“Living is easy with eyes closed — Misunderstanding all you see.” — John Lennon
It was voting day. Despite having a flight to catch, I went to the polls and waited 45 minutes to vote for a candidate who only matches 57% of my own views – because that’s the best it gets for me, personally, this time around. I voted with passion, however, because I strongly believe that the candidate who matches 7% of my views would throw not just this country, but the world, into a terrifying spiral.
So, my pale-skinned self plops down in a cab for the first leg of a business trip. A man, clearly of Arab decent, greets me warmly and sets up my ride. Conversation begins about the weather and which airport terminal I want to be dropped off at – small chatter – but I find myself struck with a desire to know more about him. His dark skin, long beard and accent would act as cues, to many who look just like me, that there is danger here. This man is clearly not from my part of the world. This man is clearly Muslim. And so, perhaps to just prove to myself yet again that my experiences haven’t led me to a life of dangerous ignorance, I dig deeper into this conversation. A conversation I still feel quite literally in my heart every time I think about it. A conversation I think could change the world, if only everyone were to witness it.
“Sam”, my cab driver, came to the U.S. from Iraq nearly eight years ago following up on promises of peace and new beginnings American soldiers spread in a media campaign to anyone who would want to immigrate to our safer, better world.
“Sadam Hussein was a bad guy. A very bad guy,” explains Sam. “But after America came and took him out, the country was complete mess. Sadam Hussein would kill people, yes. But now there was no order, and Muslims were out killing other Muslims – way more killings than ever before. Things got so much worse.”
“See that trailer over there?”. He points to a truck 100 feet away. “This is how my dad lives. The terrorists – they line up trucks like that and blow them up. Last week they killed 200 or 300 people right in my dad’s city.”
Sam went on to explain the divisions of the Muslim religion. “Here, for Christianity, you have Catholics and then other labels for Christians. There, we have Sunni and Shia types of Muslim. Sunnis, my Muslim, most Muslims, follow the Koran, where there is no killing. You certainly are not going to a better life for doing the bombings, like the other, smaller-type of Muslim thinks (he laughs, clearly baffled by the belief). No way. There is bad to come after for murder. Not good.”
“I do good works for Allah. I do all I can. There is a man who lives next door to my family. He is from Nigeria, Christian, and he struggles — and I’m not so good at mechanics, but know a little. He needed help with his car, and I help him for Allah. (There’s now a tear in his eye). I pass out the food for Allah (or God). My family, we came here to do good works. We want the peace.”
“I like it here in America. It is safer. I have met so many nice people – they take me to their big church – I have been with my family many times, and it’s like what I believe. Do you know the Koran? The Koran has many books, and one whole book is about Mary – the story of Jesus. I believe that and I like that. God wants us to do good things. We don’t kill. We help those who need it in His name. We do good. This is what we all believe.”
“Things are bad at home. Real bad. I’m scared for my family everyday. Just last week, there were six bombings in one day. Six! Muslims killing Muslims. And that’s the thing many people here don’t understand. This is not a religious thing. When I meet a man, I don’t care about his religion. I want to know:
Are you a good guy Christian? Or a bad Christian? Are you a good guy Muslim? Or a bad guy Muslim?
There is a small group of bad Muslims, just like there are small groups of ‘sick’ in every religion, that are very very bad. They make bombings because they like blood. They are, like the TV says for your white killers, all very ‘sick in the head’. And they need to be stopped. We need to go together to stop them.”“My brother,” Sam pauses as he chokes up, “– my brother back at home was going to work one day, walking the way — and they make a bombing – break his back. Now he cannot walk.
I came here for a better life for my family. I came here to get away from this. But here? Here I am so scared many days, especially since Trump. People walk up and hit me, because I am a Muslim. My kids are bullied at school: ‘Terrorist! Terrorist!”. I am so scared for my wife when she leaves the house wrapped [in her traditional headscarf, called a hijab] – people are so cruel to her. I am scared for us here. And we are just trying to make the good works.”
“Oh, and my name? My name is Osama. Like so many people of my country — it is like ‘Joe’ here or ‘John’. I go by ‘Sam’ so that people do not react and connect me with a terrorist. I feel like I have to hide my own name.”
As the witness and the writer, I feel frustrated by the limitations of my words. I can only remember and paraphrase so much of this conversation, and the impact goes so deep. But here we were – a detached-from-real-world in some aspects Caucasian-American woman and an Arab American feeling a deep, genuine connection with one another on simply a human level– learning from one another. Sharing the same concerns about misunderstanding, bigotry and hate. Motivated by the same love for this world — love for our families — love for life. Hoping, together, that this country can overcome fear, unite, and move together against those that are ‘sick in the head’ and could ruin the world. Those that divide.
“I never talk,” Osama said. “I drive, I look at the road, and I don’t talk, because I don’t know what people think of me. You made me feel safe. I loved this talk. It means so much to know people care – that everyone doesn’t hate me. I can’t change the way I look or talk. And here, I fearful everyone hates me.”
Osama removed my bag from the cab and we stood eye to eye for a bit — a respect and appreciation lingering there between us.
Folks — we can not allow ourselves to be divided any longer. When we hate, separate, judge and refuse to learn first-hand about people different than ourselves, we are no better than the terrorists who persecute and destroy others. Peace-loving people like Osama do not deserve to be labeled, monitored, bullied, feared or discriminated against because of acts committed by others claiming to be the same religion — or others who simply look the same. If we fear him for this reason, we need to fear ourselves with the very same logic.
There are mass murderers in every race. There are terrorists of every race.
And while it’s much easier and almost comforting to pretend you can “see” danger in the way someone wears their beard or the color of their skin — it’s just not true. We need to face together the more difficult realization that danger could come from extremists of any color — any religion — any political affiliation.
This realization should not grow the fear in us but, instead, should make us feel inspired and hopeful. Afterall, when you knock down the barriers of race and color, pulling together good-intentioned people like you from all backgrounds, how much bigger and stronger does the peace-loving army become?
Interested in helping to stop the intimidation, bullying and misguided prejudice against peace-loving people like Osama?
Here’s what you can do:
- Stand Up Against Discrimination, Bigotry, Hate & the Intimidation of All Peace-Loving People. No Matter What Their Race. No Matter What Their Background. Every Chance You Get.
- Join a Peace-Keeping Movement (or Start Your Own):
People will never hear you if you belittle them — call them names — or approach them with anger towards their views. Protest peacefully, without aggression. Educate peacefully. Have real face-to-face conversations, respectfully, focused on the issues.
- Educate. Spread “Sam’s” Story.
- Check out True Islam: Their collection of videos and materials promote a wonderful message and clear education.
- Teach your children to stand up against bullying and to care for those around them. If you’re starting early, we recommend Dr. Seuss books: The Sneeches, Horton Hears a Who, etc.