Portrait of a Muslim in Sacramento

Ksaled Unbashi’s Mediterranean deli had a three-and-a-half star rating from the Sacramento Bee. But after September 11, the Oasis Express began losing customers.

Unbashi got some nasty looks on the street, he says, and his wife has been bullied walking alone in Sacramento. But Unbashi’s customers never openly showed their hostility for him or for Islam. In fact, he received between 10 and 15 letters and phone calls from people showing their support. And just when the restaurant was really struggling, he received a note with $50 in it.

But business continued to dwindle, and Unbashi shut the deli down.

Now, he volunteers across the street with the Sacramento Yolo Peace Action. He is one of the few Muslims in Sacramento who openly speaks out against United States foreign policy in the Middle East. Though he believes that the Taliban is a repressive government that deserves toppling, he doesn’t believe the United States should have resorted to bombing, not even to get a “devil” like Osama bin Laden.

Unbashi’s eyes are hidden by tinted lenses, but his voice is soft and grave.

“Why don’t you educate those governments that you put in there to help those people?” he asks, believing that our interference in the Middle East obligates us to educate and train the governments we help create.

“We want the freedom this country has. … If you helped in an advisory way, in a supervisory way, maybe these people … ”

Unbashi’s voice trails off.

He believes that bad foreign policy, including unconditional support for Israel, helped create men like bin Laden. According to Unbashi, America is seen as a bully that allows Israelis to “beat up” on Palestinians. Unbashi says he has read in the Arabic press that bin Laden was once a CIA agent, and that the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein with weapons and money. According to Unbashi, the fact that we create a leader and then fight a war to destroy him is what causes some followers of Islam, a peaceful religion, to follow a man like bin Laden.

“Islam is peace itself,” says Unbashi.

At his mosque,
Unbashi explains, 400 to 500 Muslims gather throughout the day to pray. They stand in lines and bow together as a priest leads them in prayer. “God is great,” they say, trying to connect their own minds and hearts with Allah.

Unbashi says that some of the Muslims who worship at the mosque fear for their safety. Maybe someone will plant a bomb or drive by shooting. And he personally fears that new legislation will make it easier for the federal government to circumvent the constitution to target, question and detain those of Middle Eastern descent.

He lifts up an Arabic newspaper and points to a picture of children and women at gunpoint. The man holding the gun wears American fatigues. It brings Unbashi right back to his central theme: War is inherently wrong; the peaceful world of Islam, the world that Allah intended, does not include the slaughter of innocents.

If we lived by the Qur’an, everyone would be equally respected, religions would coexist peacefully, everyone would be fed, and there would be no need for kingdoms and autocracies at all.