Bebe Ruhi sadly questions Americans and Qu’ran burnings

On Islamophobia (click photo for source, credits)

When I last left you, I wrote about my early exposure to Islam.  Specifically, I wrote about my parents’ interest in Persian rugs, and the carpet-weaving community’s practice of always leaving at least one mistake in their work as “only Allah is perfect.”  You can read more about all of that here.  While this was hardly an exhaustive introduction to the tenets of Islam, I do feel luck to have been raised by parents (one agnostic, one Christian) that was more than open to learning about other cultures and religions – as imperfect as those efforts may at times be and as imperfect as any human can be in their efforts to be respectful of, sensitive to and aware of different cultures and religions.

Efforts to open my mind continued in my high school – and in fact my first exposure to the idea of feminism was through the writing of Fatima Mernissi, who wrote about Islamic feminism (on how Islam and veiling in particular allow women to be treated as respected equals, more on this another time).  While in college, I lived as a non-Jewish person in my University’s residential Hillel House, where I learned about Judaism and keeping kosher.  Flung heart-first into the experience of religious intolerance, I experienced our Hillel House’s post-traumatic stress after members of the Aryan Nation senselessly broke into that house on a school break – intentionally defiling the house with feces, urine, spray-paint and meat on the dairy dishes.  It was confusing and heartbreaking – why would someone do this?  I wrestled with this question on gut and mind levels for a long time.  Even though I have answers, the whole thing still makes my stomach hurt.

Later, while practicing as a social worker in New York City, I worked with many Muslim immigrants, mostly from Yemen and various parts of Africa.  Tasked with investigating child abuse and/or neglect, my cross-cultural thinking was put to the test.  I often wrestled with the question “if it is right in one culture, should that be able to stand in a second culture of residence – and vice versa.”  While I disagreed in a very personal way with some of the ways the tenets of Islam were implemented in some of the families I worked with when it came to disciplining adolescents walking the cross-cultural tightrope of their new culture and their family culture, I did my best to be fair in my decision-making and to respect all I worked with to the best of my ability.

It is, perhaps, these facts of my upbringing as well as the fact of being married to a person from a Muslim majority country and the ways he is sometimes misunderstood or stereotyped that lead me to feel so upset about the most recent Qu’ran burnings in Afghanistan by U.S. armed forces and the reactions of some of those around me.  It is always painful to me, cringe-worthy even, when friends or family in Turkey work to make sure that I understand they do not associate themselves with the worst that call themselves Muslim, much as I distance myself from those soldiers that decided to burn religious books in a garbage purge.

It may sound cliché, but my extreme disappointment and upset over this incident so far away renews my commitment to making some kind of a difference in the lives of my students – a few of whom I overheard last night joking about this incident in Afghanistan.  My heart sank, my anger surged, and I said nothing.  Normally, I am fairly “out there” but I am trying to be more mindful of and attentive to the power of my role as a professor and the need to ask calm questions to encourage them softly to look at their statements and views in a way that might bring some learning and transformation.

Today, I am just left with Bebe Ruhi, the ever-questioning Karagoz puppet in my mind, who has tears running down his cheeks, and rocks back and forth, asking these questions over and over:

How can these kind and loving students who are training to be social workers be so mean in their comments? 

How can you get them over this hump of ignorance?

How could these American soldiers be so disrespectful?

I know people are ignorant and in pain about 9/11 and whatever they are experiencing on the ground, but how could they be so stupid and inflammatory?

I know soldiers get all worked up with what they are expected by their governments to do – and sometimes experience moral conflicts, but why does this keep happening?

How does this type of behavior square with the alleged religious tolerance the United States supposedly represents?

What is wrong with Newt Gingrich, that bombastic idiot, for questioning President Obama’s decision to apologize for this? What on earth is wrong with an apology?

M’lady, can you explain Americans to me?

None of these are new questions or particularly unique ones.  Many of them have many documented answers already.  Today, I am feeling down, and I just wish these questions would be less present in life as they are just so painful sometimes.  Must be a blue day.

This entry was posted in America post 9-11, Early exposure to Islam, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Bebe Ruhi sadly questions Americans and Qu’ran burnings

  1. Alan says:

    . . soldiers cannot be soldiers if they are sensitive to the ‘enemy’ – the ‘enemy is to be denigrated, belittled and de-humanised – the enemy is the ‘Rag-head’, ‘Argy’, ‘Nig-nog’, you name it; his history and culture are to be looted and destroyed in order to loot and destroy him and is resources – for that is what it is about.
    The problem for the West and its resource wars is that they are being waged in lands where there is (for better or worse) a religious and cultural fortress (Islam) that is socially cohesive in a way and on a scale that is beyond the comprehension of those who send their young men and women to kill and be killed/maimed in their imperial wars.
    From Abu Grahib to pissing on dead Afghans to burning/pissing on Korans to Guantanamo to its own black/latino minorities to whatever, EVERY BIT OF IT IN PUBLIC, the West is incapable of understanding that if you fail to give respect then in the end you will lose.
    For too long the West has been capable of ‘Lording it’ over the rest of the world – ‘Might is Right!’ What they cannot/will not understand is the ‘Might is Not Right’; ‘Right is Right!’

  2. Jack Scott says:

    I see this as a symptom of a frightened nation newly insecure about the future and its place in a remodelled world. A frightened America really isn’t what the world needs right now because a frightened America is a dangerous America (at least potentially). We’ve entered a multi-polar era and we, in the West, need to adjust to this reality. We’ve had a good run and now it’s someone else’s turn. The resource grab that Alan talks about will continue and probably worsen. We’re all squabbling over the same scarce and diminishing resources. Everyone’s at it – not just the West. The Chinese are busy buying up sub-Saharan Africa and the Turks are damming the Tigris and Euphrates, and stand accused of ‘stealing’ the water that’s been irrigating the Fertile Crescent for millenia. Forget about the oil. It’ll be the water we’ll be fighting over. I’m glad I haven’t got any children to worry about. Rant over!

  3. Jack Scott says:

    Incredible image, BTW!

  4. carinaragno says:

    With Mass Child Freezing Deaths, Proof of Mass Starvation, US in Violation of Geneva in Afghanistan

  5. Rosamond says:

    Thank you for this post. I dont know what to comment in case i offend someone. I have been a muslim for 40 years and married to a muslim for 45 years and if your experiences of peoples attitude towards muslims is anywhere near mine your heart will always be broken. You try not to hate, you try to make excuses or find reasons for the way Americans react to muslims, you try to inform others of truths but in the end you stand on your own.You will be seen by many as a traitor to your country and by some, a stong and courageous individual to put yourself in a situation where you are constantly reminded that your loved one is not accepted by a blinkered nation. Have your bad day but please dont dwell on the negativity. If you are happy with your ‘M’ dont let anything spoil that.

  6. sumanyav says:

    my sympathies, Liz! while theoretically we all know the answers to those questions and we have probably deliberated on them a 100 times, we are still hurt, confused and angry when we are faced with situations close home. What I have learn’t is not to take the onus of ‘our people’ on oneself. easier said than done. But thats the only way to go if you are to preserve your sanity. After which we can fight all thats wrong with the world!

  7. Madhu says:

    Blaming a collective group for the crimes of a few misguided souls – I would like to believe that they were not all bad to begin with either – is what we wrestle with in an increasingly radical India as well! Populist politics plays a major role. The world is changing for the worse and there are times, fleeting moments, when I lose all hope 😦

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russel

  8. oh, the very same rhetorical questions my husband and I discussed….have your blue day, sometimes we need them. Then pick yourself up, carry on and never miss an opportunity to share your tolerant, respectful and hopefully explanatory views. At least if we all continue having mixed marriages, the world will be made all the smaller and less ‘foreign’ and scary to some 😉

  9. Liz — It is painful for any American to see fellow citizens behaving with brutality and ignorance. Last night I had the opportunity to watch a compilation of two documentaries made by a young Italian who drove across (and all over) the United States sticking a video camera in people’s faces and asking them their opinions on various topics related to terrorism and US politics. It was at some points deeply disturbing and other moments awe-inspiring. There were plenty of ignorant racists, but there were many brilliant, sensitive, intellectual comments from unexpected places. Hispanic teenagers on the streets on L.A. with thoughtful, articulate comments about what wrong with the US and how they want to change the US for the better, a young afro-american women who started crying as she was describing all her difficulties but stuck with the interview and said she was going to work to change things in the US. He interviewed people of all ages, races and class levels and got a very mixed result. His conclusion was an admiration for a country in which people have strong opinions, think they can make a difference and want to act to change things. He was comparing it to Italy where there is much more shoulder-shrugging about a system that people do not believe can be changed.

  10. Rosamond says:

    Its true to say there are good and bad in every nation, every culture and every religion. It’s just so sad that the minority can cause chaos and hatred which spreads like a virus. I lay most of the blame on our governments. 😦

  11. Well said, Rosamond, I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for all of your support!

  12. Thanks, Trisha. Sadly, the news of this Italian documentary does not at all surprise me. It is this kind of thing that also makes me stay focused on change in the domestic arena, as depressing as that effort often is. I wonder what makes us idealist American types so different from the shoulder shruggers in Italia – do you think idealism has been lost on the vast majority? Different scenarios and contexts, I know, but still begs the question.

  13. Thank you for your support – which is appreciated so very much. I did have my blue day, and one more, but these comments really helped me to shake off the blue funk and renew a bit. 🙂

  14. Yes, I totally agree – would like to believe they are not all bad to begin with. This is the belief that got me through years of practicing as a social worker in a criminal defense legal setting – co-representing many people charged with heinous crimes…your comment brought me perspective and support, and I thank you for that, Madhu!

  15. Wise words – words that helped me to shake the blue funk I was in. I am so appreciative of this comment and of your support! 🙂 Don’t know why this one hit me so hard 🙂

  16. Rosamond, never fear about offending anyone – I want to hear your voice wherever you are at. I find these words so very helpful, both M. and I did, and we thank you for them. Yes, we will not let anything spoil that! I am so glad you are in our blog-life now!

  17. Isn’t it? Click on it – takes you to a blog with several other similar images…

  18. I agree. We are a frightened nation indeed – and even those who have seen it coming are wrestling with the new realities now. M. and I couldn’t agree more on the water argument – it was scary to see that dam in the SE….one of the major reasons we do not have kids either! Rant anytime!!!!

  19. Alan,

    Your words make sense of this in a new way for me. Somehow, I know this about soldiers, but forget this about soldiers. It seems to me in those forgetting moments that there should be some in-between – some way to engage in the mission AND not burn the Qu’ran – but – sadly not. These words brought context and help on a very blue day.

    Respect back!

  20. Rosamond says:

    I love reading your blog and although my ‘M’ is not of Turkish origin, my other love is Turkey where i have spent many happy times for 14 years. Anything regarding all turkish, muslim and inter-cultural relationships are very interesting to me. You are top on my favourites blog list :-))

  21. I am positively impress on how people in this discussion are moderate and genuinely searching for answers.

    I would say it is our animal instinct to fear the unknown and destroy what we don’t understand, kill others to get what we need. We all as humans have the capacity to do terrible actions it is just a question of circumstances and education. I don’t need to list the long history of massacres and conflicts that started long before any religion was invented.

    “the reverse side has also its reverse side” says a Japanese proverb so it means nobody is 100% good or 100% evil.

    I do believe we can make a difference by raising our children as global citizens, travelling the world and being exposed to various cultures and customs either physically or virtually thanks to the internet technologies. Isn’t it amazing Liz that I have discovered your discussion just because you liked one of my post ? I am looking forward to reading more discussions like this and exchange ideas on how to make a difference in the world by embracing the differences.

  22. very happy to hear 🙂

  23. apparently, it takes an e-world to maintain an adult (akin to “takes a village to raise a child”) 🙂

  24. Anne,

    I am so glad that we found one another – and yes, it is indeed amazing the ability for connection amongst like minded individuals. I am “with” you on all of your good comments here- thank you for sharing them!

    I also look forward to more of the same!!!


  25. Pingback: The Karagöz puppets set their sights on Lefkoşa – and Nicosia « Slowly-by-Slowly

  26. Thank you for an important, thoughtful post. I wish everyone could read this.

  27. Thank you so much, Naomi, for your comment! I really appreciate it!

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