Calendar recently spent an evening with members of the Youth Council of the Islamic Center of Southern California to discuss the issue of the image of Arabs in the American media. The members, age 13 to 23, expressed concern about generalizations and stereotypes that they say make life difficult for them in America--and they expressed anger that acts of terrorism are automatically connected with all of Islam.
Among their comments:
Nadir Elfarra, Palestinian-American: "In the Koran, one of few occasions in which you can fight is when your country is being invaded. So the Palestinians who are fighting there are fulfilling a religious obligation. But if, in fact, Kadafi is exporting terrorism purely to harass the U.S., that's not Islam. To lump them all together is going to get you in more trouble than it's going to solve, you're not going to gain any understanding about the issues at hand.
"I'm about as American as I can get, and if my Americanism is coming into question based on the acts of other countries, already that doesn't seem right."
Anan Hamdam, Turkish-American: "Some people believe Muslims are the anti-Christ. We do believe in all of the Prophets but I've never seen it in the media. Allah just means God in Arabic. Reagan said that to be a good Muslim, you have to kill a Christian or Jew. He said Muslims are still living with the attitude of the Crusades."
Paul Hoegal, a Muslim: "I'm an American. I embraced Islam in 1980. Before that, I knew no Arabs, no Muslims, I had basically the same media impressions of Muslims and Arabs as most Americans--that Arabs were very emotional people, very wild people who had 15 wives on each floor of their apartment houses, and went around waving their swords riding their horses. But I saw they are just people like you and me and have the same concerns, emotions and believe in the same ideals that most religious people believe in. I would never have believed it 10 years ago, but I will very shortly be engaged to an Arab girl."
Tammy Shindy, Egyptian American: "I go to high school and people say, 'Oh, do you guys live in tents, harems?' Because I'm Egyptian, I speak out in class, but the teacher intimidates me. In the Achille Lauro situation, Egyptians helped save lives but still they were blamed."
Nahid Ansari, Iranian-American: "Muslim women wearing the headdress--people just assume they don't speak English. They talk in front of like you're not there, or they talk slowly."
Many of the youths emphasized the contributions of the Middle East to civilization and say they're overlooked.
Dina Eletreby, an Egyptian-American medical student, noted, "I don't see my culture as barbaric, primitive. Muslims and Arabs have been great contributors in all fields of science, math, physics, literature, art and all aspects you can imagine. They are really intellectual people. Our religion has always pushed seeking knowledge.
"It really bothers me that Americans see themselves as so wonderful that they see everybody else as so terrible. I'm not denying that America is wonderful--if it weren't I wouldn't be living here--but it's got its faults. They see us not as different, but as below them, somehow primitive, barbaric. It's just human nature to try and make yourself look better--that's why there are 'Rambo,' 'Cobra,' 'Top Gun.' But there's a fine line between patriotism and racism."
One young man talked about the compromises he'd have to make if he follows through on a plan to change things. Said Waleed Shindy, an Egyptian-American, "I want to go into politics, but I'm going to have to forget my Islamic morals and play hard ball."