Yesterday was September 11th, a pivotal day in the history of mankind, and a day that brought back the disasters and notorious stereotypes for Arabs and Muslims across the world.
I remember this day like it was yesterday; the day the Twin Towers were destroyed, along with part of the Pentagon and the failed attacks on Congress and the White House. I remember a lot of friends frustrated at America’s loyal policies towards Israel, yearning for an Arab victory of any kind, calling me that day in an upbeat manner, chanting: “Allahu Akbar…we have taught the Americans a lesson they will not forget!”
I was hurt greatly by those remarks and warned those friends that their naïve joy would soon turn into regret, pain and suffering for Muslims and Arabs across the world, and that the act of destroying the Twin Towers would weigh heavily on everything to do with Arabism and Islam. Some accused me of being frightened, hesitant, cowardly and even a foreign agent, concluding their insults by saying: “you don’t understand that the Americans only learn a lesson the hard way”.
It took less than a month for these same people to return dragging behind them their disappointment and sense of shame. One came to complain about not being granted a visa to enter the United States, another said they had to wait months to get an interview at the French Embassy, a third, a veiled woman living in New York, said she had been forced to replace her veil with a baseball cap, a fourth had to transfer his son from a university in Los Angeles to another one in Dubai, and a fifth was having problems with his bank in Switzerland because it had begun checking every dollar that entered and left his account.
The Arabs have been subjected to this scenario three times in the last half-century, firstly after the 1967 defeat [Six Day War], secondly after the killing of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and thirdly after the notorious September 11th events. Each time, the stereotype of Islam, Muslims and Arabs has been reinforced, namely that they are: “barbarians, savages and murderers who kill in cold blood, hate others, and are resentful towards other religions”. It is not enough for us to say amongst ourselves “this of course is nonsense, lies and false claims”, rather we have to move on from this state of self-pity and engage in intelligent, informed discourse with those who see us in this distorted and savage way.
We alone, not others, have the responsibility to improve the negative mental stereotype about us. Engaging in civilized dialogue is the most effective means of doing so, whether through seminars, conferences, the media and mass communication, or through cultural exhibitions to demonstrate our civilization and our heritage. Yet more important than all of this is our behavior and how we interact with others!
Islam historically spread to Indonesia and many places in South-east Asia without a sword being raised or a drop of blood being shed, as a result of the civilized behavior of Muslim merchants in that part of the world, and the positive influence they had upon society.
These days, when we can see Arab dictators committing massacres on our television screens, this only serves to tarnish our image once more and reinforce the stereotype that we are a nation of murderers.