Dear Bay Area,
Let me start off by saying that I think you are the greatest place in the entire world. I’m biased, of course.
That might be because I’m from Berkeley, born and raised. I know things about this region that others may not. For example, I know what it was like before tech took over Silicon Valley, back when we would take field trips to San Francisco to see a play in Geary Theatre (that was what I called the American Conservatory Theater on Geary St, right opposite the Union Square garden), and our school bus did not have to compete with commuter buses. We would get about 2 hours to ourselves, to go around and explore and get lunch, with no chaperone, and my friends and I would always head to the same little hole-in-wall Thai joint, after meandering through the smaller allies and buying handmade jewelry from street vendors.
I knew about urban farming before it was a thing, because my 10th grade science teacher, a delightful eccentric, grew a vegetable garden and raised chickens on a small piece of land toward the Southside of Berkeley. She had gotten permission to take small groups of her students – on a school day – to her little farm, and teach us about soil health and livestock and sustainability.
I had learned to love Oakland before we had ever heard the word “gentrification,” for its vibe, the geese near Lake Merritt, and my family’s favorite Pakistani/Indian buffet restaurant, where the owners always greeted us so warmly. A couple years later, when I was an undergrad at Mills College, I would come here after finals and they would give me a takeout box full of biriyani, on the house.
I consider myself among the luckiest, to be living in a liberal and diverse pocket in a world that seems to be getting more intolerant. I hope I’m wrong about that, but it was I was incredibly upset last week when I was reading the SFGate and came across a story about an alleged ISIS recruit who appeared to be planning attacks around the Bay Area. The 22 year-old never carried out the things he said he would do, but while chatting with an undercover agent, he spoke of targeting nightclubs, San Francisco, and the Berkeley hills.
Sometimes it seems that we collectively have terror fatigue and we can’t make the effort to condemn it. But I felt the need to say something about this, particularly after reading that the young man’s family was shocked, saying that he is not radicalized and that the things he said came from being “young and naive.”
It made me think of my own parents, who immigrated from Bangladesh many years ago, who are grateful for the opportunities they had to build a life in Berkeley. They consider themselves to be moderate (secular, even) Muslims, but we have always — for as long as I can remember — celebrated Eid and Ramadan and a handful of other religious holidays, with fervor and a sort of festive adherence to tradition. My mom would always cover her head when the community gathered to celebrate, and it was a mark of belonging somewhere – a universal human need.
It also made me think that the young men who become radicalized while living in a Western country often come from similar families – hardworking and moderate, wanting only a better life for themselves and their children. And maybe, that sense of community that I remember as child, that came together to celebrate and mark important events, and to look out for each other – that part might have been missing in these young mens’ lives.
And so I want to make a commitment to you, Bay Area, the place that nurtured me and protected me, that I will do more for you. I will speak out against violence, especially when it is committed in the name of the religion that I grew up with. At the same time, I will get more involved on a community level to revisit all those bonds my parents had made in their early years in America and to bring up the topic of radicalization so that we can fight it from its early stages. We need to come together not only within our own communities, but also with the larger, surrounding community – it is the only way to protect our diversity, our values, and everything else that makes the Bay Area so great.
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