The IS attacks this month in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, coupled with their admission of bombing the Russian passenger over the Sinai Peninsula have brought global attention to a growing problem in the Middle East which now has been picked up by the mainstream western media and run through the 24 hour news cycle. Unfortunately, this issue has been covered much the same way as every other story has been covered during this two year never ending election season; we reduce ourselves down to the lowest common denominator and choose sides. Everyone with a twitter handle can now play Monday morning quarterback and is comfortable being an expert on foreign relations. These tragic events are used to spew more hatred, spawn bigoted stereotypes, and perpetuate xenophobic worldviews that are at best ignorant and uniformed. Though I have only been living in the Middle East for a very short while, I find this issue hits close to home for me as I see (through the magic of social media) that many acquaintances and sadly even friends are sucked into a narrative that is myopic, lazy, and devoid of any reason or human decency
While playing billiards this morning with some new friends of mine from around the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, UAE, Sudan), one of them looked at me and said “you know Mr. Tony these men are not good Muslims, they are crazy and sick”. He went on to explain that there were close to 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and that these individuals were sick and twisted and that they bastardize the teachings of the Quran and the principals of Islam. After brief discussion I explained to him that this is sadly the case for many groups and that there are terrorists who claim to be Christian as well but do not represent mainstream Christian principles and teachings of peace and acceptance. The internet is full of debates and arguments on this issue, many bloggers and talking heads in their insatiable desire for ratings and page views like to tally up and compare how many of “them” vs how many of “us” have committed acts of terrorism. We debase ourselves to some sick form of scorekeeping and then fight like little boys arguing in a sandbox. Our primal instincts take over and we see disgusting hate-speak, fear-mongering, and saber-rattling that lumps 1.3 billion people in the “same group” as these radicalized whack-jobs who are preying on the weak and marginalized in the false name of Islam. Would Christians in America take kindly to being lumped together as members of the KKK or the Branch Davidians? This “reporting” is cheap, dangerous, and conveniently lacking of any hard facts which would be fine if we were discussing the latest episode of “Real Housewives” or examining the artistic direction of Rihanna’s latest music video, but not sensitive, complex, and delicate issues that puts lives in jeopardy.
What struck me later about my conversation with my new Arab friends was the fact that our conversation took place in English. At my school we have a staff of about 90 men and less than 15% are native English speakers, the vast majority are local Emiratis or Arab expatriates whose primary language and medium of instruction is Arabic. I have barely been in the country long enough to have a cup of coffee yet these men struggle and stammer their way in English in order to make me (and the rest of the westerners) feel comfortable and included in every facet of life. The staff here have literally opened up their homes, prepared meals, and given gifts to me and my family and have welcomed and embraced us as one of their own. This makes me feel ashamed of how we so often treat immigrants, refugees, and non English speakers in the U.S. Even though I have spent a good deal of time trying; I can barely grasp a few basic phrases and greetings in Arabic and I feel humiliated that there English is perfectly conversational while my Arabic is barely intelligible. I am struck by the difference back in the U.S. when immigrants move to our country we demand that they assimilate and speak English right away. In fact, in Arizona it is actually against the law to instruct any medium other than English at publically funded schools (no habla espanol). I have never been treated to such hospitality in my life than I have over the past two months. The kindness and generosity I have felt in this country has truly humbled me and opened my worldview. It pains me such a large swath of Americans act so ignorant and uninformed towards “all Muslims” while painting the Middle East as uniformly evil, archaic, and less than the West. Nothing could be further than the truth.
It is undeniable that there are, have been, and will continue to be those who carry out unimaginable acts of terror, violence, and destruction in the name of Islam….. or Christianity….or fill in the blank. We must open our eyes and more importantly our minds to the fact that evil exists in this world and it exists under many labels, colors, religions, and worldviews.
A sad by product of these attacks is the treatment and attitude of the Syrian refugees who are fleeing Syria precisely to escape the IS. ISIL sees these refugees as the enemy and makes this information public. We must learn from our past mistakes and realize that these refugees deserve our kindness, compassion, and care for they have nowhere else to turn. The facts are straight forward, since 1980 the U.S. has welcomed close to 2 million refugees from the Middle East and there have been 0 of these refugees that have committed an act of terrorism. Those elected officials and so-called leaders who rely on the ignorance and stupidity of millions of Americans don’t bother to look at or report these statistics. It is unfathomable that half our governors are now publicly hoping to ban refugees in the aftermath of Paris. The struggle these refugees go through to escape their own hell for a chance at a peaceful life is unimaginable for us Americans, but put yourself in there shoes. These refugees are fleeing from their native land to escape ideological and religious persecution and oppression in order to start a new life free from the tyranny of their homeland. They are seeking a new world where they can live in harmony and practice their religion peacefully. I think I have read this story before.