Make no mistake; America is internationally renowned for its isolationism and maintenance of devout, yet archaic, ignorance regarding the rest of the world, particularly the Middle East. Unfortunately, not many Americans have much interest in how or even if their lives are directly affected by “those Muslims” other than prime time newscasts depicting terrorism with on- the-scene footage of battles we’re fighting at the time. Just now, when threatened by the job loss epidemic, our incomprehensible military budget and our economic predicament–including the 1.5 trillion dollar debt to China and Japan (who by the way, are reported to be doing quite well)– might be just cause to reconsider our universal stance. As resources dwindle and populations expand, we may be forced to recognize a perpetual dependence on one another world wide. Most critical is the need to comprehend that these facts, unnerving on their own, are greatly intensified by the interwoven complexities that can’t help but blend our economic woes with our fight to rid the world of terrorist activity. Awareness and education go far when we conceptualize and utilize the necessary steps that could enhance our national security. In contrast (and paradoxically), citizens of most undeveloped countries are often particularly well-informed about the rest of the world. Indeed, it is commonplace for the ordinary person to settle into intensive dialogue concerning Americanization, the West in general and the powerful effects of our decisions. We should take their lead, realizing that recognition of and respect for other peoples, their religions and their cultures, remains central to diplomacy. And diplomacy, entrenched in unbiased education, is our most effective and most readily available resource when countering terrorism and healing our economy.
For a start, what if myths and hearsay were supplanted by impartial facts that outlined the often disciplined and rigid doctrines defining unfamiliar religions that supposedly spawn extremists? Unfounded beliefs laced with sensationalistic journalism are perfect fodder for unnecessary angst. For example, just the name “Islam” usually solicits a “deer in the headlights” stare, amplified by a palpable increase in heart rate. Mention Palestine or Arabs and we Americans suffer overwhelming intimidation, despite the fact that even a modicum of energy and a true desire to understand these people and their faith could alleviate fears borne from ineptitude and stoic prejudice. Lest we forget, the world’s three largest monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are founded in the common patriarch and ancestor, The Old Testament’s Father Abraham. Continuing, all three of these monotheistic faiths worship the same deity, God (Allah). And, at least in principle, each of these theologies promotes tolerance, compassion and respect for one another, much similar to the rudimentary lesson that we teach our children, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In fact, Islam is a system of belief that instructs its followers to be responsible for one another and even suggests that 2.5 percent of one’s earnings be given to charity. And most often it is.
It’s important to remember that Islam as a religion is neither synonymous with the Middle East in general, nor a single race in particular. In fact, it’s usually taken for granted that all residents of the Middle East are Arab, yet one-third of the population, about 10 million, are foreign workers and are neither Arab nor Islamic. Those that do follow Islamic doctrine, Muslims, make up the majority of the three religions, although millions of Christians and Jews peacefully share the same land. Biblically, these faiths heed several commonalities in core beliefs. For example, each recognize and equally honor all prophets from Abraham, born 20 generations after Adam to Mohammed who lived 600 years after Jesus. The word, Islam, actually means submission to God while Islamic teachings are based on two Arabic words: Emaan, which means faith and Amaal, meaning acts. Emaan can be compared to a tree and its roots whereas Amaal means the stems and leaves, whose actions represent one’s faith. Muslims observe and base their theology in the teachings of The Torah, written by Moses; Psalms, writings of David; the Gospel, inspired or written by Jesus; plus Mohammed’s text, the Quran. Muslims also believe in resurrection and the Day of Judgment when the innocent remain in or go to Heaven and the corrupt remain in or are banished to Hell.
Knowledge of these facts alone provides only a elementary step toward realizing and making sense of a traditionally misunderstood faith and the people who follow it. Understanding historically complicated issues pertaining to these intensely religious and emotional nations includes a grasp of the ancient turbulence in which they have been eternally invested. Even more relevant is the manipulation of land and the arbitrary boundaries drawn by Western states that should have never been imposed in the first place. An honest attempt to appreciate ethnic divisions and their complexities demands diligence and a refined conscientiousness that will ultimately connect the dots and answer questions many don’t even know how ask. This is the steadfast focus of some of the greatest thinkers of our time. Most rewarding would be a true comprehension of the brutal acrimony between Palestine and Israel, separate from terrorism supported by the Taliban and al Qaeda. We should never forget that many of these issues are aggravated by our dominance and push toward democracy which is often the impetus for encouraged hatred for the West. Indeed, measured and analyzed data that can connect these same dots should be researched and accurately interpreted in effort to appropriate grave concerns as though our lives depend upon it. And, as a matter of fact, our lives do depend upon it.
Exaggerated and distorted theories remain a risky substitute for common sense as well as support for the prideful ignorance and tacit alliance they foster. Softening belligerent energies can’t help but open doors that allow for enlightenment and acceptance of the whole kernel of truth. And for most of us, that truth is revealed through knowledge. Only education can effectively dispel empty rumors that nurture our fears and ultimately provoke retaliation against us. Initiation of purposeful understanding of this fact could be introduced into our families and casually presented as common household knowledge. Why not turn off the television and opt for a robust conversation, perhaps during the evening dining hour, that engages and educates family members. We must all realize that any pompous self- indulgence that attempts to impose our Western philosophies onto the values of other nations and religions must be monitored and even avoided if we expect any sustainable peace. Case in point: When countries such as France propose to ban the burka, the traditional, yet rarely enforced, female cloak and veiling of some Islamic sects, they are waving a red flag of confrontation. The intuitive lesson is to let it lie unless there is a question of security or identification. Why would anyone slap at a wasp resting on his hive full of millions more?
But no intellection of the Middle East is complete without taking stock of America’s massive military spending that always evolves into low-profile profit, despite the unrest it promotes. It would be irresponsible not to include the numbers, for therein lies the practical kernel of truth; the core that links our economy with our security and even the future of our health care. But this is not an expense report. Besides, isn’t it household knowledge that America’s military spending is just now approaching one trillion dollars since 2001? This doesn’t warrant discussion here, nor is it necessary to reiterate that our commitment to Iraq alone has a tally of more than seven billion dollars and is still climbing. As Washington D.C. wangles parts of the Middle East and erects structures and such that very much appear to be nothing less than an extension of a U.S. military base, with an arms race to boot, there is going to be resentment. And that’s not all. There will be retaliation. Think diplomacy here; it works best.
Enough of the money and guns, it’s the people that matter. It may be hard to imagine but other than the culture in which we were raised there isn’t much difference between us and them. Keep in mind that the engulfing fears we live with here are nothing compared to the day-to-day reality there. Nonetheless, aside from Iraq and Gaza, one can travel just about anywhere in this mysterious and gravely misunderstood land safely and freely. And, I have. Over the past few years I have been drawn to this part of the world and cherish my time spent there. While visiting, one might be caught off guard with a question or so concerning the validity of our wisdom regarding the Bush Regime, Sarah Palin and her legitimacy or who taught us to hate Islam. Otherwise, there could be no place on earth more intriguing, diverse, luxurious and welcoming. Most Americans would be surprised to find that tourism is booming in the Middle East. Two words sum up the reviews from most returning visitors: misunderstood and mesmerizing. If we were to take the time, open our minds, research and question the litany of unsubstantiated threats, perhaps we could truly expand our household knowledge. After all, diplomacy begins at home. Think about it and discuss it over dinner.