The Xenophobia Sandwich
This Olympics the media decided that Muslim athlete in hijab + American flag + bronze medal = a story.
Not everyone was receptive.
The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) declared last year that one of its principle aims is to "eliminate the grayzone" in Western countries—to, by way of increasingly horrific attacks on civilians, create anti-Muslim hatred in North America and Europe that will force a separation between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Trump's (and his followers') stances seem congenial, leaving the rest of us feeling like the meat between slices of xenophobia.
When so many of your countrymen/women are playing right into the terrorists' ideological hands, it makes you wonder if the two sides (radical Islam & radical anti-Islam) are actually enemies. In spirit.
Q: How should those of us in the "grayzone" be carrying ourselves in action and conversation in order to push against all this? If your answer happens to be love, what forms might that love take?
I've been seeing a meme recently, where people say, if you ever wanted to learn what you would do under tyranny or how to prevent it, now's your chance. They say it with reference to Trump and it's Godwin's Law all over again.
I come to this as a Jew—I can't help it, I come to many things as a Jew. A Jew who did not have a big loss during the Holocaust. I think the only one who was killed was a doctor. But I also have a cousin who hid in Sweden as he and his mother pretended to be Catholic.
And as a Jew with family in Israel. And as one who was brought up with Hebrew School where, in between learning how to get through a Bar or Bat Mitzvah (a ritual I threw over for a Sweet Sixteen party, actually), we were also fed a ton of nasty anti-Arab prejudice and propaganda. In a Hebrew School that had classes during the Yom Kippur War (after Yom Kippur, of course).
So I was brought up to feel that the Arabs—not really the Muslims, per se, which is interesting unto itself—were out to get us. Where the Germans were, yet we went to Germany twice when I was a kid and we had a marvelous time both times.
And now I'm older and I see Muslim folks are getting the same kinds of prejudice I got as a kid. Where they are pushed around for what they wear or what they study or how they speak or what they do when school's out. I see myself in them. I see [people say] "all Muslims are terrorists" and I hear it as "dirty Jew."
I also see and feel the push to make America a Christian nation. I argue with people online about prayer in schools. I bristle and call them out when they tell me I did something nice but refer to it as "the Christian thing to do." No. It's the human thing to do. It doesn't turn into a good thing when a cross is waved over it. It was good before.
I think we as reasonable and intelligent members of society need to call this stuff out. To fight back against the "all Muslims" and the like kinds of statements and attacks. To say, "I know people who aren't." And to keep saying that, over and over again, because the die-hards will never be convinced, but it might be something which gets through to the fence sitters.
But we have to get off our own fences first.
I find that understanding is perhaps the strongest weapon against radicalism—whether that is from Trump or ISIS—because it more often than not promotes coexistence. We first acknowledge that there is a problem within our greater community that needs to be addressed and then we address that problem by promoting education on the issue. We learn to understand the situation with more depth and to understand those involved and to understand that not everyone a person thinks is involved is actually involved. We continue by educating others through conversation and through actions that show acceptance.
I feel that many people argue for the sake of argument, or hate for the sake of hating, and it becomes obvious to me that this is the case when those same people lack evidence to support their reasons why people of other backgrounds are less civilized, more dangerous, or less human than they are. When we educate ourselves and share the knowledge we gain—the facts about history and current events, about political involvements, about various religious ideologies and the diversity of people—we corner those who lack understanding, challenge their views.
I think that when people have educated conversations about what’s going on in the world, how and why events turn out the way they do, there will be less to push against and more room to move forward.
Let me start this response by stating that I am no expert in global affairs. I don't know much of anything about anything. But what I do know is that one shouldn't be surprised by the actions and reactions of human beings. It is very natural for us to treat people one way and expect an entirely different response / treatment in return. For example, I love to be right. Sometimes, I like to be right so much that I raise my voice to the person I'm talking with as a way of getting my point across. In my mind, I'm simply raising my voice to help the other person hear what I'm saying because, obviously, the person must not have heard me initially. Through countless hours of research and field work, I have discovered that fifteen times out of ten, when I raise my voice, the person I'm debating will too. The interesting thing is my reaction to their yelling—I get offended at the fact they're yelling at me. As if I didn't hear what they had to say in the first place! Of course I did, that's why I raised my voice!
The moral of the story? Human beings can be very trifling with each other. Even if you didn't intend to make them upset, perception is reality.
“No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding—and more difficult—to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.”" –Edward Said
image (top): USA Podium 2013 Fencing mixed with shitty Youtube comments re Ibtihaj Muhammad