A lot of you’ve been sending me messages after what happened last week, concerned with my safety. Thanks for those…and don’t worry, I’m safe.
And for those of you who feared I’d recklessly parade into the middle of the violence, rest assured, I wouldn’t dare. I’m much more terrified of the repercussions from Sara (my Italian girlfriend).
But I wanted to take this opportunity to write about something related. Regarding perceptions.
Last week, protesters were throwing stones, storming embassies, burning KFCs. As we watched these events from our living room couches—Muslim Rage and Violence Endures Over Anti-Islamic Film—it’s difficult not to perceive a resurgence of global Islamic-Western conflict.
It’s all in reaction to one short, shitty film that some thick-witted idiot posted on YouTube. It’s detestable, offensive, and insulting to an entire people. But does that justify attacking us? Come on guys, what’s the deal?
The anger at the U.S.—in Egypt at least—was due in part to misunderstanding. Many here believed American laws were similar to Egypt’s. Here, all films required government approval before they are produced. So…why would America approve such a terrible film (the full version was supposedly aired in a theatre in California)?
But the U.S. also hasn’t recently done a very good job making people like us. Things like wars in the Middle East, supporting dictatorial regimes, little action on the Israel-Palestine issue have not given the image of us having the best of intentions…
I recall the days last year when my Egyptian friends and colleagues were in the streets fighting the oppressive military transitional government. Each day, hundreds would be injured and several killed. They used tear gas so potent, it was causing people to vomit blood.
And when people picked up the empty tear gas containers, they read “Made in USA”. The U.S. government annually provides Egypt $1.3 billion in military assistance. And now, it seemed, the Americans were funding an army assault against the people.
I’d be pretty pissed, too.
I recently wrote a short piece on fundraising in Egypt for the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization in DC. They asked for a picture of me. I chose this one:
Over the past year, a number of people have commented on my looks. My colleagues tell me I look “Italian”. The Egyptian cab drivers, when guessing which country I’m from, often guess “Turkey” or “France”. When I wear my sports clothes to the gym, Sara says I look “American”. Last Christmas, my grandma saw the new scarf I was wearing and complimented my new “European” style. But my Aunt Tina said, “No, he’s just urban!” Now from the pic above, my mom’s telling me I look “Arab”.
All this posturing gets me confused. What the heck am I?
We live in a world where information now flows freely. We have access to knowledge, we know what’s going on across the world. Stories of the underground can no longer be silenced, and secrets of the powerful can no longer be hidden.
But this abundance of media also means, as we are pounded with stories of the great wide world, we are more easily lost in the analyses of the “experts”, the ones in the office suites with lots of papers and big desks. And we forget the humanity behind it all.
Over the last week, our media has given great attention to these anti-American protests. And considering what happened in Libya, they should.
But the video clips and sound waves don’t show us what’s in the background. The silent majority. The ones who reject violence. The ones who believe in throwing words, not stones.
This is how most of the Egyptians I know think. They rejected the stone throwing as amateur. It was counter-revolutionary, they said. After all, our entire revolution was founded on peace.
As these days passed, I began to worry quite a bit. Not for myself, but for the damage to our reconciliation.
Since the democratic revolutions in the Arab World, many outside the region were looking at it with new admiration, hope, and respect. Finally, after decades of oppression, the world was supporting the Arabs in their fights for justice and equal representation.
But I was afraid some might analyze the events as Those stubborn Muslims, back at it again, they are just a violent people, they will never truly desire peace.
It’s so easy to categorize an entire population based on the actions of a few. In fact, much of the world does it to us—Americans are judged based on our government, our finance CEOs, our Jersey Shore stars. They think we all live like Desperate Housewives.
There will always be extremists who dominate our media—the Unibomber, Paris Hilton, Dick Cheney. They’re just good news.
But then there’s the rest of us. The ones who go about our daily lives, just trying to enjoy life, be good to those around us, keep ourselves and other happy.
Most Egyptians I know, I love. They are warm, hospitable, funny, relaxed. Indeed, many I’ve met are not perfect: “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”, “tomorrow” may mean “next month”. And then there’s a culture of close-mindedness, which can often get frustrating. But just because a few thugs threw some stones last weekend doesn’t mean I will negatively judge all those I see on the street here.
So, I say, when we are Glued to the Tube, losing all hope in the world because of CNN’s 24/7 live coverage of The World on Fire, put aside whatever Toshiba and Sony and Panasonic want you to believe, and just remember, people are people.
I’ll end with the words of Bill Clinton, when he spoke to Harvard a number of years ago. Regardless of what your political views may be, Bill’s a kick-ass orator. What he said here, I think, is perfect:
“When the human genome was sequenced, and the most interesting thing to me as a non-scientist … was the discovery that human beings with their three billion genomes are 99.9 percent identical genetically. So if you look around this vast crowd today, at the military caps and the baseball caps and the cowboy hats and the turbans, if you look at all the different colors of skin, all the heights, all the widths, all the everything, it’s all rooted in one-tenth of one percent of our genetic make-up. Don’t you think it’s interesting that not just people you find appalling, but all the rest of us, spend 90 percent of our lives thinking about that one-tenth of one percent?”