Sunday, November 09, 2003

Testing US Democracy

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

I used to brag about American democracy. When I met with my fellow Muslims at the Islamic Center of Eugene, Oregon, we debated hot religious and political issues such as extremism and the second Gulf War. I would defend Saudi relations with America, and others would attack my position. Many were democratic and sophisticated in their debating, but there were vocal others who would use emotional arguments, strong language and outrageous accusations in order to prevail. I used to tell them they should remember what they learned in American schools.
Debate is a means of reaching the truth, bridging misunderstandings, and learning more about each other and what we stand for. We don’t have to “win” an argument, since it is a win-win situation if we end up more enlightened and informed. I tell them how I discuss even hotter issues with Jews and Communists, with people who have the wrong ideas about everything I represent — be it my religion, culture or country. But after each discussion, we become friendlier and congratulated each other on the new knowledge we brought to the table.
Some of my Arab debaters consider my experience, others say: “Oh, but that is only in liberal schools. The real America is not that democratic.” I know that difficult experiences test people principles and morals. In a disaster, the sense of survival rules and we may behave selfishly and crudely. That is what I assume happened to the American sense of democracy, justice and compassion. The Sept. 11 firestorms confused their radars.
When we write, here in Arab News, to reflect Arab feelings and reactions to the wrongs committed in the so-called “war on terror”, we expect dialogue as sophisticated as US democracy. That is why we experience shock and pain when much of the e-mail we receive carries anger and hate.
The fire storm has long passed from New York and Washington to Kabul, Baghdad and the rest of the Muslim world. It is our turn to have our senses confused, not the Americans.
I still believe in what I learnt in American schools. I still believe they meant what they taught me. I only wonder when we are all going to come to our civilized senses. Hopefully, we will do so before the American storm of anger and revenge takes over the world.

No comments: