Amir Safi’s Powerful Poem Dissects The Complexities Of Being Muslim In America

"You do not know yet whether you are expected to be outraged or apologize."

Button Poetry seeks to "showcase the power and diversity of voices in our community," and one of those powerful voices is that of Amir Safi, whose spoken word poem "Muslim Ban" just hit YouTube on January 2. In under three minutes, Safi elucidates the constant anxiety of living as a Muslim American amid so much hate and violence both stateside and abroad.

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"To be Muslim is to watch your mosque set on fire and not say a word because you do not know yet if it was the supremacists or the fundamentalists, which is to say, you do not know yet whether you are expected to be outraged or apologize," he says.

He then delves into hashtag activism, which turns some issues into social media movements while ignoring others entirely. "Tell me, if a Muslim's body hits the ground, and no one's there to make a hashtag, did it ever even exist?" he says. "By that, I mean, 200 children were executed by ISIS in Syria, but nobody heard about it because it didn't happen at an Ariana Grande concert. Besides, Twitter can't fit 200 bodies behind a hashtag, and the world can't fit its feet into 400 tiny shoes."

According to a bio of Safi, his poetry is "the result of a collision between his Iranian culture and his Texan upbringing." While studying biology at Texas A&M University, Safi founded the poetry nonprofit Mic Check and the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival, and after moving to Houston, he founded a weekly poetry slam called Write About Now Poetry. He's also a 2013 National Poetry Slam semifinalist.

It's no wonder Safi is regarded so highly. His lyrical ingenuity and his political verve coalesce in memorable verses, like in this performance when he rails against the solutions put forth by our nation's mostly White, mostly male leadership — including Sen. Ted Cruz's suggestion to start patrolling Muslim neighborhoods ("I mean, what are you going to do, patrol all areas with good school districts?") and President Donald Trump's proposed Muslim ban ("Isn't blaming Muslims for ISIS the definition of victim-blaming?")

"That's where I see it: how not human you view us," he concludes. "As if the only way to stop bigotry and xenophobia toward Muslims is to make people afraid of more Muslims become terrorists, as if this is our natural evolution, like if you say something mean to us, we will go hibernate in some cocoon woven from hurt feelings and emerge as butterfl-ISIS. 

"Except for Malala. Everyone loves Malala. As if the only way a Muslim can prove they are, in fact, not a terrorist is by getting shot in the head by one. Or at least that's what they'd have us believe in America, where the mosque was shot up in my hometown. Where they want to patrol my neighborhood and separate me from my family. Greatest military in the world terrified of my grandmothers. And I still don't know if I'm expected to be outraged or apologize."

For more Button Poetry, check out Patrick Roche's spoken word performance about suicide, Neil Hilborn's performance about dating with OCD, Kevin Kantor's poem about triggering social media algorithms, and Natasha T. Miller's poem about Black Lives Matter.

Check out Safi's performance above.

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