Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Then Why Am I Still Alive? - A Response to the Vitriol Against Syrian Refugees

Some of the more vitriolic rhetoric about the danger of Syrian Refugees has got me thinking:

'Why am I alive?'

I've been thinking of this as a rhetorical question recently in light of the paranoid flurry of social media activity regarding Syrian refugees and the Paris Attacks.

(Never mind that none of the shooters appear to be refugees and seem to be Muslim citizens of Belgium and France.)

I ask this because if certain voices on the right are correct concerning the nature of Muslims, I shouldn't be alive today.

You see I was an American who spent two and half years living in a Muslim majority country. Egypt to be precise.

I did not live in a walled off compound surrounded by guards. I lived in an apartment building near downtown Cairo. My neighbors and practically everyone in the building were Muslim.

Every workday I would grab a taxi (usually driven by a Muslim) to my company where I would work with Muslims and Christians making advertisements. I would eat with Muslim colleagues and would sometimes have discussions with conservative colleagues about US involvement in the region.

After work I would often go to a coffee shop (run by Muslims) and drink coffee having a conversation with the Muslim owner.

I would then walk home past Muslim owned shops and restaurants to my apartment occasionally saying hi to a Muslim neighbor I might see in the hall.

Sometimes I would go out at night with Muslim friends. I would sometimes accompany them into mosques (or restaurants or movie theatres depending on what we wanted to do). Occasionally, I would even have a beer or to with one of them.

 I would celebrate the end of day fast with Muslim friends during Ramadan (I actually fasted the full month one year).

I went to Muslim engagement parties and weddings.

And at times my Muslim friends and I would also have lively discussions and disagreements with each other.

Now, here’s what confuses me about my time there in light of some of the rhetoric about Syrian refugees:

Why was I never threatened with conversion or death once during my two and a half years there?

Why was I never made to feel unwelcome as a Westerner?

Why is it that people treated me the same after learning I was American?

Why could I walk down the streets of Cairo with a cross around my neck and not end of decapitated?

Why is it that I was never kidnapped or held hostage as I walked through the streets after work when I was known in the area as an American?

Why is it that even after having religious disagreements with Muslim colleagues at work they still talked to me and were friendly the next morning?

Why is it that even though I lived in Egypt through the Arab Spring and the election of the Muslim Brotherhood I wasn’t immediately dragged out of my apartment and shot?

All these ‘whys?’ can be summed up with one question.

‘If all 1.6 billion Muslims are so inherently dangerous, intolerant, violent and hellbent on destroying Western civilization- Why am I still alive???’

Why is it that in the two and a half years (and in the midst of political discord and upheaval no less) my Muslim neighbors, colleagues and friends didn’t show their ‘true faces’ and murder me?

The answer is this- The friendly, hospitable, generous and tolerant faces they showed me were their true faces.

A friend and I (I have the long hair.)

It makes me sad that I have to write that.

I do not deny that Islamic Extremism is a problem in the Middle East and many Muslim communities. I don’t deny the tragedy of the victims of terror attacks in the West and in the Muslim world. And there are many different social and cultural practices in Egypt that I don't think are right.

But those who would eagerly judge four million Syrian refugees by the actions of seven men who shared their faith but not their nationality are slandering.

If all the hundreds of Muslims I knew and interacted with daily truly were the knife and Kalashnikov wielding fanatics of ISIS I wouldn’t be writing this.

If that doesn’t somehow show how blind fear is driving the hateful anti-refugee rhetoric coming out of some Western circles, I don’t know what will.  

No comments:

Post a Comment