Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Let Us Not Blame Muslims

Once I said something that made a person really, really angry. In fact it pretty much killed any chance we ever had, however slight, of developing a friendship. I'm pretty sure my comment caused her to actively avoid me for the rest of the four years our husbands did their medical training together. As such, it may have been the most efficient, economical use of snark I've ever managed in my life.

The woman in question had had her purse stolen, on a downtown city street, by a young Black man. Retelling the incident to a group of us--I'm guessing it was some sort of medical residents dinner, the type of thing drug companies would pay for, back in the day, but I really don't remember--anyway, in retelling her story she spouted a prolonged very racist comment, and when I looked shocked--I must have looked shocked--she turned to me, and said, "What? I don't want to be racist, but it was a BLACK man that mugged me."

"Ah," I said. "And how does your husband feel about you becoming a lesbian?"

This was twenty-five years ago. She looked horrified, and demanded to know what I meant.

"Well," I said, "you said it was a Black MAN that mugged you. So if you now hate all Black people, I figured you must hate all men, too."

As I said, the end of the possibility of our friendship. On both sides.

I thought of this yesterday when I read that Donald Trump now wants to keep all Muslims out of the United States. Yep, some Muslims are radicalized terrorists, including the 2 who just killed 14 people in San Bernadino. Of course, 1 in every 5 people is Muslim, worldwide, so it stands to reason that some of the however-many mass shootings we've had here in the United States would be done by Muslims. (The actual number of mass shootings is apparently one of those moving targets. Do you count gang warfare? Domestic violence, where a parent kills their spouse and several children? Or just shoot-up-a-movie-theater shootings?) Anyhow, yes, the San Bernadino killers were Muslim. The Sandy Hook killer professed to be a Christian. As did the guy that shot up the AME Church in Charleston. A Christian White guy, shooting up a Black Christian church. So do we hate all White people? Or do we just say all Christians are whack?

When I went to Egypt I was impressed by the level of education and openness shown by our tourist guides, all of whom happened to be Muslim. (As a country, Egypt is 10% Christian.) To become an Egyptologist, which all our tour guides were, you essentially need a PhD in ancient Egyptian history, plus the ability to speak at least two languages fluently--most tour guides we met spoke more. On our Nile cruise ship we had 4 tour guides, 2 who led English-language tours, 1 who led the Norwegians, and 1 who led the Swiss. (I'm still not sure what language the Swiss tours were in. The Swiss seemed to mostly speak a form of German, but I conversed with them in bad French--bad on my end. The Norwegians all spoke perfect unaccented English as well as Norwegian, which as usual left the Americans looking like monoglot morons.) At the temples and pyramids, you heard Egyptian guides speaking all sorts of languages, conversantly--once at the quarry in Aswan, site of the Unfinished Obelisk, we sent my children and another man from our group to go eavesdrop on a Spanish-language guide, because we wanted to know more about the obelisk. Seeing our interest, the guide switched briefly to English, for our sakes.

One afternoon on the boat, the one female tour guide, who I think was in charge of the Swiss tourists, stopped my husband and thanked him for bringing his children to Egypt. She said she wanted Americans to know that most Muslims were peaceful, normal people, trying to raise their families and worship God just as most people were worldwide. She was grateful that our children, my husband and mine, had an opportunity to realize that the next word after "Muslim" was not "terrorist."

I'm glad my children know that. I'm glad I know that. I'm seriously, seriously done with Donald Trump. Maybe the man needs to travel a little more, or maybe he needs to shut his mouth. Or, actually, maybe he needs to keep opening it--you never know when someone will say something that accidentally ends your relationship with them, even before it properly begins.