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I would like now to address some of the misunderstandings that exist in our Arab world about America. I know that Americans think of their country as the leader of the free world who defends freedom in all countries of the world. I want to talk about the other side of America which is not known unfortunately by the vast majority of Americans. America’s foreign policy in our part of the world can be described as anything but fair and humane. Most Arabs think that Americans are tough and are ready to do anything to protect their interests around the world. We know that the Americans freely elect their administrations and that makes us feel that they support their administrations’ foreign policy. When I told Susanne how we feel about America’s involvement in our region, she assured me that most Americans simply do not completely know about what is being done in their names and they would strongly oppose these kind of harsh and inhumane actions against the people of this region. There are many examples I can bring but for now I will bring 2 clear examples of evil things done by different American administrations in our region.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, the UN imposed harsh sanctions against Iraq and these sanctions were forced by British and American military from 1990 until the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I will quote the following from the Wikipedia article about the Iraq sanctions:

The Iraq sanctions were perhaps the toughest, most comprehensive sanctions in history, and have caused much controversy over the increased child-and-infant mortality, poverty, and suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people, marked by two senior UN representatives in Iraq resigning in protest.

Some researchers say that over a million Iraqis, disproportionately children, died as a result of the sanctions, although other estimates have ranged as low as 170,000 children. UNICEF announced that 500,000 child deaths have occurred as a result of the sanctions. The sanctions resulted in high rates of malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and diseases from lack of clean water. Chlorine, was desperately needed to disinfect water supplies, but it was banned from the country due to the potential that it may be used as part of a chemical weapon. On May 10, 1996, Madeleine Albright (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time) appeared on 60 Minutes and was confronted with statistics of half a million children under five having died as a result of the sanctions. She replied “we think the price is worth it.

How can any human being agree with medicine and food being blocked from sick Iraqi children? How can any human being say that the death of half a million Iraqi children was worth it? Isn’t that comment the cruelest comment any politician could say? How would any American feel if an Arab said that the death of half a million American children under the age of 5 was worth it? These sanctions were applied during the whole 8 years of the Clinton’s administration and also were applied for 3 years after George Bush was elected until he ordered Iraq to be invaded and that caused the death of other hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I believe that officials in both administrations should be brought to justice for what they caused by forcing these inhumane sanctions.  When I told Susanne about the consequences of these evil sanctions, she was so surprised and she told me,” Jesus taught us to feed our enemies when they are hungry, and the Iraqi children aren’t even our enemies! I had no idea about these sanctions and how they were affecting the ordinary people so drastically!  I oppose abortion because I  oppose the killing of innocent lives.  I never would have been supportive of something that killed so many people.  I think most other Americans would agree. “

When Bush went on a trip to Israel few months ago to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, he gave a speech at the Israeli parliament. I will quote just few sentences from his speech,” My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon. (Applause.)

I will mention some facts about Ariel Sharon for those of you who don’t know much about him. Sharon is Israeli’s worst criminal. And his history is full of crimes against humanity since he was of young age. These are facts about him according to Wikipedia:

Unit 101 undertook a series of military raids against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states that helped bolster Israeli morale and fortify its deterrent image. The unit was known for targeting civilians , notably in the widely condemned Qibya massacre in the fall of 1953, in which 69 Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by Sharon’s troops in a reprisal attack on their West Bank village.

Ariel Sharon as a defense minister planned the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in which thousands of civilians were killed and Sharon was given the nickname,”The butcher of Beirut”. According to the Israelis themselves Sharon was directly responsible for the worst massacre that happened in the modern history of the Middle East, Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which more than 2500 Palestinian civilians most of them were women and children were butchered in a refugee camp. A Belgian court gathered enough evidences to persecute Ariel Sharon as a war criminal but pressures from the US government on the Belgian government and the assassination of the main Lebanese witness by the Israeli Mossad led to the end of this case.

Here is the president of the United States clearly glorifying the number one terrorist in the Middle East. American politicians always say that glorifying terrorism is as bad as terrorism itself. I cannot agree with them even more concerning that. Why are we supposed to be easy concerning someone glorifying the person who murdered thousands of our innocents? Don’t people assume that we actually have something called “pride” and we feel angry whenever we see someone trashing the lives of our people?

I do not want anyone to think I am attacking America by what I wrote in this article. I know most Americans don’t know about these things and they would be disgusted if they knew what their politicians are really doing in our region. Understandably Arabs feel frustrated and trashed by the way the American administrations deal with our region and they think that most Americans simply don’t care about our suffering. As I mentioned in my previous article, the only way to destroy the walls of mistrust between our people is to discuss things honestly instead of accusing people. Accusing others with false accusations will only cause tension and anger. Why not hear the other point of view before judging? When are we going to stop judging others by what we hear in the media?

Recently one of my American friends asked me to explain how the Arabs felt when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. I have the impression that many (or maybe most) Americans think that the vast majority of Arabs were glad when al-Qaeda hit America and killed thousands of innocent Americans. That makes me so sad although I don’t find it really surprising because I do watch American media and I know that most Americans don’t hear anything about our part of the world except conflicts and problems. Arabs also do have misunderstandings about the Americans and the West in general. I hope I can clear up some of these misunderstandings by what I am going to write.

I still remember how shocked we were as we watched TV and saw two planes hit the two towers full of people. It was really heartbreaking to see people throwing themselves out windows. How can any human being rejoice when he/she sees innocents being killed in such a vicious way? All of the Arabs I heard in our media strongly condemned the attacks. In addition, all of the famous and well-known Muslim scholars condemned what happened and they made it clear that killing innocents is one of the biggest crimes in Islam and God severely punishes those who do it. I do not deny that maybe there are few weirdos who felt glad because of what happened but the vast majority were just sad and shocked like the rest of the world.

Susanne told me once,” Honestly, most Americans have the impression that Muslims do not condemn the terrorists who do crimes in Islam’s name. And that makes them bad as much as the terrorists themselves who actually do the crimes.” I immediately answered,” We always condemn them and the evil they do but unfortunately your media does not listen to our voices.” Most Americans do not know that terrorists and extremists like al-Qaeda type had been our enemies long before they became famous to the world. Actually, they killed more Muslims than others. They have a long bloody history of violence and murder against the Algerians and the Egyptians. Everyone knows how they murdered Muslims in Pakistan, Iraq, Morocco and Jordan. According to their ideology, all of our Muslim societies are corrupt and therefore they consider us their enemies. That’s why I find it so strange when someone accuses us of supporting our own enemies who want to hurt us.

I wish Americans and Arabs would just discuss things honestly with each other away from the media so they can clear many of the misunderstandings that are separating between us and making it hard for us to trust each other. In my next post, I will thoroughly discuss the misunderstandings that Arabs have about the Americans and most importantly the reasons behind these misunderstandings which are not known by most Americans.

Although I have not been overly-enthusiastic about the Presidential candidates this year, I did find some measure of excitement when John McCain didn’t pick yet another white man as his running mate and instead chose a woman!  This insures that whether the Democrats or Republicans win in November, history will be made. We will either have our first black President or our first woman Vice President.  I do find that rather exciting.

So, yeah, I was excited that McCain chose a woman for his VP. I admit to not having read tons about Sarah Palin, but I have read a few things on the web and heard others talk of her.  I like that she practices what she preaches in regards to being pro-life.  It is easy to say you are for the unborn until you are hit with an unplanned pregnancy or your unborn child is diagnosed with something that will make life more challenging.

That said, I was dismayed this week when I read about a speech Governor Palin gave to her former church last year calling America’s role in Iraq a “task from God.”

Yahoo has this from her:

Palin asked the students to pray for the troops in Iraq, and noted that her eldest son, Track, was expected to be deployed there.

“Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God,” she said. “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.”

I wonder in what context this was said and what exactly she believes is the “task that is from God.”  Stopping terrorists?  Getting rid of Saddam Hussein?  Ridding the world of WMDs?  Hmmm.  I wish, too, I understood what that is we are supposed to be praying for.  “That there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan”?  Does this mean that we hope that what we are doing lines up with God’s will so we pray that He will bend His will to bless what we have already done?  It kind of sounds that way to me, but maybe I am misreading what she is saying.  Still that is my perception.  Does anyone else see it the same way or do you know in what context this was said?

I just know my pastor always teaches us that we should not do our own thing (which may be a “good thing”) and then pray for that to be God’s will and for Him to bless it.  Instead we should see where God is working, where He is blessing and yield ourselves so HE can use us in whatever way He wishes.  I am afraid my politicians want to do their own things and then pray God will bless it.  Instead why don’t we let God be God and seek His face and allow Him to guide us in all we do … especially when it is something as drastic as destroying another country and killing thousands of their innocent civilians!

Proverbs 16:7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD,
he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.

Do you reckon this applies to countries as well?  Let’s seek God’s will and yield to Him to work through us.  Let’s not go out on OUR missions to “save the world” and then pray for Him to bless us.  Let’s seek to please God and HE will make us live peacefully with our enemies.   We are working for peace in the wrong way.  We need to seek God and please Him first.  After all, America is not the Savior, He is.

Recently I heard about an interesting news from Gaza:

GAZA CITY – As most of the rest of the Islamic world welcomes Ramadan with festive treats and family get-togethers, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip wearily brace for another holiday under a crippling blockade.

Israel has sealed off the impoverished territory from all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007, and it is during the holidays that weary residents say they feel the sanctions the most.

“Honestly, I don’t even feel like we welcome Ramadan, because year after year things go from bad to worse, with life becoming harder and more expensive,” says Dina, a university student shopping in a Gaza City market.

The Muslim holy month during which the faithful fast from sunup to sundown is normally a festive time of lavish nightly feasts, holiday treats, and family reunions — all of which have become harder for most Gazans to afford.

The Israeli sanctions on Gaza after the bloody Hamas takeover coupled with the rise in world prices have resulted in widespread shortages and sent food and fuel costs soaring.

It really doesn’t matter what we believe in, ALL people have the right to have some happiness and joy in their religious holidays. It is extremely cruel and inhuman to steal joy from people’s hearts during the time when they are supposed to rejoice. What is more shameful is that a Muslim Arab country, which is Egypt, is participating in this evil blockade. Why should all people be punished for the choice they made in their free elections? What good can this bring? Are they going to change their minds when they see they are blackmailed in their children’s food and basic needs?

As Patriot Day draws nearer, I thought I would turn my attention to national pride.  But instead of focusing on America or the events of 9/11/01, I wanted to briefly discuss pride nonAmericans have in their nations.  I am reminded of an article I read — perhaps on Al Jazeera English — where an Egyptian woman discussed how even though she did not agree with her government on most things and wishes for a change in what she considers a corrupt regime, still she found herself cheering her government somehow when other nations spoke against it.  Kind of reminds me of the attitude we have at times. You know, where you can have a problem with your sister and fight with her and even say a few choice words about her, but the minute an outsider says something about her:  whoa!  She’d better watch her mouth in your presence!

Makes me wonder about the ordinary people living in nations that are “demonized” by Western media and politicians.  Or the reverse as well. How do Westerners feel when their countries are badmouthed or threatened by other nations?

Does living in a “terrorist state” or “the axis of evil” make you feel as if the West considers all who live in Iran or Afghanistan or North Korea or Sudan as evil terrorists?  Does it make you want to rise up against your government in order to wipe out the evil that the Western politicians have identified? Or do those descriptions make you angry enough that you feel defensive for your country …. even if you really don’t “believe in it”?

Countries often impose sanctions upon “disobedient” nations in order to get the leaders to obey the will of The Powerful.  I believe The Powerful have high hopes that the ordinary people will get so tired of being denied useful items that they will rise up and throw out their corrupt governments.  Iraq was under heavy sanctions for years yet that never happened.  Are there examples where sanctions have worked out as planned?  We say we don’t want to hurt the ordinary people, but that’s exactly what happens.  Do you think Saddam Hussein and his boys suffered along with the ordinary Iraqis?


Just something on my mind lately especially when I learned recently that a friend was denied downloading a web browser simply because he lived in Syria. Here is an ordinary, peaceful, kindhearted human being unable to download Google Chrome because he was unable to check that “I certify that I do not live in Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea or Syria.”

Give me a break!   Thoughts?

In my previous article I talked about how exceptional my friendship with Susanne is. I never expected that a religious conservative American like Susanne would be ready to welcome a religious Muslim Arab like me in her life and hear my points of view and explanations concerning varied topics. Susanne has showed me from the very beginning a considerable tolerance toward our differences and an amazing understanding to where I am coming from. I would like to discuss now few of the many wonderful things I learned through my friendship with Susanne.

 

Before I met Susanne, I had always thought that most Americans are completely against us as Muslim Arabs and against our rights and they vote to whom they vote simply because they want to fight and hurt more Muslims. I never tried to think from the other point of view. I never asked myself,” Would I be immune from thinking like the Americans if I were living like them and heard the bad news they hear about us all the time?” My friendship with Susanne has taught me that kindness and honesty help in clearing up misunderstandings and misconceptions that exist in our minds because of the news each one of us hears about the other’s side. It is something sad that many Americans view us as the enemies but we have to understand that that fact can be changed if we try our best to reach out to them with kindness and respect. We should not demonize people, judge them and condemn them because of their ideas and views about us. What are we going to gain from doing that except for gaining more enemies? We should be aware of our great responsibility in delivering our message and our side of the story to as many people as we can. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to win your enemies to your side just by being kind with them instead of having an everlasting conflict with them?

 

My friendship with Susanne made me feel the importance of having a very different friend who is kind enough to tell you his/her honest thoughts and challenge you in things you used to take for granted. Although at times it is difficult thinking about our differences, we have come to realize that these are the things that make our friendship exciting and unusual. So instead of always dwelling on the troublesome aspects of our differences, we are learning to appreciate them. Hearing the point of view of an ordinary Christian American about my part of the world teaches me a lot of things, makes my mind more flexible and broadens my thinking. What would I learn if I only made friends with people who are like me and who think like me? Would it be really good for me if all people I know told me exactly what I want them or expect them to say?

 

I always thank the Lord for the wonderful opportunity He gave me in befriending Susanne. I have learned that there are so many unexpected things that bring us together with people whom we think we are at opposite sides with. I have learned not to focus on the bad news I hear on TV. We always hear in the news about bad things done by Arabs or Americans and it is natural that we feel sad or frustrated when we hear about people causing troubles. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the media is not going to report much about Arabs and Americans doing good things. That’s why I feel so glad and honored that God gave me the chance to know about people from the other side away from the media. If more people experienced the wonderful things Susanne and I have experienced in our friendship, our world would be better for sure.

In my version of how we met, I mentioned how different Samer was compared to what I expected a Middle Eastern Muslim to be. My own incorrect thinking of Arabs had us much more at odds than I have found to be true. Amazingly, Samer comes across normal and human and a host of characteristics that I find appealing in anyone! Is there any wonder I wanted him as a true friend and not just an internet acquaintance? Which of us do not desire friends who are understanding, caring, patient, kind and compassionate? There are many traits in Samer that I wish were stronger in my own life!

Samer has taught me not only about himself, but about an area of the world of which I really knew very little. Here are a few lessons I have learned about Arabs in the six months I have known Samer.

1. They want to be fairly represented.
We can all agree that there are extremists in the world who have given us bad thoughts towards most religions, races, countries and so forth. Extremists generally make the headlines because people love sensational stories. The ordinary people rarely get media coverage because a man going to work, loving his wife and teaching his children about the Lord aren’t exciting enough for us. My point … all Arabs and all Muslims are not terrorists. Though we Americans tend to see news mostly about them as intolerant and hateful, Samer has convinced me these extremists are not representative of most Arabs and Muslims. I have heard from him a number of times how it really makes them sad that people think bad of them based on the unfair representation in our media. Actually Samer’s words go along the lines of “it breaks our hearts that such lovely and kind people think badly of us.” I still can’t get over how he considers us “lovely and kind people” when America has caused so many problems in the Middle East, but, thankfully, that is another thing I’ve learned. Samer separates American people from the American government, and while he hates our country’s policies in the Middle East, he does not transfer that hate to the American people. I sometimes have a hard time understanding that difference, but it’s because I think like an American.

2. They want to be understood.
Samer doesn’t mind that I can’t always side with him on all issues. (As if that happens even in my own country … or my own family at times.) He only asks that I try to understand his perspectives on things. And he stresses that he has reasons for what he believes. He doesn’t believe something just for the sake of being contrary or difficult or anti-West. From Israeli and American occupation to support or at least favorable thoughts towards pro-Palestinian groups, I understand the Arab perspective so much better! I’m not saying I am now pro-Hamas, anti-American or anything of the sort, but I DO understand the appeal certain parties have for many Arabs and the reasons they don’t like American policy in the Middle East. Instead of only hearing these stories in the media and shaping my views from their reports, it is wonderful learning from an ordinary person who can share the truth as he sees it.

3. They want us to care and value them as people.

How often can we as Americans honestly say we have been touched or heartbroken by the suffering going on continuously around the world? If you are like me, I suspect you are more concerned with your car’s transmission failing or computer problems than the Hmong begging for someone to care as they hide from their Communist government in Laotian jungles because they helped America in the Vietnam War. I didn’t even KNOW about this until the last month or so … much less care for them. Similarly, there are hurting and suffering people throughout the world. Sometimes we hear a brief report of it in passing or read a story off the AP wire reports, but rarely are we truly affected by human suffering in the world. The Middle Eastern perspective is different. They see fellow Arabs hurting, in need of medical services and being killed. And not many outsiders who seem to care. They’ve seen so many conflicts in their short lifetimes, I’ve learned they cynically wish each other “Happy New War” when yet another fight comes to the region.They really wish Arab blood were not “so cheap” to the rest of the world. Do we really think of them that way?

In my introductory paragraph I stated how normal Samer was. After reading the lessons I’ve learned from him, I hope you see that for yourself. Basically we are so much like the people in the Middle East. Sure we have cultural and religious differences, but in real human standards, we are much more alike than we are different. I think most people in America want to be fairly represented. We don’t want the most wacko person being the one people remember when they think of a group we belong to. Additionally, we want to be understood or, at least, respected for our reasons even if they are difficult for most to fully understand. And whether we admit it or not, deep down we all want someone to care for us and value us. Perhaps I will be in the minority for this, but I want to be a person who values people. After seeing how Jesus looked on the crowd with compassion, I have prayed for God to give me a heart that sees people not with disgust for their annoying driving habits or hateful rhetoric or abuse of the welfare system. I want to look at all people and see the worth that they have to God. And I want to love them so that one day when I die, they can honestly say, “Today we lost a friend who loved us.”

I pray I can be that kind of person.

Last year my siblings created MySpace accounts. In order to view their pictures and profiles, I decided I would sign up as well in late July. I did not seek friendships among the thousands there, and only added people I already knew or knew about. In early October I was visiting my parents and decided to check my page since I’d not been there in a few days. In the new messages section I was drawn immediately to a simple subject line: “From Damascus.”

First you need to know about me that, for the most part, I love foreigners. I have always been enamored by people different than I am whether they were merely from the Land of Yankees (the Northeastern USA), Latin America or from somewhere much farther away. Maybe this is because I have mostly been around people very similar to me –Southern, white, Baptist, conservative – you get the picture. Or maybe I just enjoy hearing about other places, other cultures, other languages and accents and other people. I don’t know for sure, but I do appreciate the variety in flowers and trees and birds and butterflies. Perhaps this love for variety carries over into people.

Back to the story … Not only was I thrilled to hear from a foreigner, but for someone who counts the Apostle Paul among her favorite authors, the immediate sight of Damascus was thrilling! Wow, I thought, this is from a place mentioned in the Bible! Exciting!

Samer’s message politely challenged what I wrote on my profile page concerning the persecuted church because along with China and North Korea, I mentioned the Middle East. I replied to his message and asked questions of him about his life, culture, religion and even his thoughts of America. I had never met a Muslim or an Arab so this was extra exciting! I felt I had to learn all I could because I never knew when I’d have this kind of opportunity again. Although I have met some friendly foreigners in my past, I cannot remember another time I’ve had a foreigner contact me or speak my language well enough that we could actually learn from one another. That this new contact was from the Middle East … even more thrilling!

Before I met Samer, my view of Arab Muslims was rather suspicious. I’d never met a follower of Islam here so I had nothing to base my thoughts on except what I see of Muslims and Arabs in the media. To me they seemed like people full of anger and hatred who were intolerable towards people of other faiths and beliefs. I never thought of them as rational, friendly, easygoing people. Certainly I never expected to be friends with any of them because who can be friends with angry people who won’t even give you a chance?

I was pleasantly surprised when this erroneous view of Arab Muslims was shattered by my new friend! Not only did I find someone tolerant of my views as an American and a Christian, I found out how similar both of us are in many ways. Yes, we have a lot of major differences, but also we have many similar values. I have been greatly amused many times when Samer and I have been talking and he’s replied to my statements with “you sound like a Muslim when you say that.”

I not only found Samer tolerant and similar to me in many ways, I also found a tenderhearted person with exceptional compassion and understanding for those hurting. As an American, I have not experienced the kind of heartache many in the Middle East have experienced all their lives. I have not endured the terrible media images shown nearly every day. Thankfully Samer has shared his burden with me and given me a more tender heart towards those suffering. Through Samer, God has shown me that there is great worth in everyone. Whereas without even realizing it I may have written off the Muslims and Arabs as not worth my time (because they are, afterall, my “enemies”), God has used Samer to prove to me how loved His creation is to Him. As my Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” God did not exclude Arabs. “The world” includes all men and women and children, and I believe God loved us all so much that He gave us all the opportunity for salvation through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus Christ.

I thank God for giving me a loving heart towards Arabs, and I’m grateful He used one of the “enemies” to perform this miracle in my life.

Last year I decided to make an account on MySpace. None of my acquaintances had an account there, but I had heard about it from some of my online friends and wanted to check it for myself. After creating my account, I browsed some profiles and was surprised to see an American woman writing about the Middle East. Actually it was a nice surprise to see a regular American woman being interested in my part of the world. I thought if that American was really interested in the Middle East then I had a good chance to contact her and explain some of my views. I have always found it exciting to discuss varied issues with foreigners who are different than me in many aspects.

 

After thinking about it, I decided to send Susanne a short note and then wait to see if she would reply. Two days later  I was reading something on my PC, when I received an e-mail from MySpace. When I opened my mailbox, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Susanne replied to my short note. I was so excited about that and what made me more excited was what she wrote in her short reply. I could feel she was excited to know more about me. I wrote her a reply immediately. Actually on that same day I wrote Susanne two notes and she wrote me three. I think both of us were so thrilled for that great chance!

 

My views of Americans have been always good. Since I know English, I spend a lot of time watching American shows on TV. In fact, most of what I read in the web is from American websites. It has always saddened me a lot to think that such nice people have many bad ideas about us. Of course I don’t blame them at all because most of what they hear is about our conflicts. That’s why I always feel glad when I have the chance to defend my people and to explain my views.

 

Susanne not only gave me the chance to talk about my views, but she welcomed me as a friend despite our big differences. She has always understood my ideas and been tolerant of my views as a nationalist Arab and a devout Muslim. Definitely I never expected an American to understand me like Susanne does. She has proven to be a true friend who always tries to cheer me up when she feels I am sad and always feels glad for me when she knows I am happy. Through Susanne, I know that anyone can find a lot of similarities with a person who is supposed to be on an opposite side. Furthermore, anyone can have a great time in befriending that “opposite” person. Life is too short to waste it in fighting over our differences. Why don’t we try to get along for a change?

 

 “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous.”  Qur’an 49:13