All Muslims are terrorists. Their Jihads are their pledge to bomb us. They are terrible people.
My flight to San Francisco started off with a large Texan with a burly cowboy hat telling me about how Muslims are terrorists. For the next two hours we talked about his beliefs and his disdain for Muslims. Interested in his perspectives, I asked him some questions:
So, how do you know they’re all terrorists?
His response was vindicated by his own experience:
Well, they bombed a lot of places around the world and there’s a lot of terrorism going on because of the suicide bombers. Just look at what’s happening in the USA, and 9/11 and all the other things that have happened. In Texas we’re having a lot of issues because of them.
So, I asked another question:
Have you personally met a lot of Muslims? You know, I’ve met a number of them and even took a 3 month intensive course and all the Muslims I met weren’t terrorists…and they way they describe a Jihad was different than what I’m hearing from you. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just curious about your experience. It sounds like you’ve met a lot of Muslims?
…a little bit of silence and thought. Then his response:
Well, I’ve seen a lot of them, had friends talk to me about the ones they bombed their neighborhoods or were affected because of the war. But I guess I haven’t personally met that many.
Then he went on about some biblical passages and how Muslims are desecrating Christianity with their false beliefs and terrorists ways
So, I listened. Asked more questions and then shared how as a person of many faiths, I studied Islam and learned they too study Jesus and while he’s not their main prophet, they still pay homage to him and that every Muslim home I’ve entered exhibited many wonderful characteristics that I enjoyed and saw traces of Christianity there…but that I also understood his perspective and was curious.
I also asked him if he’d ever had any positive experiences with Muslims, or seen any of them with families and if any lived near him at any time. He told me about how there was some not too far from his home and that they seemed nice enough and that they had kids.
I learned a lot about a perspective on Muslims that I’ve only read about, and a perspective that after 9/11 was proliferated in such as a way as to catogerize a group of people in a way that I too have been placed in.
You see I’m Colombian. I’m an immigrant. I’m full on immigrant, I came here at the age of 8, didn’t know a lick of English and had no idea where USA was (I was extremely poor as a child and had practically no formal education). So, when I came here my first grade school had no Spanish speaking kids or teachers. My first bus ride home, I ended up at the bus depot. No one could speak to me and I couldn’t communicate back.
My first few months in school in Seattle, WA were lonely. I went to close, sat and the back and didn’t talk anyone. I wandered the playground silently and watched while kids played. I was laughed many times for not speaking English. I was laughed at while trying to learn English.
Growing up I’ve constantly been met with:
Oh, you’re Colombian. I bet you got some great cocaine. I bet you’re in the mob.
I once waited on a friend of Dave Chahuely (the great glass blower) and while I waited on him he asked me if I had cocaine, if I could score him some premium drugs. I sort of laughed and told him I was working and actually didn’t get the humor…
He laughed more and egged me on, like I wanted to participate in the bullshit that is often proliferated about a group of people and a country that has tried so hard to wipe itself of a Pablo Escobar’s history. His egging went on every time I went to the table. After several egging-ons, I told him that being Colombian didn’t mean I sold drugs and that’s why I was working at a restaurant and that while I got his humor and it didn’t work for me.
Before he left the restaurant he apologized.
For a lot of my life I’ve been riddled by race, religious segregation, and the pull against certain ethnicities. Because I am immigrant, and yet feel very ‘American’ I’ve never fully understood race in the way others do. I’ve done my best to understand the plight of others by immersing myself in travel abroad, learning other languages, taking intensive religious studies – living in ashrams, quaker farms, staying with a buddhist monk, attending synagogues, going to regular Friday Muslim gatherings – even learning the prayers of various religions.
And still I’m ignorant, still arrogant, and still learning.
Like Muslims, hate Muslims, love Colombians, hate them…whatever background you come from I’ve learned being curious is usually the best way to disarm someone, educate them even, or at least learn from them.
I guess that’s why I love podcasting and why I love learning about people.
I’m not sure where this post is supposed to take you, maybe make you think, maybe open you in some way, or maybe just help you know about a 2 hour flight I took with a man who swore Muslims were terrorists and terrible people and then at the end of those 2 hours said:
You know, maybe I’m wrong, I think I am…I haven’t met a lot of Muslims and I bet there’s a lot of them out there that like me are good people. I am sorry I said those things now.
—Photo Credit: Flickr/Kowit Phothisan