He’s a happily married, Chicago Bears-crazed, pizza-loving former Boy Scout.
He listens to alternative rock by U2 and Collective Soul, belongs to a rowing club in Philadelphia and hails from Springfield, Ill.
So the evidence suggests that Moein Khawaja, 27, has every reason to consider himself as American as, well, Springfield’s own Homer Simpson.
Heck, when I called Khawaja’s cell phone with follow-up questions, I actually caught him in a Dunkin’ Donuts.
“I’m from Springfield,” Khawaja said with pride, “but my dad is not Apu.”
Who but someone steeped in American culture would make an Apu reference?
But to be Khawaja is to live with his Americanism being suspect.
A Muslim born to well-educated Pakistani immigrants, Khawaja wonders what it’s going to take to not have fellow Americans wonder about him.
Guilt by association
Remember the news on Christmas Day? Khawaja does.
A Nigerian with extremist Islamic beliefs tried to detonate a liquid explosive attached to his underwear while on board a commercial flight landing in Detroit.
“It was Christmas. We had the day off. My wife turns on the news,” Khawaja recalled. “And she’s like: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ And then she unleashes a whole set of expletives.”
Khawaja said Muslims across the United States had the same reaction.
In the name of Allah, a lunatic tried to blow up himself and a plane full of innocents, quite likely Muslims among them. And Muslims everywhere got tarred.
“When I hear on the news that there’s been a shooting,” Khawaja said, “I’m like, ‘Please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim.’ “
And if it is an Islamic radical, Khawaja lamented, “I have to prove to everyone that I’m not one of them.”
I spoke with Khawaja after a talk he gave to Lancaster Rotary Club members. He is the civil rights director for the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). (More)