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Nagham F. Awadallah
I Don’t Remind You of Anyone
Almost anywhere outside their countries, Arabs and Muslims seem to confront the skeptic looks on the faces of other people around them. This skepticism mostly turns into awkward behavior, which in many cases leads to certain precautious procedures. These so called “security measures” vary on the official and the public level: from being inspected individually at airports to being shunned by the public. This new perception of Arabs and Muslims as a potential threat conquered the world after September 11. 2001.
On that gloomy day, the planes swooshed right through the silver rectangular skyscrapers violently instigating red and gray flames. At that moment, humans on the planes and in the buildings were experiencing the unthinkable. The scene itself was overwhelmingly shocking; but an attempt to picture oneself on one of the planes or in one of the buildings is utterly unimaginable. Personally, I cannot foresee a single normal human being desiring to be in such a state, or even not minding to be in it. It’s something that the human soul instinctively rejects. Humans were not designed to be mass murderers. Yet many defy nature and turn into murderers.
It’s humans who drove those planes right through the buildings packed with humans. It was humans who killed hundreds of thousands of helpless Japanese in Hiroshima. It was humans who mercilessly slaughtered millions of innocent Vietnamese, Africans, Jews, Gypsies, Slaves and others. How could a human put his or her humanity aside, and act like a beast?
Later, there came the announcement. Osama Bin Laden: an Arab- AlQaida – an Islamic movement. That is, my ethnic group and my religion, but definitely not me. Unfortunately, as soon as the stereotype was generated, it became almost impossible for the international community to envision an Arab or a Muslim without linking them to terrorism. It seemed as if the new categorization of humans around the world is on the basis of terrorism; depending on your identity, you’re either labeled as a terrorist or not.
As an Arab Palestinian Muslim, I have on several occasions been mistreated because of my ethnicity and religion. On those occasions, my person was disregarded and the newly molded negative stereotypes of my ethnic identity and religion dictated the manner in which I was treated. At airports, I was called along with the other Arabs and Muslims to go to the runway to attend the thorough piece- by- piece inspection of my luggage before it was lifted to the plane. In public places (outside of the Arab world), I was avoided by some people once knowing that I’m an Arab. This prejudice reached the extent that during a summer in the U.S. with my family, a woman threatened to call the police if we took our bags with us to the bathrooms; this was on the beach where my family and I wanted to wear our bathing suits.
There’s no doubt about the fear that the international community feels after September 11th but this still doesn’t give a green light for racism. The 9/11 attack on the United States, although the highest in its hideousness in U.S. history, is not the first of its kind. On April 19 1995, there was an attack on the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. No planes broke through the building, and no Arabs or Muslims performed nor planned the attacks. At the Oklahoma City attack, a truck exploded and the attacker was Timothy Mc Veigh. Clearly, the attacker wasn’t an Arab or a Muslim. He was an American Christian, but still that didn’t stop him from ignoring his humanity and killing civilians including women and children. Thus, ethnicity and religion aren’t an indication of the person’s inclination to perform terrorist attacks; such an act depends on personal choices and circumstances and definitely doesn’t run in the blood.
A person’s humanity should be the sole basis on which he or she is perceived. Humanity should come first in interactions, whereas ethnicity, religion, color, language…etc. shouldn’t be an excuse nor a reason for negative or prejudiced interactions amongst humans. The actions of some who belong to a certain ethnicity, religion, or color shouldn’t be generalized to the whole. Collective punishment is not the answer.
I may share some identity attributes with this or that person. But I should not remind you of someone just because of that. I am myself. I ought to be treated accordingly.
Nagham F. Awadallah is a student at Birzeit University in Ramallah, Palestine. She is studying English Literature and Translation.