Getting To Know One Another
In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
My cousin works for a major cellular telephone company, and he shared with me a story that I want to share with you. It sheds a lot of light on the many negative comments I have received urging me to “leave this country” because I am a Muslim. At first, I did not understand those comments because America is the only country I have ever known. Yes, my ancestors hail from Egypt, but I was born and raised in this country. America is home for me. Americans are my people. So, for someone to tell me to “go back” makes no sense, because there is nowhere else for me to go.
Yet, when I was thinking about my cousin’s recent experience, I realized that I might understand why these people can say what they say.
My cousin was working when a customer walked into the store asking for help. As my cousin was tending to the customer, the customer began a tirade against the U.S. government. He was complaining about how the government is now monitoring our phone calls, spying on us without warrants, and using the Patriot Act to curb our civil liberties. What was telling was whom he blamed for these injustices: “those fu—ing American Muslims.”
Even though he acknowledged that not all Muslims are bad, he still tore into those “fu—ing American Muslims.” My cousin remained silent and did not respond to his smearing an entire community for the sins of a few. He kept helping the man as politely as ever. In fact, when the customer was all finished, he was very appreciative of my cousin’s help and warmly shook his hand. My cousin did not have the courage (and I am not sure I would have either) to tell the man as he was leaving: “You know, sir, I am one of those ‘fu—ing American Muslims.”
Herein lies the point: it is most probable that this customer does not know any “fu—ing American Muslims.” If he did, he probably would not have said what he said. My cousin is a normal, average American, just like everyone else. Looking at him, you probably would not know that he is a Muslim. Obviously, the customer could not tell that my cousin is a Muslim, otherwise he probably would not have complained about those “fu—ing American Muslims” in front of him.
I wish my cousin revealed his religious affiliation to that customer, to teach the man that those “fu—ing American Muslims” are regular Americans just like he is. Sure, there are bad people among them. Yes, some American Muslims have been caught plotting acts of terror. Yes, some American Muslims have betrayed their country and countrymen trying to plot a false and misguided mission of “jihad.” That does not mean that all American Muslims are enemies of the state. That does not mean that all American Muslims are fanatical terrorists. Such a characterization is very unfair indeed.
I feel the same way when it is Muslims who do the generalizing. I have heard some Muslims blame all of the problems of the Muslim World on “the Jews.” These Muslims then go into silly tirades, citing all sorts of stereotypes about the Jews. I object to those stereotypes, because I know better. I have worked with fellow Jewish Americans for many years. Some of my closest friends and colleagues are Jews. Thus, I neither accept nor condone hatred of Jews for the sake of being Jews. It is as wrong as hating Muslims for their being Muslim.
What’s more, these Muslims who spew hatred against the Jews cite the sins of the State of Israel as proof of the “evil of the Jews.” This is completely incorrect. Yes, Israel is not perfect, and it has done many things wrong. But that is not a reason to hate Jews. Just because Israel is occupying Palestinian land, it does not mean that I should hate the Jewish man walking on the street here in Chicago. Doing so is simply absurd.
The same is true with Muslims. Just because there are articles published every single day about some Muslim somewhere in the world who was caught plotting or actually committing an act of terror, that does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists. That does not mean that Islam itself is evil. There are criminal elements in every community, and the terrorists who call themselves Muslim are criminals. The fact that they use Islam to justify their terrorism makes them even more criminal in my mind. That does not mean, however, that I - or any other American Muslim, for that matter - have anything to do with them.
It is as unfair as characterizing Americans as bloodthirsty murderers because of the actions of the criminals among them. If a foreigner only reads news stories published about the actions of criminals in America, would he get an accurate view of what America truly is? Absolutely not. If a Muslim in Syria claims all Americans are sex-crazed, bloodthirsty monsters based upon the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, he or she would be absolutely wrong. Americans are not like the soldiers who committed the crimes at Abu Ghraib.
Well, the majority of Muslims are not like the terrorist criminals among them. Anyone who bothers to get to know their Muslim neighbors would quickly realize this. In fact, the way to eradicate ignorance and the stereotypes it breeds is to get to know one another. Once we know one another, we will realize that we are more alike than we are different. And once that happens, the forces of hate will never succeed in their attempts to divide us.