I have never known very much about Arab and Muslim people. Mostly by reason of having no real information – certainly very little firsthand. All I’ve seen and heard have been opinions, when some terrible crime against humanity has been committed. And of course for me it started with 9/11.
I didn’t buy the Bush government’s story, and I was aware that any foreign hatred of America isn’t entirely unmerited. I also knew that fundamentalism was at the root of much of the violent atrocities, that Muslims per se are not violent in nature and nor is the religion. And I don’t like fundamentalists of any sort, so that wasn’t just about Muslims.
Still, since 9/11 I’ve been influenced without realizing it by the perspective of much of the west and the media representations that I’ve looked at. The picture painted of Muslims and Arabs has never been complimentary. I’ve rarely seen stories about them in their daily lives, their dreams and aspirations, how they go about trying to accomplish them, their everyday struggles, challenges and triumphs.
I can’t blame it all on the press, though. I didn’t go looking, either. Until now that is. With all the exposure of the Middle East, particularly so far Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Tunisia caught my attention, but Egypt touched my soul. I’ve been glued to my TV ever since Egyptians started protesting. Now it’s Libya. I’ve wanted to know – and I still do – what’s happening all the time. I channel hop like crazy between BBC, CNN and SkyNews to get everything I can.
What’s so great is that for the first time in my life I’m seeing the truth about Egyptians, Libyans, and others who are protesting in the region. Real people, not just general statistics, and not fundamentalists. I’m seeing beautiful, passionate, courageous, non-violent people by the hundreds of thousands protesting against repressive regimes, willing to sacrifice their lives.
People I can relate to and admire, regardless of the cultural and religious differences between us. Women and men, young and old, from every sector of society. Businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, workers. United in their desire for peace, and to be respected. None of the protesting has been motivated by fundamentalism or even religion. It’s just sane people wanting freedom.
What’s not to respect? Last night I saw a report on Radio Free Libya, in Benghazi. This was originally the national state radio, totally controlled by Gaddafi and his cronies. When Benghazi fell to the opposition, much of the station was destroyed, but what remained has been turned into Radio Free Libya – by ordinary people, professionals and business people who have no desire to be in politics, but just want to contribute to putting the country back together again. None of them are getting any money for it. It was incredibly moving to watch.
I’ve heard so many comments about Egypt and Libya that are mistrustful of Egyptians and Libyans and their capacity to create change that will really be about democracy. There’s a lot of skepticism and voicing of negative opinion. It’s as if people in the west just can’t bring themselves to be positive about the Middle East. Can’t even let themselves say “I believe something good – something great – will come out of this.” It’s a pity. They’re missing out in participating positively in the miracle of the century. It’s a brave new world in the best sense.