Muslims Battered on both Sides of the Atlantic

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.                                                         W.B. Yeats The Second Coming

There are plenty of interpretations of this poem, written by Yeats after WWI, and its memorable lines have inspired many novel and film titles. It is especially appropriate today as we see the failure of the center to hold against the tide of radicalism from the left and right.

Attempts to reason against the illogic of blaming all Muslims for the acts of a very few fall on deaf ears among skinheads, Trump/Cruz supporters, or other too ready to blame “the other.” The center cannot hold because it has little capacity to counter extremism, which would require more awareness of Islam and Muslims than most are willing to engage.

Muslims themselves are torn between justifying acts of reasonable opposition to autocratic regimes and pointing fingers at those whose horrific acts undercut every word of compassion uttered by their communities. It is ironic that the vast majority of extremists call themselves Sunnis, salafists, jihadists, while Shiites, whose excesses of past decades in Lebanon and obdurate policies emanating from Iran, are tarred with the same brush as al-Qai’da franchises and Daesh, Inc. Despite 1400+ years of separation, in the end, they are, in fact, all Muslims, all guilty.

To non-Muslims, Muslims are equally culpable for a multitude of sins stretching from Indonesia to Nigeria to Europe and even North America. To most Americans, Muslims are predominately Arabs, as are Iranians, because “what’s the difference?” They all share the tenets of Islam, a religion of hate and submission we are told by the Trump/Cruz apologists on talk radio. Muslims, they claim, are unwilling to live in peace with the rest of humanity (read Christians) because of religious precepts.

Far be it for these supporters to actually shake hands and converse with a Muslim although they may have been doing it for years without contamination. Enlightened statements by President Obama, leading military and intellectual leaders, and well-intentioned political leaders have not impacted those who fervently believe that Muslims are somehow a lower form of humanity that won’t rest until the apocalypse has come – strangely similar to most Christian evangelicals.

My concern is both broad and deep for my country and for the lack of civility that characterizes public life. I have worked and lived with Muslim communities my entire professional life, here in the U.S. and in many Arab countries, and Iran, which I know is not Arab. I have always thought it a blessing (baraka you could say) that my parents taught me compassion, inclusiveness, and openness, especially to that which I did not understand or feared.

While mine was a mostly normal American childhood, bigotry was somehow always lurking around, in remarks, insinuations, teasing. My sister/poet Elmaz writes of the pain of discrimination and marginalization…I guess it’s harder for some. Mine was more cerebral, since I was fortified by not giving a damn.

I am a Christian Arab American; we are the majority of Arabs in the U.S. We weathered the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts as highly political rather than theological conflicts. So much is different today. We hear from varied sources about the persecution of Christians by Daesh. Lost in the hateful news is that the tyranny of Daesh, acting in the name of Islam, has been responsible for far more Muslim deaths. Daesh and its comrades are enemies of humanity, not just of religions.

The same drumbeat of deprecation is rising even louder in Europe as tides of immigrants and horrific violent acts deprive the centre of a stable platform for engaging doomsayers, bigots, and racists of all stripes. In our naïve caricature of the region, we want clarity about friend and foe. This is no easy task. It is somehow lost in translation that we are in a generational identity struggle among ourselves and with those “not like us.” It is a struggle that we cannot, each in our own way, avoid confronting.

Just think for a moment, why are refugees headed for Europe and beyond? Is it because they hate the West, its civilization, and its society? Is it because they are hiding terrorists cells within their numbers waiting to strike? Or is it because, like us, they just want to wake up each day to the tedium of jobs, families, children, and traffic?

It is this normalcy that is under attack and must be forcefully countered. We are certainly in a clash of civilizations – humanity against the beasts who deny us choice.

lead photo from


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