I have taken a few days to process the Paris attacks mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It rocks the core of my being on so many levels that I fear I won't be able to express the complexity of what is inside me. I want to express the barrage of feelings I have because I suspect that other Muslims around the world might feel the same, but cannot or will not express these feelings.
I Dream of Paris
I have been fantasizing about a trip to Europe for a few years now. My roots are European and I haven't been back to Europe for 20 years. I have family in Bulgaria; and, I have never visited my mother's homeland of Croatia or her birthplace of Austria. France is at the top of my bucket list. I am a hopeless romantic and a writer; and, I've never been to Paris. This - for me - is a travesty. I actually had a trip planned for the summer of 2001 - right before 9/11 happened- a trip that included France - but I became pregnant with my first child and I cancelled my trip. I recently remodeled my master bedroom and adjoining bath to feel like a European hotel room. I have hints of Paris throughout. So each morning and night, I am pretending I am a tourist in Paris in my own bedroom.
Dialogue Breeds Understanding
I had the most amazing opportunity in Chicago a few months ago to meet with 3 French dignitaries who visited the United States on a mission to learn about how we deal with racism. French Consul General of the Midwest, Vincent Floreani; his Deputy Consul, Jean-Christophe Paris; and the French government Head of the Agency Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, Gilles Clavreul. This was part of the #MyJihad Public Education Campaign that I am proud to be a part of.
This was an eye opening meeting for me. Even though I have this love for a culture I have never been a part of - I had some anger in my heart about the fact that France banned hijab in their public schools. Muslim girls cannot cover their hair with a headscarf in their schools. This is painful for me to know because I picture my own sister in law who wears hijab- and my cousin who wears hijab- and my aunts in Europe who wear hijab- and the thought of them being forced to show their hair when they have chosen long ago to keep it covered as a symbol of their devotion to God - as absolutely mind blowing.
When our French guests explained their view of Muslims in France and fighting racism and their choice to ban the hijab - my heart softened. They talked about how they do not tolerate racism in their culture and how they appreciate their Muslim community members as part of the fabric of French society.
Regardless of Charlie Hebdo, it was clear that they have less tolerance for hate speech in their society than we do in the United States. They have less tolerance for disparaging words against marginalized groups of people than we do in the United States. They do not confuse hate speech with freedom of speech as often as we do here in the United States. This is similar to what I have learned about our neighbors to the north- Canada- when I published an article in a Canadian newspaper. They were quick to edit anything I wrote that could be deemed defamatory- like if I were to call an Islamophobe known for spreading hate, a "bigot." Eye opening.
Even though we expressed that we don't agree with the French banning of the hijab in public school- understanding their viewpoint of it and hearing it out of their mouths in the calming demeanor that they espouse - in the sincere manner that they express themselves - made me truly understand their viewpoint. For them- all religious signage in public school has been banned as they feel it creates division in their schools. So their intention behind it is a pure one - even if I don't agree with it. And I left that meeting with my heart soaring. And I hope they left it feeling the same way as we explained our experience as Muslims in American society and what we deal with and how we try to build bridges here.
I Choose Islam Every Day
Even though I was "born into Islam," I choose Islam every day. It is my faith that I have embraced. I embrace it primarily for its logic. I embrace it for its justice. Justice to me means that all men are created equally under God's command. He did not make me any more superior or inferior to any other human being that came before me or any other human being that will come after me. The only difference between human beings in Islam is their level of piety: their level of submission to the will of God and striving to do good in this world. The entire premise of living life as a Muslim is serving others. On Judgment Day- we will not be judged by how many cars we owned or if we were able to afford a mansion. We will be judged on how we treated our fellow human beings- as well as precious beings in the animal kingdom as well. Living things. If we were given little or a lot - did we try to share what it is that we do have- with others? Did we try to take away what others have? Or did we try to help others be the best that they can be? That is the essence of Islam. That is the essence of being a Muslim.
I Grieve for Them All
In that essence- my heart bleeds for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks the same as it bleeds for the people of Palestine who lay in their own blood on a daily basis. My heart bleeds equally for the people who perished in the Beirut terrorist attack and for those in Syria experiencing a living HELL. My heart bleeds the same for Paris, Beirut, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and my city - Chicago - where it seems we might have the worst crime rate known to man. Where young boys and young girls are shot and killed on the city streets on a daily basis- to the point that we are numb to the news of it.
This is what being Muslim is.
So there has been outrage from people who feel that the world has "selective sympathy" for Paris and not for victims of terrorist attacks if those victims are Arab or "non-white." This is apparent on Facebook where a filter was created of the French Flag for users to put over their profile pictures. Where is the filter for Lebanon? Or any of the other countries that people have suffered from terrorism? I agree with this because it is glaringly true. But I do not feel that sense of "outrage" per se. Part of the reason is that I am feeling a numbness to the double standards against Muslims. Part of the reason too is that deep down, I do not need human sympathy for Muslims as I truly believe God keeps track of all of the injustices of the world. But it does need to be called out because these disparities only provoke further division and provoke bigotry which can lead to violence against Muslims.
There are those that blame all 1.6 billion of us Muslims on the actions of a few. And I am exhausted from constantly apologizing for people I don't know and will never have anything to do with. Asking me to apologize for an extremist dude across the ocean for the choices he makes in life is the same as giving the extremist dude credit for the 5 years I spent as a Girl Scout Leader.
That said - there are those that want to keep saying that ISIS utilizes the Qur'an for inspiration to do bad things. Look - for every verse you can misinterpret (and yeah - you are misinterpreting them!) in the Qur'an - I can find the same thing in the Bible and the Torah - some even worse sounding. Stop with the hypocrisy. If someone is hellbent on being evil - they can draw inspiration from a turnip. The reality is, the Holy Qur'an is the Word of God for Muslims worldwide. It is a manual on how to live our lives. It teaches us to submit to the will of God and trust in Him. To relinquish our egos. To pray - not because God needs our prayers- because WE need to submit ourselves to give our tired souls a break from thinking we have all the answers. We don't. We are mere pieces of dust. Qur'an teaches us that charity is the most important thing we can do as human beings. It teaches us to fear the prayers of the oppressed.
I don't want to spend time constantly explaining this to people. That Islam is a religion of peace. I would not choose Islam every single day if Islam is what ISIS says it is.
Depravity and Desperation
ISIS is a creation of the war machine. It is a direct result of the "war on terror" and invasion of Iraq that has killed what many report as hundreds of thousands of people.
Please - wrap your head around this for a moment. I'm only talking about those killed. I'm not even talking about those maimed and disabled. I'm not even talking about an entire infrastructure of a nation destroyed. Jobs, security - livelihood - LIFE. Destroyed. Do you think if a foreign power came to the U.S. borders and destroyed our nation and took out hundreds of thousands of our citizens- bad things would happen? Or would it be rainbows, unicorns and apple pie for dessert?
Terrorism is the repercussion of war policies. It is a repercussion of invasion and imperialism. Of socio-economic and political depravity and desperation.
Diplomatic Solutions- Our Only Hope
We are judged by God on our intentions- not our outcomes- so the only thing we can do and must do is continue to lead by example. Continue to condemn violence in all shapes and forms against any and all people. Continue to pray for the victims of violence. And keep trying to manage the situation through the political process. We must vote. We must vote in politicians that think diplomatically as their first, second and third course of action. Not pressing the war button. You want to say religion is spread by the sword - what are modern governments doing today? The sword is now: drones, bombs, tanks and a huge money making apparatus with a huge price in human toll.
As human beings, we can fight the bad guys by coming together- not driving wedges between us and driving each other further apart. Unity is the only hope we have left for humanity.