Arab peoples ready to stake the heart of my culture. They’ve warped us into caricatures and villains and have ignored the toxic reality of their own soil.
The United States of America is not perfect, we have death and terror perpetrated by citizens who have never left their home states. We have third-world poverty in our first-world nation, domestic abuse and sex crimes. We are not the protectors we imagine ourselves to be, we are the seedy secrets of Las Vegas, but this time what happened in Vegas can’t stay within its city limits. The strange sickness of tragedy leaves you with uneasy answers, a record spinning amiss, where do we go from here? What my grandma told me after I threw up; you just keep going.