Friday, February 3, 2017

Finding peace

“Would you join Al-Shabab?” I asked a young Somali man. He helped us bale hay on our farm a few years ago and I felt I knew him well enough to ask that question.

“No!” He was amazed. “First of all, I’m a religion person. I love my religion. My religion teaches me to be nice to everybody. Even if somebody hurt you, be kind.” Anwar came to Pelican Rapids when he was 13 years old. He graduated from high school here, played on the football team both in Pelican and at M-State in Fergus Falls. Now he holds down three jobs.  “Before I came to America, I had a hard life. I grew up in the worst place you could grow up in, a war. I didn’t think I could have a job or ever be happy.”

Anwar is concerned about the terrorists in Somalia and other African and Middle Eastern countries, like we all are. “I think ISIS is corporate, not religious. They have their own interests, their own agenda,” he said.  “I ask my family, my friends, myself about what I see the TV every day. Islam is not like that. Islam is beautiful.”

Ayan, a friend of his, nodded her head. She is a young Somali American woman attending MState in Fergus Falls and working as a para in Pelican’s Head Start program. “Islam is peace,” she agreed, “That’s what I’ve been told since I was born. Islam does not teach people to be terrorists. You can’t kill people.”

Why do we talk about Muslim terrorists? People don’t seem to realize that it is just as offensive to write “Muslims convicted in (World Trade Center)  Case” as the Associated Press did in a headline, as it would be to describe Timothy McVay (Oklahoma City, 168 dead) or Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary School, 26 dead) as  “Christian terrorists”. 

Our Muslim neighbors struggle daily with the increased tensions in their lives due to their neighbor’s fears. “The media is making people fear Islam more,” Ayan said. “I have a lot of friends who are Christians. I ask them ‘If an explosion happens, who would you blame?’” She shook her head. “The person who looks like a Muslim.”  

Between 1990 and 2010, there were 348 murders in the United States committed by white, right wing extremists. That is twenty times more murders than were committed over the same period by Muslim-American extremists.  Simple, scary stories sell better than complex, thoughtful stories and so our national media is all about selling fear. Recently, that fear has been directed at Muslims. If white guy goes to a school and kills a lot of children, the media describes him as mentally ill; they don’t call him a Christian terrorist. If someone who looks Middle-Eastern or African goes to a school and kills a lot of children, he is a Muslim terrorist, period. Perhaps we  need to look at the definitions of the word “Muslim.”

Ayan is not an expert, she is a Somali Muslim, and our neighbor. “The media are sensationalizing Muslims being terrorists,” she said. “They should not be listening to those people saying this is what Islam is. Islam teaches peace and love, not hate or killing. I encourage people to study it more, not listen to bad people like ISIS who are advocating bad stuff about Islam.”

“We are not thieves or terrorists,” Anwar said. “We immigrated to America to find peace.”

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