Living Off the Nile

Dear Americans,

September 10th, 2010 by asmetana · No Comments

I’m sure all of you have heard about the Pastor from Florida, Terry Jones, who is planning on burning copies of the Qur’an. I hear that it is all over the news in the States and it is in the news here as well. Wednesday in class, two professors brought it up. One of them was warning us to stay away from places like Al-Azhar Mosque on the 11th since that is a large gathering place and a site where demonstrations in Cairo are most likely to occur. It will be extra busy anyways since the 11th is the second day of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims are celebrating the end of Ramadan with their family and friends and will be frequenting mosques in larger numbers than usual.

I am personally not worried for my safety, since Egypt is a relatively stable country, but I find it ridiculous that some small church in Florida has the potential to put not only my well-being and safety at risk, but those of everyone else living, studying, or traveling abroad in places where a few could use this instance as an excuse to violently express their beliefs. Not once have I felt ill at ease for being an American here, though I will avoid areas that may be considered “unsafe” since I have no way to tell what people’s reaction here will be if the Qur’an burning goes through. I do expect people to feel sadness and anger. This is entirely understandable and I am united with them in these two emotions as well as frustration.

I am tired of America failing to live up to its ideal and values. Even though I am glad that President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and numerous other people from the government, religious organizations, students, and non-profits have all condemned the actions the Florida church is about to take, there are still too many people that believe the burning of a holy book is just act and in the demonization of Muslims. Pastor Jones justified his plan to the AP by saying, “How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?”… “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s to time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior.”

How does the burning of the Qur’an equate to “standing up” against radical Islam? It just represents a hatred and misunderstanding of the contents of the Qur’an and what it calls its followers to do. The Qur’an is not a symbol of radical Islam, but a holy book used by 1,571,198,000 people around the world (22.9% of the world population). By focusing his attack on the Qur’an and not on a symbol that is unique to radicals, he is alienating a huge community of the world that just wants to live in peace. If he really wanted to counter radical Islam, then the Pastor should do some research into why radical Islam has taken hold and how the Qur’an has been crudely twisted to support actions of terror and destruction by leaders discontented with the status quo. They have used religion to justify and fortify their ideological beliefs and political agendas. One of the best ways to confront radical Islam is to show support and compassion to the average Muslim and provide Muslim communities with the opportunities and resources necessary to create environments that do not inspire individuals to turn to extremism to find the solutions to their problems.

Times are changing in the U.S. and the world. The economy has been sluggish, Americans are worried about their decline in global power, and they are fearful that in a few decades the America they grew up with and love will have an entirely different face. These current times are not unique, as our history tells us. I was always surprised as a child when I learned about all the difficulties African American faced when fighting for their rights in the 60s, the discrimination that the Japanese faced and their internment during World War Two, and all the other civil rights movements that minorities had to trudge through in order to be considered “non-threatening” and allocated the respect they deserve as U.S. citizens. All these movements seemed needlessly painful, full of fear and hate. While I do not believe that Muslim Americans face nearly the same degree of discrimination as former minority groups and are fortunate in having the backing of the government, it is shameful that they should be confronting any sort of animosity from their fellow citizens. Situations regarding Muslims are blown entirely out of proportion, they are looked at suspiciously in the airports, and people wonder how the hijab can signify anything other than the restriction of women’s rights.

I hope that sooner rather than later we will be able to embrace diversity within and without our borders, not just idealize them. Speak up, take action, and make American ideals a reality.

Ma’a Salaam.

Peace.

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