You would think that surviving an aborted revolution, a military junta, a dubious monarchy, and a full fledge war would immune me from trauma. You may also assume that after being detained at gunpoint in different countries, inhaling several flavors of tear gas, and nonchalantly placing abandoned cadavers in forensic body bags nothing would impress me anymore. You are wrong. The most troubling events I have experienced in my years were when a group of lunatic rioters mobbed the US Capitol on January 6th, three minutes away from where I live.
In the Middle East, we live with a persistently flashing crimson alarm button on the back of our frontal lobes. We go about with our lives, yet are always prepared for a blast, a bomb, an arrest, or at minimum a brutal sexual assault. Our utopic dreams about dignity and freedom have been shattered over and over to the extent of normalizing with tragedy and often cynically joking about it as a coping mechanism. Many of us chose to migrate to a land far far away from our cherished motherland, not out of financial ambition or a blind fascination with the west, but in search of a quiet, dull, structured environment where we can heal our wounds peacefully. The United States was that place for me.
I was on my third tedious Zoom call of the day with coworkers who probably never experienced violence firsthand in their lives, when suddenly we started hearing cries and background noise through one of the colleagues’ screen. An atmosphere of panic soon took over and everyone started checking their mobile devices for breaking news and the meeting was canceled. I would spend the rest of the day glued to the Live feed in disbelief of the images coming through. A group of pro-Trump insurgents had stormed the US Capitol as Congress was in session that Wednesday attempting to orchestrate a coup d'état starting with the legislative branch.
I witnessed a calm and serene Washington DC metamorphose into a military fortress with more soldiers than US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. America is no longer safe, I admit to myself as I collect the pieces of my irreparably cracked American Dream
Dystopian footage kept pouring in throughout the day. Bombs being found around the city, security forces beaten up, confederate flags being waved on the congress floor, offices looted, lawmakers hiding under chairs with gas masks like rodents, and a disgraceful individual dressed as a horned shaman soiling the corridors of what they call “the holiest citadel of American democracy”. Ironically, most network commentators bluntly agreed that these scenes look straight out of “Iraq or Syria or another third world country”. A stereotypical offense that unveils how petty and reductionist media can be. The same media will make sure that the images of the present US chaos would be impregnated forever in the minds of the world no matter how hard they try to launder it with the Hollywoodian inauguration spectacle.
Americans cannot comprehend what these events represent for an Arab seeking refuge metaphorically or literally in a foreign country. Many mockingly even noted “You must be used to this kind of violence from where you come from”. They do not realize that this was supposed to be my retirement ticket from all the political and social drama back home.
Many of us chose to migrate to a land far away from our cherished motherland, not out of financial ambition or a blind fascination with the west, but in search of a quiet, dull environment where we can heal our wounds. United States was that place for me
Taking that option from people like me is a truly agonizing and distressing experience. It demolishes the almost naïve dream of finding salvation and recovering normality one day. It took me over a month to digest and write about what happened as the trauma was so profound despite all the clues. I even reactivated the flashing alarm on the back of my head awaiting further calamities to unfold.
On the following days and weeks, I would witness a calm and serene city like Washington DC metamorphose into a military fortress with more soldiers than US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fear, the anguish, and the checkpoints made me feel trapped inside Jean-Paul Sartre’s dark existential drama No Exit, where the protagonists find themselves trapped in a luxurious prison with other damned souls in hell. America is no longer safe. There is no escape, I finally admit to myself as I collect the pieces of my irreparably cracked American Dream.