A guy with brown eyes and dark skin and a thick American accent walks up to talk to me. I guess he’s an Iranian, possibly a Pakistani. Where’re you from, I ask? “Austin, Texas,” he replies. Fisk foiled again. But where do you originally come from I ask him? “I was born in Newark, New Jersey.” Fisk clears his throat. Where does his family originally come from? I’m beginning to feel like the man from Homeland Security, racially profiling my new friend. “Lahore,” he replies laconically and I try to make amends. The only beautiful city in Pakistan, I say, and he smiles witheringly at me.
And I go on making the same mistake at the conference hall where the biggest annual convention of American Muslims – perhaps 32,000 of them – is meeting for a weekend of speeches and discussions that run all the way from drug addiction to Condi Rice’s “new” and bloody Middle East, from banking without interest to the Bush administration’s use of torture and yes, of course, the after-effects on Muslims of the international crimes against humanity of September 11, 2001.
You from Jordan I ask? “Denver, Colorado,” the young woman replies. Born in San Diego. Family, yes, from Jordan. From Lebanon, I ask another? “Buffalo, New York.” Actually, the family was from Syria.
It takes a while to realise that I’m playing the game of so many American non-Muslims in the aftermath of the plane hijackings. I’m sniffing for the world’s enemies only hours after President George W Bush went into paranoid mode while addressing the American Legion in Salt Lake City. He had just claimed that America is fighting “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century” and then jumped on the crumbling old arguments of pre-Second World War appeasement to bang the Hitler drum as well.