A little over a year ago, right before the Boston Marathon, I moved from Salt Lake City to Boston with my husband and my 5-year-old son. I missed the soaring beauty of the Wasatch Range, but I loved the colonial character of Boston.
My husband and I had both been on the Board of Directors of United in Service for Humanity, a nonprofit in Salt Lake that provides services to the homeless poor and disadvantaged, so upon moving to Boston I threw myself into the city and quickly became involved with the community. I felt welcomed and knew we could continue to build our home and family here.
All this came to an abrupt halt when the marathon bombing happened. I have seen and experienced many things in my life. As a child, I experienced the Rodney King riots, and life in Southern California exposed me to gang violence and shootings before my mother moved the family to Utah to be in a safer place. Years later, I remember waiting, on Sept. 11, to hear from loved ones who only missed being in the Trade Center that day because of traffic. However, this event was entirely different.
I remember that day as one full of fear. I was in a new place, with no family or close friends. Alone in my apartment with my son as I heard reports that the building where my husband works might have a bomb, but I was unable to contact him. I thank God everyday that he came home that night.
I also remember the atmosphere of fear and anger that week, culminating in the lockdown of an entire neighborhood and the pursuit of the two suspects. Everyone was on edge. Then came the shocking news that the two men accused of this horrendous act had occasionally attended the mosque where I worked.
Does that surprise you? And what about it does? That I am American Muslim, that I administer to the needs of the Islamic Community in Boston, or that you can sympathize with my experience?
In fact, I am the "typical" American, to the degree that such a thing exists. My family comes from mixed European ancestry with some Native American thrown in for good measure. My mother’s family is more recently from Sicily, and, on my father’s side, we were among the first to colonize Virginia and fight in the Revolutionary war.
Over the years I have seen how America’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity has made us stronger as a nation. Our differences have allowed us to create a society proud of hard work, innovation, excellent education, and freedom. Values — rather than heritage or class or how we choose to pray — are what define us. We may struggle at times, but we always pull through united in the end.
Sometimes our society gets too caught up in labels and we forget that behind every label is a living breathing person with hopes, dreams, and struggles much the same as our own. Paradoxically, perhaps, my experience of the marathon bombing, as traumatizing as it was, has been that it was an opportunity for my new city to rise above the forces of division.
Last year, with a few disappointing exceptions, we were not divided against another. As we struggled to come to grips with an indiscriminate crime, we came together and supported one another as Bostonians and as Americans. We pulled from our various faiths to comfort each other. In Cambridge alone, we had a solidarity walk and interfaith service at our mosque with over 300 attendees. This solidarity is what gives me hope for the future of our country and our children.
If the purpose of terrorists is to divide people and sow fear, then each of us should deny them those goals. The best way to honor the lives of those who were so senselessly killed and injured is to stand united and unbowed.
Though I may still be new to my adopted city, my faith calls me to stand "Boston Strong" against violent extremism of any sort and continue to build bridges — bridges that strengthen our communities, our country and indeed, our world.
Who will stand with me?
Nichole Mossalam is the Director for the Islamic Society of Boston Mosque. She attended the University of Utah before moving to Boston with her husband and son.
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