Muslim immigrants’ alternative terror: “I’m relieved my religion or nationality is not questioned, at least this time”

Published: October 8, 2017

Stephen Paddock, 64, the gunman who attacked the Route 91 Harvest music festival in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. PHOTO: REUTERS

I am a Muslim American and have lived in Las Vegas for over 17 years. It is my city, it is my home, and this is where all three of my kids were born. They were born in three different hospitals; the very same hospitals, which are now treating victims of the Sunday night massacre

I am writing this to make a connection, a connection of love for the city, being invested in the city, being a part of the community and the very robust life of Las Vegas. Last night, as I saw the news unfold, I found myself in an unbelievable place; a place of real and alternative terror. These two kinds of terror have different meanings and they both haunt the lives of people.

Real terror is the extreme fear and anxiety we feel when our immediate lives, lifestyle and space are in danger. We are exposed to harm, at risk of losing our lives, incurring injury, or at risk of being forced to maintain a lifestyle that is not in agreement with our freedom and choice.

Alternative terror, on the other hand, is the terror all United States (US) immigrant Muslims feel, in the space/time when a mass shooting or any other kind of massacre occurs, until the moment the name of the gunman is revealed. Yes, all immigrant Muslims sit in fear and pray that the perpetrator of any mass shooting or heinous crime does not turn out to be a Muslim. They sit glued to their television screens, waiting to hear the name, and only start breathing again once they are made aware that the madman has no association to their religion or community. Sunday night was the worst kind of real and alternative terror that my family and the Las Vegas Muslim community suffered.

We got the news a little before 11:00pm Sunday night, and witnessed the sheer horror and the reality of it all. I kept thinking, this is awful on so many levels. The Strip is our hangout place, we love it, we own it and our kids usually go there to attend concerts. In fact recently, one of my kids was at the Strip and the other one near the Strip, for Life is Beautiful (LIB) and I Heart Radio music festivals. My husband was at the Strip earlier, the same evening of the horrid incident, for a friend’s birthday. I was supposed to go out for dinner for a girl’s night out the same evening. However, the plan frizzled out and I believe it was due to the God factor. I define this factor as deciding not to go somewhere or do something for no particular reason which results in us being saved from a dreadful incident. This hints at the fact that we were saved from harm because of God.

I say all this to imply that the Strip is a very robust part of our lives in Las Vegas, as it is for all Las Vegans. We were heartbroken, devastated; heart is where the home is and our hearts are in Las Vegas. This is our city, our home, our heart, our community, our neighbours, our friends, our Las Vegas Boulevard. We were experiencing all these emotions for our bright city. And then my 15-year-old said what my husband and I were already thinking,

“Mom, I hope the gunman is not a Muslim. If he is, I’m not going to school tomorrow.”

“Yes, I hope it’s not a Muslim, please God,” echoed my older one.

And therein is our alternative terror, the biggest of terrors. I sat glued to the TV screen into the wee hours of the morning, to find out the identity of the perpetrator. Our collective anxiety to quickly learn the name grew. We wanted the name to be one that would alleviate our fears of any Muslim connection, hence clearing Muslims from the collective burden of guilt by association.

The next morning, I talked to Rahan Naushad Khan, a 29-year-old student who is studying at a local university and is a fresh immigrant to the US. According to him,

“As soon I heard the news, I was glued to the TV, and as the number of victims rose, I thought that this definitely shows signs of an extremist terrorism. Yes, I was apprehensive as to how I would face my colleagues at work, and my classmates at University of Nevada (UNLV).

Being a new immigrant, I was very excited to begin a new future here in the US, and especially Las Vegas which is a very calm city. I have not encountered any racism so far, but I did worry now as to how to attend class if this shooter turned out to be a Muslim or a Pakistani. I have seen so much violence and its aftermath in Pakistan, but I was never offered any counselling ever as a citizen or student. This is probably the reason why the stress and fear of unpredictable violence grows roots of detachment and insensitivity in people back home. Here, the difference I noticed is that the nation, regardless of how divided it has become, still rallies for support and comfort.

UNLV issued a statement in the wee hours of the night. It is still offering counselling, quiet areas for self-reflection, quizzes were delayed, late arrivals to class were confined, professors discussed the incident and whoever I came across said it was a sad day for them. A vigil was also held at UNLV where everyone came together to remember those who suffered in the attack. I feel that’s what makes this country still great; its capacity to embrace all in time of need. I’m not sure if I’m glad that the shooter is a white man because the act is still gruesome regardless of the colour of skin, but yes, I’m relieved that my religion and my nationality is not questioned, at least this time. May all the souls rest in peace.”

Nusrat Khan, a local school teacher, said,

“Honestly, the first thought on hearing this news was: Allah, please don’t let it be a Muslim who did this! As horrific as it is, I am still relieved it was not caused by a Muslim. Yet, it’s disturbing to see that the media is not calling it an act of terror! They would’ve not spared a breath had it been a Muslim.

That said, I’m extremely saddened and horrified by what happened and how unsafe happy events have become. As teachers, we were told not to discuss the event with our students, and if they brought it up, we tell them to go home and have their parents speak with them about it.

I think we all need time for this to register and to heal. We need to stick together as a community, Las Vegans holding hands!”

It was horrific to witness such amounts of stress and anxiety because of the incident that took place, the lives that were lost and the possibility of the attacker being Muslim. It is a sad position to find yourself in. An unfair position to be in, where hateful sentiments by a few have given rise to an alternative terror amongst Muslims, a kind of sentiment that implies guilt by association.

And that is just plain wrong.

Bisma Tirmizi

Bisma Tirmizi

The author lives for the simple pleasures and her musings over a cup of tea almost always find a way to be the written word. She also writes for Her book 'Feast With A Taste Of Amir Khusro', published by Rupa Publications, is available in stores now.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Patwari

    Here come the Hindustani Nationalists, cyber warriors.
    Paid to deposit their toxic hate and poisonous comments
    in ET.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    Unfortunately, we are all judged by the company we keep. Generalizations are part of human nature.Recommend

  • GKA

    How did you immigrate ? How do you reconcile two nation theory and your aspired status in USA ? For Jinnah, Iqbal and your religious scholars, you will be muslim first, perhaps Pakistani second and then American third (the last only from the perspective of paying taxes and availing of amenities).
    Also do you agree with the consensus in the american establishment of Pakistan supporting terror groups ? Do you want to tell your pakistani fellow muslims anything about support to non state actors ? Do you want to tell them that David Headley’s confession in American system is real ? That Pakistan should provide USA access to Omar Sheikh ?
    Easy to talk of your status there. But for Americans there there is more about Pakistan – the differences and greviances are huge.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Fear me and no one else is what God says, arm yourself with whatever weaponry one can to guard ones life and that of the family says the American constitution, muslims are relatively safer in America.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • SRK

    Thanks for clarifying who the real victim is with what has been going around after 9-11. The people who have lost loved ones can be overlooked; everybody needs to first sympathize with you and make you comfortable with the hate speech which some spew after every such tragedy around the world. And while that is happening, please continue to isolate yourself , stay anchored to your past life with your old country, continue all of this conversation there but not engage in conversation or communication of your new country that you seem to disfavor and may be hate.Recommend

  • Rohan

    If this had happened in Pakistan then it would be called freedom fighting to protect the ideology of PakistanRecommend

  • Patwari

    Says you. Check and see how many
    RAW agents are in Balochistan. And FATA. on a picnic. or claiming to
    visit their mother in laws. There is a waiting list at the Pak Afghan border
    for RAW agents to infiltrate into trobled areas of Pakland.
    Even the village idiot knows TTP, BLA, Le Je, Jundulla are supported by
    the Bharati Govt. Specially more so since the “Butcher of Gujrat” [your own
    Bharati media designation] ascended the Delhi throne.Recommend

  • Sane

    Why not Los Vegas massacre is called Christian Terrorism?!! When there is any Muslim it is promptly labeled as Islamic Terrorism.Recommend

  • Parvez

    When you immigrated you exercised an option that you had. Today you have even more options ……. ask yourself why you do not wish to avail of these options. The answer you get should be enough to calm your fears.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Hindu-stan remains the pain in the neck for Pakistani politicians despite having fought several undecisive wars. Both people hate each other guts and are making a spectacle in the international arena.
    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Deepak

    Is this a riddle?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Part of what you are saying is true. No doubt. The first comers, rather the first
    generation Hindustanis and Pakistanis tend to keep to themselves and their
    communities. And have very strong ties and bonds with the old homestead,
    back in Bharat or Pakistan. Same goes for Filipinos, Bangladeshis,Thais, Serbs,
    Sri Lankans, Jordanians, Nigerians…plus there is blatant discrimination.
    It’s the second generations that starts to integrate. Because they were born here.
    And are true blue Americans. So don’t just blame the Muslims.
    Again, the Muslims are dealing with a double whammy. They have been so badly
    maligned since 9/11 by the media, by the politicians, by white supremacists, KKK,
    Hollywood and just about every hate group in existence in US of A that it will take
    a massive humongous effort of PR to get back to perhaps anything normal.
    Muslims the current bogeymen and the favorite whipping post. Pretty sure mothers
    in Hicksville use the threats of “Muslim gonna get ya” to control their unruly kids.
    It’s a wonder that Frankenstein and Dracula are not called Muslims.Recommend

  • Dr. Insaaniyat

    Unfortunately no one hears and trust to this self made story by Pakistan as great OBL was found having gala time in abottabad.India Doesnt have to do much for destabilising an already destablisied country .Pakistan has to think how long they can compete with India and waste all valuable resources at the cost of its people welfare.Recommend

  • Eddied

    I am so glad the shooter in Las Vegas was not a Muslim…that would have triggered a whole new round of Islamophobia in the world…everyone knows that radical Islam is one source of random attacks, but people need to know it is not the only source..Recommend

  • SHAH S

    Bhagat Singh for you was a freedom fighter, but for your British Masters and Rulers, he was a terrorist;Recommend

  • GKA

    Whatever. But she is the American, I am not. So she needs to answer to her own american establishment when they say Pakistan is sponsoring terror groups. And if she holds dual nationality, then she has a Pakistani passport that says that “the holder of this passport believes in the ideology of Pakistan” i.e two nation theory. Which means she can never be American.
    Will she ever write to pakistani’s in support of her generals who say the ISI supports non state actors ?
    Say what you want against me or hindus or indians – but she is the one claiming to be american , not me.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Please tell Nusrat Khan as below:

    Most of the non Muslims who kill, they don’t kill for their faith where as Muslims do and when non Muslims indeed kill for faith, they are called terrorists in as many words.
    Most importantly, a non Muslim terrorist in one part of the world does not have anything to do with another in a different part of the world whereas you cannot say the same for Muslims. The perpetrator in this case is a Christian who killed mostly Christians and he was neither shouting “Jesus is the son of God” nor did he quote from Bible.

    “Yes, all immigrant Muslims sit in fear and pray that the perpetrator of any mass shooting or heinous crime does not turn out to be a Muslim.”

    May be you do but a great number of Muslims living in the West would only hope the perpetrator is not a Muslim for the sake of not being at the receiving end of what Muslims describe as “Islamophobia”, most Muslims in the West would ask the non Muslims to look at the causes for such acts rather than issuing a plain and simple condemnation. The least said about the Muslims in the Muslim world is better.

    “An unfair position to be in, where hateful sentiments by a few have given rise to an alternative terror amongst Muslims, a kind of sentiment that implies guilt by association.”

    Madam, the world is not spending sleepless nights hoping for a terrorist attack to happen so that they can blame you. It is time you start wondering how best to ensure lesser and lesser Muslims take inspiration from groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS rather than preaching the non Muslims how peace loving you are despite these organizations claiming to be beheading people for your sake.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Ha, ha……it does read like one.Recommend

  • gp65

    I think what is being questioned by @SRK is whether what Bisma feels can be labeled as a terror.
    Just as all first generation immigrants are ghettoized in some way, it is also true that all first generation immigrants (particularly non-white) experience some instances where their identity is used to taunt them – some more and others less.
    The fact that her kids get taunted in school on the following day if a mass shooter has been Muslim, is extremely unfortunate. That should not happen to kids – be they Muslim or any other religion. But to try and equate that with actual terrorism where some people lose their life and limbs and others lose their loved ones : that is just false equivalence.
    Another point he is making is that if she has made Las Vegas her home, she should be putting this blog out in Las Vegas and not Pakistan to gain sympathy.Recommend

  • gp65

    When Hakeemullah Mehsud, the second TTP chief was killed by a drone in early 2014, Ch. Nissar your then interior minister and Imran Khan the leader of the party that got the second highest number of votes were furious. The then JI chief even called Hakeemullah a martyr.
    In 2009, PPP and ANP signed a peace treaty with TTP. In 2013 an APC called TTP as misguided brothers and stakeholders and called for talks with TTP and in fact such talks were started by the TTP government. So were PTI, PML-N, PPP, ANP all trying to negotiate with RAW agents? Was JI chief calling a RAW agent a martyr?
    Also please tell me who allowed Mullah Fazlullah to escape during the Swat operation? Was it the Indian army?
    As far as Jundullah is concerned, it attacks Iran. Can you please explain why India would support Jundullah?
    As far as BLA is concerned, they have been fighting Pakistan off and on from the 1960s. If at all India started fishing in troubled waters (to retaliate 26/11), it was only after Musharraf really alienated many Balochs by the disrespect with which he treated Akbar Bugti’s dead body. By no means is that problem something that India started.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Half of the so-called muslims who migrated to the pure land in ’47 were actually Hindus in mufti who cleverly schemed and climbed their way into prime positions in various sectors in pakistan – defence, goverment, admisnitration, wadpa, IWT, MQM…. Maulana diesel, burqa wala imam, FM maulana, altaf bhai hussain…all are Hindus.Recommend

  • Patwari

    ‘…please continue to isolate yourself…anchor to your past
    lives, your old country,…not engage in with new country..
    that you disfavor…hate [ !! ]…’.
    SRk seems to be taking a very slanted view. Call it prejudicial. A lot of assumptions With nary a stitch of proof.
    Perhaps Bismah has written articles in the local publications. Perhaps she interacts with her local community. Her neighbors. Perhaps she is a very active in civil causes. Perhaps she is active socially. She does write food blogs.
    There is a numbness to reaction in US society.. When it
    comes to mass killings. They happen so frequently now.
    And what would you call a man killing 58 people? Wounding more than 500 ? Not a terrorist? A domestic terrorist? A killer has to be Muslim and linked with a foreign entity to be called a terrorist? Media has yet to call him a terrorist.
    This man meticulously planned a killing spree. For months.
    He even had an escape plan. To do more harm and killings.
    So far he is not a terrorist. Just a deranged man. Just a homegrown nut case.Just someone with mental health issues
    Rest assured there was huge collective sigh of relief going up from Muslims when it turned out the killer was not a Muslim. Including from ‘ yours truly.’Recommend

  • Patwari

    Politicians use words and act with what the current situation demands. In which directions their base’s sentiments are flowing. They fulfill the base’s thirsts. It behooves them.
    Nisar’s,former Int Min. incompetence wiped out nearly 80% of the lawyers in Quetta, Balochistan
    By the way do you believe that Hakimullah and his former late boss Baitullah were getting money from Heaven? They needed massive cash and arms to continue, from where? From RAW via Afghanistan and Gulf countries.
    Mulla Fazlullah, Swat Chief of TTP escaped to Wakhan Corridor. He was severely injured. he was treated by Karzai’s personal physicians. You can find him in Mazar e Sharif.
    And Khan wanted an office for his misunderstood TTP brothers in Islamabad. He and Nawaz wanted to negotiate with extremists. Go figure.
    Jundulla is a anti Shia outfit like Le Jhangvi. They kill Shias in the Quetta area. They are based in Lahore. Go figure.
    Yours truly has ancestral roots in Hunza/Chitral and understands the mindset in the general Northern Areas. People are fundamentalists. Simple. Salt of the earth.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    You are as much a fool as most of your fellow citizens looking for fcts with the us of logic. Violence and terroism do not require any logic, the causual factors can only be traced in history which. SRK is somewhat quoting. Todays America deservers the Trumpers who are bringing back the white supremacy.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Sane

    The Indian terrorism sanctuary is spreading worldwide terrorism. India being the biggest exporter of terrorism is a threat to global peace.Recommend

  • Sane

    We are fighting a war with INDIAN proxies having names like Taliban, Lashkar e Tayyaba etc. etc.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Nice jokeRecommend

  • Sane

    International media and those who speak rather shout about ‘Islamic Terrorism’ will not speak about this incident killing 60 persons. Cause, the killer was not Muslim, so there is no issue. Why not killing by Christian is called ‘Christian Terrorism’, killing by Hindu is called ‘Hindu Terrorism’, killing by Buddhist is called ‘Buddhist Terrorism’?Recommend

  • gp65

    “Rest assured there was huge collective sigh of relief going up from Muslims when it turned out the killer was not a Muslim. Including from ‘ yours truly.’

    Yes. I can understand that. I truly sympathise. Stereotyping of Muslims or Hindus or any other group is wrong. It harms those who stereotype and even more the objects of stereotyping.

  • gp65

    LeT who attacked Mumbai on 26/11 is an Indian proxy? Pakistan is fighting a war with it? That must be something strong that you are smoking.Recommend

  • Sane

    India doesn’t have to do much, then how much doing?Recommend

  • Patwari

    You know exactly what he means. They are paid by Bharat
    to cause turmoil, bloodletting, anarchy, social unrest in Pakland.
    And also, these proscribed outfits send some uneducated social misfits across the border on suicide missions to
    kill 2 or 4 or 5 Hindustani armed forces personnel and cause a
    great hue and cry on the Bharati side. Making everyone from the
    chaprassi and upwards swearing eternal revenge, gnashing their
    teeth and doing the saber dance.
    Amazing fact is that these people are able to penetrate 4 cordons
    of security, get into the military base and have firefights lasting 2 days!Recommend

  • Fahim

    They can’t be happy with you unless you change the religion from Islam to some thing elseRecommend