Is It Safe Yet?

For Muslims in St. Louis, politics gets personal as fear dominates their lives

One Bosnian woman had just moved into a peaceful new apartment, far from a few Serb neighbors who'd been bothering her. By early September, Waite-Wright says, "she was sleeping better, she had more energy, she was finally starting to plan, to see that maybe there was some hope for the future." She'd ached for some sign of acceptance, and when her new neighbors greeted her warmly, and she found herself having conversations with them, she came to see Waite-Wright, bubbling with the news.

Then came Sept. 11. The woman started having nightmares. She grew afraid to be in her apartment alone. She said the neighbors were turning their faces away from her. "The hope that was just starting has -- it's like a new flower that was just budding, and the frost came, and now it's gone," sighs Waite-Wright. "It's very painful."

She is only listening to all this pain, only watching it. But it crawls onto her skin, climbs into her stomach, weighs down her heart. "Sometimes I cry," she admits. "But I find hope -- maybe it is not a justified hope -- but when I put on the TV or the radio and I hear all these different views, that builds up my hope."

Difference isn't exactly cherished these days, though. "Before," she says, "you were eager and proud to talk about where you came from, and people would be interested and perhaps know something about it or ask some questions. Now, immigrants wish they were not different. The more American somebody looks now, the better, because then you don't bring attention to yourself.

"The refugees all mourn the loss of their feeling of safety," she finishes. "It's like they are grieving that they have lost what they thought they had. We try to focus on the fact that it might be rebuilt again in the future.

"But of course that will depend on what happens."

Editor's note: All names marked with a * are pseudonyms.

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