Sunday, March 17, 2013

Viruses of racism and intolerance: How sickening!

Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Harthi shocked his audience in his Friday prayer sermon by telling them that starting from next week, only Saudis are welcome. He explained that if he really did so most of us would find it outrageous, but that this was exactly what many of us feel about our fellow Muslims.

 He is right. Under our skins, too many of us are racists. Because we became rich with oil revenue, (which is a gift from Allah not a result of our own hard work), many of us think we are a superior race. And yet despite our ability to think in this way, we still consider ourselves to be the best and purest Muslims?

Allah tells us in the Holy Qur’an: “People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you would recognize each other. The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the most pious of you.” His Prophet (peace be upon him) warns against racism and announced that there is no difference between white and black, Arabs and non-Arabs, except in righteousness.  

This is not a Saudi issue only, but a pan-Arab disease. During my travels to Arab countries and meeting with Arabs abroad it troubled me to feel this false sense of superiority, especially against each other and toward other Muslims. Even intellectuals are affected. Many believe that Gulf citizens are merely uncultured Bedouins. While this is true in many cases, it is unfair to generalize. 

Arabs tend to look down on some races, especially those who come from the poorer parts of the world. Many believe the world is somehow conspiring against us. They cite Western and Russian invasions, and the support of our enemies, like Israel, as evidence.

The trouble with such a mentality is that it is the worst kind of escape and blame transfer. Instead of facing our challenges head on by finding and solving our mistakes, we blame others.

Therefore, Palestine was lost not because of our incompetence, but because of a Zionist-Christian conspiracy. Our economic backwardness is a result of similar conspiracy. Neocolonialists are eating up world resources, supporting dictators and forcing failed governments on us. We are behind in almost every race, from space to sport, industry to agriculture, not as a result of the failure of our education system, religious in-fighting and laziness, but because of those foreigners who won’t let us win!

Conspiracy theorists always have “evidence”. They readily recite a long history of colonialism and suppression, and build on it their concept of the present and future. Instead of getting busy finding ways to succeed and win, they are busy crying foul.

Religious intolerance, competition and suspicion are building up the fires of hate among us. Isn’t it amazing that 1400 years after our first civil war, we are still fighting about what the fight was about! How much longer will we let historical wars keep us stuck in history? Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states share the same Islamic basics and principles, follow the same Prophet (pbuh) and pray toward the same Kaaba. Still, we let the agents of death, the preachers of hate keep us engaged not in bettering ourselves and the future of our children, but in a state of tension and war against each other, all the time. 

Racism and intolerance are viruses that take many forms and find their way into many good hearts. Patriotism is one of the most deceiving and deadly forms. Under such a banner, the "others" are dehumanized. It puts one’s own people and their interests above basic human rights and laws.

It then becomes acceptable to deny guest workers basic services, including educational and medical services, because citizens come first. When water and electricity are scarce, it is okay to give ourselves priority. Following the same logic, you may hear demands that fast roads and lines should be reserved for Saudis, or cheaper food and transportation should be given to citizens, only. Some writers even accuse foreigners of stealing our jobs and business opportunities. Others count every penny these workers send home, as if they had stolen the money! 

We need a wake-up call from our opinion, society, tribal and religious leaders. We need to realize how wrong, sickening and dangerous the virus of racism and intolerance is to our civilization. And we urgently need to do something about it! 


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