11 April 2007

Arabs are People Too

On Easter Sunday I went out for brunch with my parents and my sister, and we were talking about the tallest building in the world, and whether any buildings had "habitable office space" that was higher than the Sears Tower in Chicago (where my sister lives), and we came up with towers in Dubai and Kuala Lumpuur, but we were fairly sure that both of those buildings qualified as "tallest" only by virtue of their antennae.

Then my dad said, "Where is Dubai, anyway?" and I had to admit I wasn't really sure. In the United Arab Emirates, somewhere near Saudi Arabia, I said. Then my dad said, "Are they mostly Arab then?" and I said that I thought so. He shook his head, and I said, "Arabs are people too, Dad. There are good Arabs, and bad Arabs."

To this, my dad said, "They're Islamic, right?" and I said, yes, they're probably mostly Muslim. And he shook his head again, as if nothing more needed to be said. I started to try to defend the Muslim religion -- which I feel has been hijacked by radical fundamentalists who are to Islam what Jim Jones or David Kouresh or Pat Robertson is to Christianity; charlatans with insane agendas -- and my either soon-to-be-or-never-to-be brother-in-law effectively shushed me by changing the subject very abruptly. Part of me was thinking, "Hey! He's my dad; I'll argue with him if I want to!" and part of me was thinking, "Okay, I won't ruin brunch, but this one's not over!"

Partly I want to defend Muslims because my son is half Persian, and partly I want to defend Muslims on general principles. It is true that many Muslims do not warrant defending, and I am not attempting to defend these individuals. But just as individual Muslims may be excoriated for their actions, or their words, so should individual Muslims be recognized for their humanity, their patience, their intelligence, their tolerance, their love, their devotion, their perseverence, their faithfulness, etc.

In other words, there are surely good and bad among the members of any tribe. It's true that right now, on today's stage, there are a lot of Muslims who are either terrorists, or apologists for terrorism. But there are a lot more Muslims who are neither.
I was listening on my way home from work to an Egyptian Muslim woman who sounded so balanced and reasonable in her thinking, and I wondered, why don't we hear from Muslims like that more often?

And the answer is that -- for now at least -- reason is losing. Fear and hatred are winning. The masses can be controlled with religion, and governments like that. They forget that when you try to control the masses with religion, the masses end up being in control.

Anyway, my father is 85, and probably too old a dog to teach new tricks. The problem is that he doesn't, and never has, known any Arabs personally*. I wish there was enough time left for him to make an Arab friend one day so that he could finally understand that there is good and bad in every group.

*The irony, among many ironies, is that my dad was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Not as an activist, but as one of his, "what the heck; we're all people" general principles. He served in the Army with blacks in WWII, and he lived with blacks in co-ops (a haven for socialists, "reds," and other left-wing politics in the 1940s) when he earned his bachelors degree from the University of Michigan in English literature. He has often told me the story of the time he went out for lunch with two of his (black) fellow co-opers and was stunned to find that his friends could not use the same door or sit at the same counter as he; he had never experienced or, I guess, even noticed this previously. His father, on the other hand, was a blatant and unrepentant racist who called blacks "nigras" and thought that was the polite term.

Now for the naked, unvarnished truth: I don't much like Muslims, myself. I don't have any close friends who are Muslim. I do have co-workers who are Muslims, and I like them just fine, but I must confess that I don't trust them at some level. I suspect them of harboring secret hatred of me and everything I stand for; I suspect them of being sympathetic to terrorists and suicide bombers; I suspect them of being fundamentalists who don't think women belong in the workplace. I cannot separate out my prejudice against Arabs from the facts I know about the Muslim religion, and my fears were not allayed by the website I was recently directed to where it tried to explain how similar Christianity is to Islam and then explained that the sha'aria divorce laws are really not all that different from American divorce laws, because even though yes, it's true that the Qu'ran states that a man can divorce his wife by repeating "I divorce you" three times, he can't do it when she's menstruating, because everyone knows that some women get pretty cranky during their menses and it wouldn't be fair to let a man divorce his wife just because she was hormonal. And he can't do it within three months of having sex with her when she's not menstruating, because if he likes her enough to have sex with her when she's not menstruating, things can't be all that bad bewteen them, and if they're still having sex there's a possibility that she might be pregnant, so he can't divorce her until she demonstrates that she can't possibly be pregnant. And if he says, "I divorce you" three times when he's in a fury, it doesn't count, because you have to undertake divorce with reason. And so really, sha'aria divorce law is very compassionate toward women and children, giving the couple every chance not to divorce.

Of course, nowhere in this entire dissertation does it mention under what circumstances a woman can divorce a man. Oh, that's right. That's because under sha'aria law there are no circumstances under which a woman can divorce a man.

No comments: