When terrorist attacks occur in Western countries, Westerners can be quick to respond with vitriol and hatred directed at Muslims, whether or not the attack has yet been confirmed carried out by people who identify as Muslim. I don’t know what it was like before September 11, 2001, because I was only 17 then, and not yet aware of the worldwide political landscape. The World Trade Center attack was a wake-up call for many, as it was me. I watched it live purely because it interrupted whatever comedy programme I was watching at the time it started. What I can say is that I’ve noticed attitudes towards “others,” especially Muslims, seems to have gotten steadily worse since then, especially with the rise of social media.
I generally don’t step up to talk about these issues. Part of it is about wanting to keep the peace, though I know where I stand on the issues, I don’t wish to fight with people who disagree with me on them. I also often don’t feel I know enough to make comment, and that there are many more people with a more personal understanding of the situations who are better suited to speak up. I believe it is better to listen to the stories of the people who have first-hand experience with things, rather than having those stories filtered through someone who does not. I cannot begin to fathom the true sense of loss and pain suffered by those who have experienced the violence of terrorism. I have never lost someone that way.
Having said that, I’m tired of reading hatred spewed online, filling up small sections of my Facebook news feed. I am lucky that I don’t have very many Facebook friends who believe all Muslims are evil, but the fact is I have still seen it. I’ve never felt like I could argue with someone who believes such things, so I never spoke up. But I’m sick and tired of that attitude, and I want to say something now.
I lived in a predominantly-Muslim country for over five and a half years. In my experience, the attacks they get in Western culture is unwarranted. Those who I know personally who identify as Muslim enjoy the same things we do. They just want to go about their lives the same way we do. They’re not violent people, on the whole. I’m sick of seeing people blame the violence and terrorism on an entire religion. This video sums up much better than I can about why I think it’d ridiculous to lump every Muslim into one category. There are a lot of Muslim countries in the world. They are not all suffering from the threat of ISIS. Even in the Middle East, The Queen of Jordan has said there is nothing Islamic about ISIS. And getting people in Western countries to fear Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants.
I wish there was a simple way to get people to choose love and compassion over fear and hate. Though I don’t consider myself religious, I was raised Catholic, and I still believe in the compassionate teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Love thy neighbour. My understanding of most major religions is that we should be compassionate to all, not just those who look like we do, and believe the same things. This is true of Islam as much as it is Christianity. I’ve learned this through knowing people who are Muslim. I do my best to avoid poor mass media representations of them, because personal experience with actually meeting them and listening to them should trump that.
Now, I understand the difficulty with that, I do. I’m guilty of not taking the time to ask people questions about their experiences because I’m afraid of saying something offensive. But that doesn’t stop me from reading about their experiences online, where they have made the effort to be heard. That doesn’t stop me from being friends with them and understanding their character, finding what we have in common, outside of religion. Because religious beliefs will always only be one aspect of who a person is anyway.
Not everyone will be open enough to talk about their experiences, but we can always listen to the ones who are. About a year and a half ago, perhaps a little longer, when I still lived in Malaysia, my eldest son’s best school friend came from an Iraqi refugee family. I took my son to visit him one afternoon, and stayed. I got to talk to his parents, but mostly I just listened. I listened to their stories of how Iraq was once a more open country, where Muslims and Christians lived side-by-side in peace. I listened to the pain they felt when they started to see their country change, and the moment where Muslim was pitted against Muslim, slaughtering each other in the street, solidifying for them that it was time to flee their home. I learned about how their family is now spread across several countries around the world, and I felt the pain of being separated by that distance. But they were the lucky ones. They got out. They survived.
I support the idea of letting refugees in. The argument of it being a risk and allowing the terrorists in is ridiculous, because if the terrorists want in, they’ll get in regardless. They will find a way. I would like to think that standing with these people, allowing them into our schools, will create a better understanding of what they have been through. More compassion. When they stand among us, we won’t have to give in to the fear created by the media, because we will personally know these “other” people and know that the media is lying to us. The media should not control us like that, and we have the power to stop it.
Because they are just like us. Their children are just like our children. I am proud of the fact that my kids go to a school with mixed ethnicities and religions. A couple of weeks ago, I chaperoned four kids for my 3rd grader’s field trip. My son was one of them. One of them was a Muslim girl, and the other two were Hispanic kids. They all behaved the same way. Childhood innocence. But who they grow up to be will depend a lot on how they are treated by those who don’t look like them. I wish they could grow up in a world where they had the same privileges my son does. I wish they could grow up in a world that will treat them with the respect they deserve. But I’m afraid with the attitudes I see around the world, that dream is too far to grasp.
The media needs to do a better job of shaping our positive attitudes towards “other.” I do what I can with the anthologies I publish, but I’m only a small independent publisher, and what I release doesn’t have the wide audience it deserves to have. But I still do my best to make those voices heard. In my last anthology, that included a story about a grieving Muslim mother, experiencing loss the same way anyone else would. In the anthology I’m working on now, there’s a story about the difficulty of being gay and Muslim. Both of these pieces were included because I really feel it’s important for people to see the similarities of their experiences, rather than the differences.
We are all human.
It’s time to stop being scared of people just because you don’t personally know anyone who fits into a particular race or religion. The majority of them are not like their negative portrayals in the media.