Fear creates anger, and anger can make us irrational. When we cannot strike at an enemy directly, we will sometimes relieve our sense of helplessness by striking at a substitute that is within reach.
In response to the blow of September 11th, some have vented their pain, fear and rage on anyone of Arab descent or Moslem faith.
Most of us know that this is as wrong as the crimes of the terrorists are. But many of us still believe that war and terrorism is an expression of something fundamental to the nature of Islam and the Arab personality.
I do not feel that refraining from persecution is enough. We have been violently forced into a larger world. We now live in the state of vulnerability to pain and terror that people in many other countries have lived with for decades. We no longer have the option of hoping for peace. We must actively create peace.
To achieve peace we must sacrifice our stereotypes. Both Muslim stereotypes of Christians and Christian stereotypes of Muslims have fueled this conflict.
Education is one way to break down a stereotype. There are many good sources, including Beliefnet on the web, for information about the realities of Islam. An even better way to break down a stereotype is proximity. Getting to know local Arabs and Muslims would not only help you replace stereotyped devil-masks with individual human faces, but will help counter the ostracism and hatred they are receiving right now from the ignorant.
But we usually have a reason for holding a stereotype. We have something invested in it. The only way to really escape the stereotype is to give up the justification for it.
We only demonize others when we are uncomfortable with something in our own lives. Accepting ourselves and finding a more direct way to solve our own problems makes stereotypes unnecessary.
This makes hatred of the Satanic materialism of the Christian West understandable in people of Arab countries living in much greater poverty than even a homeless person in a New York alley experiences.
Most of us believe that the poverty of any place in the United States is more wealthy than the poverty of any place in the Middle East. But the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty, child hunger, and child fatality in any industrialized country. There is pain here. And the shame and frustration created by never being able to afford what people immediately around you seem to take for granted, what the media project as taken for granted, is just as painful.
It is emotionally satisfactory to have an enemy to vent your anger on when you are miserable. Even more important is to have an enemy perceived as absolutely evil, when you feel ashamed.
There are many things that Muslims are raised to feel ashamed of -- and most of them, like "immodest dress" and female sensuality, are identified with the U.S. There are many things we are trained to feel ashamed of, in our own society. Ironically, one of these is our own sexuality -- which we project right back on Arab society.
We are very aware of the self-righteousness of the Shi'ite Imams, the self-perpetuating, unforgiving feuds of the Middle East in which neither side will admit to being wrong. Are we as aware of our own arrogance, the attitude that the United States can do no wrong, that we present to the rest of the world? We have repeatedly refused to sign the Declaration of Human Rights, to be subject to the moral judgement of any other country or group of countries, to be called to account or to apologize for our own actions. And yet we can see in the theater of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East that both sides have committed wrongs and both sides will have to acknowledge that and forgive themselves before they can forgive the other, and have peace.
Hunting down and eliminating the terrorists who threaten the entire world will do a great deal to increase human peace. Hunting down and eliminating the sources of hatred within our own hearts will do even more.
We must do both.
My Related Links:
An American Woman's Prayer on September 14, 2001
September 11 Activism Page
Racism and Anti-Racism
Effective Activism for the Women of Afghanistan (Don't sign that email petition!)
Other Related Links::
Salon.com News | An Afghan-American speaks
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Fundamentalism & Religious Revival
100 Questions and Answers about Arab Americans
Help Afghan Women and Other Victims of Violence
Hear from Afghanistan Women
God Angrily Clarifies "Don't Kill" Rule -- from The Onion
Ways to Help the Afghanistan People:
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