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You come into this world all blank slate and hope. 

You learn the ways of the elders.  

Learn how to move, survive...Who to love, hate, trust, mistrust...

Who is different. Who to look up to. 

You learn to play the game.


When we’re all crabs in a bucket, what’s in a religion? 

Propaganda seeps into your mind. 

Why is their holy day Friday?

On a dusty field we test our differences and play a game of soccer. 

The truth should come through. 

God should decree the right winner. 

Christians versus Muslims. 

The Christians won the first game. 

The Muslims the second.


Some time later, I am torn from my place of birth, bucolic and small, 

taken to the large metropolis of Delhi. 

Olfactory senses overwhelmed, I vomit. 

Here, I develop my atheism.

Here, the Islamic-Christian dynamic is replaced with an Islamic-Hindu one. 

Here, the people are closer together. 

More crabs in this bucket than any other.


Nothing to hear at first, but then it slowly uncovers itself as I listen in the shadow to the  side  conversations of locals.

“They slew us. They changed us, but real problems here. We all get along. 

Now watch your step.”


In the aftermath of a march attempting to destroy the Ayodha mosque, 

I see how easily violence infects the air and changes the people. 

Angst and agitation morphing into the fists of young men ready to bludgeon flesh. 

“Keep your eyes down”, my grandparents said.

So, this is the me who is then plucked up and slowly steeped in the easy racism

and by extension, Islamophobia of small town America. 


I’m suspect because of my skin color...a dune coon, 

but I laugh it off because I’ve never even seen a dune. 

I fail to understand the implications of the name-calling, the intention.

Crabs in a bucket, again.

The news filtering through reinforces this.

A Taliban so grotesque it blows up Buddhist statues. 

Women’s rights under attack by its counter-revolutionary force. 

The wrong kind of violence in the world as if there is a right kind of violence, 

but it is black and brown bodies suffering most.

A young Muslim man is angry Clinton bombed Iraqi school children with impunity. 

The Secret Service is called on him, while white male Christians make a host of threats and no one says a word.


Who’s the crab now?


With 9-11, my adopted country attacked. 

A secular anger fills my chest.

I join up some time after. 

The Iraq war was starting up. 

“Hello sleeper cell,” says my drill sergeant. 

It’s worth a chuckle, so I take it in stride. 

My secular beliefs, my belief in mission, belief in the Army still hang strong.

Carrying forth what exactly? And not worrying about  personal affront.

I remain silent for the good of the nation. 


In the midst of a deployment extension and the Jaish al-Mahdi fighting, 

a colonel gives a speech. “We are here for the forces of progress, here to help the people.” 

As a secular man, I see nothing wrong with this. 

Never mind the actions, our Army must mean something. 

The crabs happy at the bottom of the bucket never experience disappointment.

The Islamophobia grows from the original “Why do they hate us?” to “I hate them all!

Let’s turn this place into a glass parking lot!”

Some soldiers require me to prove myself as pure or true, my skin color, place of birth - 

marks I can never be rid of.


I see this as ignorance to be laughed away. 

Only later would I understand what James Baldwin meant with “…ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

I  realize  my own ignorance of the world feeds my silence, even if I present it as stoicism.

In Iraq, the insurgency morphs and the violence grows. 

And the Islamophobia grows  alongside that violence. 

Crabs in a bucket..

I’m asked often if I’m a Muslim, too many times actually. 

Perhaps, because I have some affinity for them?

A poisoned grape they don’t want to swallow. 

That’s my only potential, even if I claim to be an atheist.

The Islamophobia grows stronger, the hatred too.


I leave the South. Hate and remorse on my boot heels, happy to be out of their clutches. 

In New York City I feel more accepted, truly American, but the protest over a mosque begins and the arguments on campus are as silly as they are narrow-minded. 

Crabs in a bucket once again.

I visit old Army friends back in the South. 

They ask kindly if I’m Muslim. 

Do you not know me?

Am I simply the other?

The mosque in New York? 

Oh they shouldn’t be there.

An ignorance stands proud.

The accusations of President Obama being Muslim come to the surface.

Through the Facebook and Twitter streams of many veterans, 

I better understand the gaze on me now. 

I am the other, as if I have some weakness for the horde at the gate. I am the poisoned grape. 

We are all crabs in a bucket, but when will we focus on the bucket master?


Nelson Lowhim