Dear West: You have a problem

As a Muslim living in the west, I know firsthand how it feels to be viewed according to a preset prejudice. When someone has prejudice about you he only sees in you what validates that stereotype for him. If he happens to detect something good in you that could negate that prejudice, he attributes it to a “bad thing” about you that he “cannot see, yet.” He will then try to find in your behavior something bad that explains why you did that seemingly good thing. And this goes on forever.

Having prejudice is the exact opposite of having an open mind. Instead of trusting ourselves to figure out the studied “subject” objectively, we shield ourselves within our fears about that subject, and allow that fear of the other to lead our thoughts and dictate our behavior when dealing with it.

In the medieval ages, people were made afraid of reformers, they were accused of heresy, and they were harassed, or even publicly burned. People were made afraid of the very opinions of those reformers, because these opinions are different. A culture where ‘ideas’ themselves can be evil planted the deep root of xenophobia that continues to exist today.

When Europe re-inherited the civilization from the Muslim world and rose as a global power, it went on to invade the whole world. North and South America, Australia, far Eastern Asia, Africa, and eventually, the Middle East were all invaded and colonized. The severity of the impact of those invasions went in a downward pattern from the earliest to the latest, where those who were invaded first faced the toughest oppression. Thank God it took Europe so long to get to us in the Arab world. Otherwise we would’ve ended up wiped up and de-civilized like many other nations that were invaded earlier.

Although being the most powerful one in their newfound lands, European newcomers were still driven by their fear from the ‘barbaric others’.  Moreover, they were justifying their oppression against those nations as “self defense”!

Instead of mixing and benefiting from the diversified cultural mosaic of North and South America, the invaders wiped out their civilization, and in some cases, wiped them out altogether.

The symptoms of xenophobia, oppression, intolerance, and superiority continues through history to the colonies in the Middle East, India, Africa, all the way to the African Americans, Jews, Japanese, Soviets, and now Muslims. All of this just cannot be a coincidence.

If we are to think about it objectively, we will see that the fear of the other was always present in the way the western “Christian” civilization deals with other nations. The weird thing is that the west has this ability to combine the feeling of supremacy over other races, nations, cultures, and religions, with the feeling of fear from those “inferior” nations!

Even though it claims to be the first world, West’s relation with other civilizations is still extremely emotional, and the emotion that plays the biggest role remains fear.

Those in the west who are fueling and channeling that fear are leading the rest for their own benefit and gain.

A recent poll in Canada suggests that the Majority of Canadians mistrusting the Muslims. The poll suggests that 52% of Canadians expressed a belief that “discrimination against Muslims is to be blamed on Muslims themselves”. The results show that 43 percent of English speaking Canadians express their mistrust towards Muslims, compared to 70 percent among French speaking Canadian. This gap alone is an indication that at least a portion of how Muslims are perceived is due to the cultural environment in which people are living, not only to the actions of Muslims themselves.

To put specifically French tendency to Islamophobia in perspective, we just need to take a peek at the continuous trend of Islamophobia in France over the last few years – starting from banning the head scarves in schools, to banning the Niqab and prayer in public places, and ending in the ongoing debate to ban Halal meat in the French republic. For every action there was a justification, but if you are to look at the whole trend you will see that there is a deep rooted fear of Islam in France. The reason is that French people have a stiff idea about who they are, what they look like, what they think and what they do, and are not flexible enough to accept a France where all people from all religions and cultures can live and contribute to what it means to be “French.”

At the same time in America, the right wing extremists have changed the “land of the free” to the point where the violation of Muslim’s rights is becoming acceptable. There are plenty of people in America who have been justifying the terrorist act by an American soldier in which 16 Afghan civilians were slaughtered. It is astonishing how a civilization, where terrorists are hunted individuals is being viewed as violent by a nation, where terrorists are wearing military uniform, occupying other countries, and their actions are widely justified.

I continue to fail to understand why Americans can’t see their actions! How can they not see that they, too, have a problem with accepting others? If this conflict is going to end up with any resolution, both the Muslim world and the West must open their minds, and let go of their prejudice. And America has a very big part to play in this.

Due to the fact that America is the nation of nations, they should always protect their minorities, for the very reason that they all belong to minorities. Allowing the state to target one minority at a time with discrimination jeopardizes the very principles on which these minorities coexist in one system. If minorities are targeted one at a time, then America will never truly be free. Instead, it will always be caught in self conflict, and self fear, and that fear will always be used to control all the other “minorities” that make the American society.

In addition to that, countries that are formed by immigrants are always directly affected by the conflicts that happen around the world. In order for America to be peaceful, the whole world should be peaceful for the very reason that everyone in the world is represented in America, and any global conflict will trigger the above sequence of tyranny, conflict, and ultimately, control.

The responsibility on the shoulders of Americans to be aware about the world is bigger than that of any other nation, and that’s not only because they are the biggest super power, but because they have a vested interest in keeping the world a peaceful place.

Unfortunately so far the extremists have had the higher voice and the higher hand in America. However, this might be changing soon.

The United States of America is undergoing a very difficult phase of its growth as a leader of the Western civilization. From one hand, there are the extremist right-wing that is hijacking the higher class of society by intimidation and manipulation of truth. On the other hand the drained and expanding lower class of society has tried in peaceful ways, through elections, and through civil protest to reclaim their say under this system, but they were beaten and defeated. Although were able to elect Obama for a president, the “99%” were not able to ‘change’ their lives fundamentally. It is still unclear whether or not this election will bring the fundamental change that can keep America from collapsing.

What is clear though, is that this model of democracy that is implemented in America eventually leads to only 1% of the population controlling the rest of the 99%. America needs to take a stand and make a conscious decision about whether or not they want this system to continue or not.

Few people are only satisfied in America. The rest are either troubled or afraid. This system, as perfect as some might think it is, is not working. What happened recently indicates that the majority of Americans are beginning to realize that the system is no more working. They took to the streets to express themselves, because they weren’t able to do that through any other tool. And the force they were faced with indicates that those who are abusing the system do not realize how pressured that system has become, as they increase the pressure on their fellow citizens.

The abuse of power in America is becoming tangible. Ask those who got pepper spray into their faces while peacefully protesting against the system. This reminds us of some of the fallen regimes in the Arab world, and how out of touch with reality they were.

Whether the change will come from elections or from the street, America, and in fact many other countries in the West as well, are clearly at a crossroad. Many things will change in the upcoming few years in the world. But there are several scenarios for that change.

The first is where extremists take over again in America and/or in Europe, which will lead to other wars and conflicts around the world to direct and funnel this frustration towards the Muslim world. The second scenario is that the moderates and oppressed people in the West realize that Islam is not their enemy, and that they need to take their power back from the elite extremists before they destroy their countries and destroy the whole world, and even the whole planet.

Our very understanding of democracy should be revised to consider the holes in the system that we are suffering from now. The new system should guarantee more sustainable freedom.

Only this way democracy can be flexible enough to survive, otherwise it will just break out like every other system, and then, we need to find a better system to live with.

Americans need to engage in a real and fundamental debate about whether or not they want to continue down the path they are going on. Discrimination based on color, religion, faith, ethnicity, political views and class should be fundamentally identified and eliminated.

France needs to reassess its values according to the nation that it has become, and stop denying the change that it went through as a result of the new found diversity in the French identity.

In other words, the west needs to overcome its historical fear of the other. And at this moment of its history, this fear is directed towards Muslims. For the west to be able to overcome its fear of the other, they need to take bold steps in overcoming their Islamophobia.
I would even go as far as to say that being more tolerant and accepting towards Islam holds the key for the west to find a remedy for its ongoing xenophobia.

One of the reasons why the West is unable to properly understand Islam is the mosaic of traditions, cultures, and sub-civilizations that flourished, and continues to exist, in Islam. This seems to be too puzzling to the West that is used to see the world with only one perspective. Somewhere deep inside the persona of the western Christian worldview there is a genuine inability to comprehend how all Muslims are not the same. It could be really hard for the west to imagine one religion with so much cultural diversity. But it is this diversity that Islam can offer as a modest contribution to help the west out of its xenophobia.

In fact, as a historical comparison to the events mentioned above, Muslims preserved every civilization they expanded into, and were never intimidated by the nations they invaded to the extent of wiping them out as a civilization or as a nation.

For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace with each other in the Muslim world. That was the case when Muslims, as nations, were the “first world” and were properly implementing Islam as a civilization.

Another difference that we need to keep in mind is that for the Muslim world, Islam is not only a religion, it is a worldview, and it is the holder of civilization where many cultures flourished side by side. To deny Muslims the right to practice their religion is not only to undermine their religious freedom, but also to strip them off their cultural identity. Even non Muslims who live in the Muslim have many traditions that stem from Islamic origin, just like Muslims who live in the west nowadays. To put everything that is Islam into the narrow concept of religion and spirituality that the Western world have from their experience with their religions is extremely shortsighted and erroneous.

Furthermore, while Europe, and therefore, the “Christian” west have went through times of darkness by following their religious beliefs, the Muslim world was only able to succeed, as a civilization, when they were adhering to it. For Muslims prosperity only came when they were following their religion. When it was implemented, Islam did actually make sense. We, in the Muslim world, did not become retarded because of our religion; we became retarded in spite of it.

What the west should see when it looks at Islam is a lost civilization, a worldview, a system of life, that was found with one civilization that doesn’t really know its value. Think of it as the Mayan Calendar, or an artifact of Egyptology. I see Islam as a historical finding of immense value that is found in a place, where locals don’t really understand what it is, and therefore, treat it with indifference. Islam is a lost civilization because those who have it are too stupid to cherish it, or understanding it.

If the west will acknowledge the ongoing problem with intolerance that it has, it will make the first step towards resolving this problem that is affecting the whole world. In that case, the next step would be to distinguish between Islam, as a civilization, and Muslims as nations that are now living their lowest points in their history.

At the same time Muslims need to be open minded and let go of their own prejudice about the west, and realize that there is so much for them to learn from it.

There is so much that we can do together if we are just to respect each other, and listen to each other. And the first step to do that is to let go of our prejudice about ourselves, and about the other, and really open our minds.

As the two biggest civilizations on this planet, we have no choice but to rise up to the task, and do what it takes to coexist, cooperate, and face the real challenges that are threatening our very existence on this planet.

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