Saturday, May 30, 2015

Freedom and the Price of Hate

Courtesy @EricEnglish15

On May 29th, it appears several hundred gun-toting individuals in Phoenix, Arizona thought the best way to express their anger was to stand in front of a mosque during Friday prayers

The anger, they said, was toward "Islam" for being violent. The irony here is palpable. What they wanted to do was have a "Draw Muhammad" contest in front of the mosque in order to provoke Muslims in the mosque to come and show their supposed "true colors."

What's weird to me is that these "protesters" were showing immediately how violent they were without even being provoked. Is surrounding a place of worship with weapons how you want to represent yourself? Do you think that Jesus would have wanted that? It's easy to pick and choose quotes from religious texts in order to justify your behavior, but clearly no one in that crowd read Matthew 22: 36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When I was young and learning about Christianity, I never formed a picture of God and Jesus Christ as hateful and murderous. I am well aware that there are several passages in the Bible that talk of God's justice, vengeance, wrath, and all of these other human characteristics we ascribe to God (which really leads me to believe we don't understand God so we give Him our characteristics to make Him more easily understood, but that's another blog post...). But the overall view I formed was that God is good and loves His people. All of them, as He created them all. Not just Christians, not just Jews, not just Muslims, not any one group whatsoever.
All I can assume is that these people in front of that mosque were not only ignorant and scared (which is why they had weapons with them, right?), but also learned about God differently than me. They must have focused on the violence in the Bible instead of the love. I just don't understand.
Imagine how the children leaving that mosque felt when they looked across the street and saw armed fellow American chanting negative things. All they could possibly think is, "Those people hate me and they don't think I'm American because of my religion."
What kind of country are we developing when no one stands up to that?
These extremists, though, are just like Muslim extremists in some ways: they don't represent an entire group. But just as we condemn Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and other groups, we must also condemn violence and hatred in all its forms.

Yes, people have a right to protest. Yes, people also have a right to worship (which by the way, is the First Amendment in the constitution, and I like to think that's more important than the Second :P ) But seriously, was this really necessary? Did these people really think that intimidating people during their worship would actually achieve something? I guess the point really was to tell them, "Go back to your country!" when I'm sure most of the Muslims were American. And even if they weren't, show some respect. Can you imagine if a group of gun-toting Muslims stood in front of a church and chanted "Fuck Christianity"? I wouldn't even want to think about what would happen.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Different Faiths, Similar Faiths

I've often come across initiatives that try to build bridges of understanding between groups of people, be they religious, cultural, language, ethnic, racial, what-have-you. These initiatives have always fascinated me because I've seen how effective they are.

I used to work as a Program Coordinator for a nonprofit. While there, it was one of my responsibilities to reach out to university students to get them to start an initiative on campus called which essentially aims to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim students. As a student of Middle Eastern Studies and the wife of a Muslim man, this was definitely in my wheelhouse.

No American can deny that Islamophobia is a thing, right along with any other type or xenophobia or racism that exists in this country. While it was definitely heartbreaking to talk to students who had experienced hatred because they were Muslim or someone thought they were Muslim due to the color of their skin or name, it was heartening to see the way they interacted with students like me of a white Christian background.

In fact, what I found was that I appealed to these kinds of students the most on campus. I appealed to white non-Muslim students because of the same reasons I personally am interested in the subject. They had grown up in a post-9/11 world and probably had witnessed injustice toward a friend, colleague or classmate. Something inside them stirred and they felt it was their responsibility to do something.

There are many ways people can "do something" to fight injustice. And I'd like to highlight a video I just came across: "Two Faiths One Prayer." Here, a few Muslims and Jews take to the streets of Los Angeles to pray. Throughout the video, we see these individuals pray together but also hear personal stories about their misconceptions of the "other" and how this experience was eye-opening and life changing.

I think essentially this is a type of exposure therapy. It's easy to hate someone or something you don't know or are unfamiliar with. That's why when we watch the news, we can say we hate a group of people because they did something in another country and not care about what happens to them when disaster strikes.

As Americans, we are lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to be relatively isolated from the rest of the world. We don't have a history of fighting with our neighbors, thankfully. So exposure therapy in the form of initiatives and projects can be really rewarding and enlightening, especially as the U.S. has become more diverse.

Videos like this one show us similarities. Not only between people and their experiences but also faiths. People often focus more on the language (Allahu akbar) and what it's associated with in the minds of the masses, and not so much on the meaning. God is the greatest, and he is One. No different then the Shema', "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." When you focus on minute details, you don't see the forest for the trees.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Visas and Commitment

If you know me outside of Facebook, then you know I'm in the middle of a long and seemingly unending process that is the immigrant visa. The CR-1 Visa is a conditional residency visa issued to spouses of U.S. citizens. Unlike the movies, spouses of Americans can't just ask the US Embassy, "gee, when's the next boat?!" and sail on over to Ellis Island. No, the U.S. Citizen and the Spouse (the Applicant and Beneficiary, as they are officially known by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the National Visa Center) must undergo a long and incredibly taxing process in order to obtain the visa.

It isn't just the paperwork that is difficult (and confusing) to fill out. It's also kind of humiliating. Not only do you have to fill out a stack of paperwork thicker than the Bible, you also have to submit evidence of your marriage beyond the marriage certificate. They don't really specific what that is, but it usually is pictures, copies of Facebook chats, phone and Skype records, copies of plane tickets and reservations for trips taken together, copies of cards and receipts for gifts, etc. It literally could be anything you can think of that somehow proves a relationship beyond the marriage certificate.

Now, I know why this is. I realize that alot of people commit fraud and make up information about their relationship just so they can come to the U.S.. Unfortunately, much of this fraud comes from the Middle East and the rest of Africa, which is one reason why this process is taking so long for us. It's not fair that some bad apples ruin it for everyone else.

I have to say, though, that being apart for so long (nearly three years) with intermittent visits has actually brought us closer together.

I always heard that long distance relationships were hard. And my husband would tell me now, "Quit listening to what other people say and letting it affect the way you think!" And he's right. Sure, long distance relationships are hard--but all relationships are hard. They're hard because they're worth keeping. Nothing worth having is easy.

We've come up with ways to stay engaged with each other: Facebook chat, emails, Skype discussions and watching movies together, MagicJack, iMessage, and even the occasional snail mail (though sometimes it never makes it to its final destination). All of these things constantly keep us communicating even though we are more than 7000 miles and 7 time zones apart.

So to people who complain about long distance relationships, I say: you don't really want it. If you can't handle it, then don't be in it. If you can't find ways to connect, then it wasn't really meant to be.

And for people who think the visa process is a cake walk: educate yourselves. It is one of the most difficult experiences anyone can go through for so many reasons. You constantly feel like you're getting towards the end, only to be asked for another document or proof of something. It's hard, but it's worth it.

I can't wait for the day to see my husband at the airport and for us to finally start our lives together. I've never wanted something so bad in my entire life.