Do Muslims Love Their Children Too?
One of the most flattering and memorable compliments I’ve ever received was from a boyfriend who said he admired me because I always root for the underdog.
It wasn’t a personal quality I’d ever considered before he noted it, as it had never required any conscious effort. I’ve probably always backed the underdog because as a perpetual outsider, I’ve always felt a bit like an underdog myself.
In some ways (being black, being gay, being the child of immigrants), my outsider status was thrust upon me through no choice of my own. Meanwhile, as an expat for more than 12 years, I’ve been geographically, culturally, and often linguistically an outsider entirely by choice.
But then, I often feel like an interloper even when I’m surrounded by people who are demographically similar to me (black, gay, American).
I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact that I usually feel as if I’m on the outside looking in has built my character and made me more empathetic to the uphill-climber. Always being a minority — and at so many angles — feeds my refusal to subscribe to the idea that the majority rules.
Living in a box … boxes
On the downside, when you’re a minority outsider, to many on the inside (the supposedly superior majority), you become less an individual than a symbol, an archetype with a checklist of characteristics assigned to your minority group. As a gay black man, I’ve spent my entire life shoved into two boxes, with people making immediate assumptions about me.
Although 2018 was a year of reckoning for straight white males, privilege still protects them from collectivist thinking that encourages judging books by the cover. If you’re a straight white male, you’ll rarely be identified or described as such in everyday life. Chances are you’ll be, simply, a man — your own man.
The actions of extremist white groups like the Ku Klux Klan, or white supremacists, or neo-Nazis, have never been seen as reflective of all white people. The sins of several are theirs alone.
Sadly, as Trump’s America has been reminding us for two years now, this hasn’t applied to Muslims since September 11. In the minds of too many, the actions of extreme Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and ISIL have become representative of anyone who embraces the religion by choice or are born into it.
So what now? Since we can’t build a border wall to keep them out, do we start feeding Muslims to the lions as ancient Romans did with Christians, or do we send them to concentration camps as Nazis did with Jews last century? Hasn’t history taught us a thing?
Several years ago during a meeting at work, we watched a very touching video of a young Syrian boy interrupting a CNN reporter who was giving a live report in Greece. They exchanged a few sentences in Arabic, and the boy was on his way. The end.
I was extremely moved by the video, perhaps because in times that are so fraught with tension, it was such a simple and honest moment.
I cringed a little as the video went viral, though, because it became all about the reporter’s gesture of “humanity” toward the young boy. How condescending. That interpretation of the brief encounter suggested that she was, in some way, superior to the boy, who may or may not have been legitimately “human.” It was such a patronizing white-savior narrative.
To me, the video was noteworthy less for the reporter’s gesture than for the boy’s. He could have been a kid from anywhere. He underscored the common thread in children around the world. Syrian youths are, in many ways, just like our own. Their parents love them, too.
“We share the same biology, regardless of our ideology.” — Sting, “Russians” (1985)
The boy in the video reminded me of my interactions with Arab children in 2013 when I spent time in Jerusalem and Palestine. I was touched by how warm and welcoming they were. The Syrian viral video star had the same cheeky charm as many of the children who approached me as I walked through the Arab quarter in Jerusalem, just to greet me and make me feel welcome in their neighborhood.
Leave a tender moment alone
My sweet reflection was interrupted when a colleague made a most offensive comment, presumably speaking as the boy in the video: “I want to grow up to be a suicide bomber.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. So now because members of a terrorist group happen to be Muslims and hide behind their religion as justification for their murderous actions, every Arab child wants to grow up to be a suicide bomber? ISIS does not equal Iraqis or Syrians any more than the Nazi Party equaled Germans during World War II.
A racist murderer descends upon a black church in South Carolina, killing members of the congregation. White cops routinely brutalize and sometimes kill unarmed black men and women. Does anyone assume that every white American child wants to grow up to brutalize and kill black people?
Does anyone assume that every white American child wants to grow up to brutalize and kill black people?
Of course not. But why does it seem to be only straight white men who identify with mainstream Western religions that get the benefit of the doubt? If we won’t make knee-jerk connections for all of them every time a straight white man acts up, why are we so quick to make them for pretty much anyone who falls outside of that racial/gender/religious/sexual orientation demo?
Perhaps my lifelong outsider status makes it easier for me to see people as individuals rather than representatives of specific groups. I’ll probably never know what it feels like to just be me in the eyes of most people and not “the black guy,” or “the gay guy,” or, when abroad, “the American.” I’ll probably never know what it feels like not be on the outside.
But I’d rather be stuck out here with some degree of enlightenment than on the inside and totally in the dark.