Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi • firstname.lastname@example.org
“But you burn your women after their husbands die, how dare you claim you have women’s rights in such a barbaric environment?” shouted my feminist colleague.
I was the only Arab/Muslim at an American school in a class with people who thought we burn women and marry hordes of women. I don’t blame them. Wherever they turn, we look bad. Hollywood, for one, keeps showing us as terrorists, womanizers and idiots. My kids had to explain a lot to their colleagues who had such ideas about sand niggers, camel kissers, oil diggers, and the “desert Kingdom.” Some of my university professors and many foreign correspondents think of us as primitive Bedouin with too much oil and cash that we use to terrorize the world. I bet these people think Africa is one country, Latin America is another, and people there live in Jungle Land.
I deal with similar assumptions all the time. People ask me: Why do you kill Jews, beat women, and hate us? I would tell them about how Jews escaped from Spain to Morocco and other Arab countries after the fall of the Islamic rule, because they faced forced conversion to Christianity and genocide; and how Jews in our midst still live in peaceful coexistence with their cousins, the Arabs. Some listen, some just don’t care. I would invite them to meet my wife and her Arab and Muslim friends and ask them in my absence whether they feel oppressed or denied any God-given rights; whether they would prefer to exchange their conservative, family-oriented kind of life with the Western liberal, individualistic model. Some come, some don’t, because they believe our women are not free to express their feelings and thoughts, or are hopelessly brainwashed.
Who is responsible for this distorted image of Arabs and Muslims? Mostly us. We should have done what our cousins, the Jews, learnt to do after centuries of misrepresentation and execution — good communication, that is.
In this failure we are guilty, but we are also victims. Our political, racial and religious rivals did what they had done to the Jews and are leading us to the same end. From Crusaders to Orientalists, from Zionists to evangelists, our history, culture, character and religion are intentionally misrepresented. With the international media in hand and all the power tools (money, technology and communication) in the other, the job was a piece of cake.
How to face this challenge? First, we should learn how to communicate in a sophisticated, positive way. If we start today, we have a long way to go. Since we have no option, we should take the first step — now.