Transcending Islamophobia: Hatred Is Not the Answer
Usually, I bring you messages of awareness, love, and self-compassion. But today, I have to segue into the world of current issues. Because this is worth speaking up for, and this is about love too.
As you may know, I’ve been a digital nomad since 2014. Right now, I’m living in Malaysia. Many people in the country, and most people in the building I’m staying in, are Muslim. Yes, I feel under-dressed a lot of the time, and yes, sometimes I get weird looks for wearing shorts. So that bothers me a bit. But what bothers me more is when I talk to people back home, and they tell me to “be careful” or “watch out, because you know what Muslims are like when they get together.” These kinds of statements are becoming pervasive in the Western world, and that frightens and concerns me.
How many times throughout history have we generalized the actions of a few to represent a group and had that contribute meaningfully to our growth as a species? None. When has prejudice, fear, or hatred ever helped us evolve? Never.
I grew up in the Ukraine, and then came to Canada when I was 8. I experienced some intense discrimination for being an immigrant. I experienced (and still experience) sexism from my patriarchal family. But never have I so powerfully experienced prejudice as I have throughout the past two years, which I’ve spent living in the local areas of different countries where I was a minority. And you know something? It’s been good for me. There’s nothing like being the only white person in earshot to teach you about how racial minorities in predominantly white countries must feel—how religious minorities must feel as well.
There’s a difference between being different and being judged for being different. Of course, there’s the reality we create inside ourselves—the expectations we form of being shunned when we’re used to being shunned. That’s not what I’m talking about. Even when you enter a place expecting to be accommodated, you can feel prejudice in your bones. You know when it’s there, and you know when it’s not.
I’ve seen my partner, who’s a visible minority in the Western world, get treated like dirt going through airport security and customs. I’ve watched him shave his beard before we travel because he’s frequently mistaken for Arabic and subjected to “random” security inspections. Shaving doesn’t always help. I’ve heard people with family in the Middle East saying they refuse to visit because having a stamp for certain countries in your passport makes international travel not only a hassle but also dangerous. No one should have to feel that way.
When I try to imagine being Muslim back in North America right now, I get choked up. Yes, I’ve felt prejudice on my travels, but I choose to go to those places, and I can choose to leave. What if that feeling crept into my home or my community? Into the stares of strangers and coworkers? No one should have to feel that way.
I’ve learned that no matter where in the world I go—whether it’s down South, out West, or far East—some people are going to have preconceived notions of me while other people are going to work hard to see me for how I am instead of how they’ve been taught to. Some people are going to lie about their services and treat me like an ATM because I’m white, while others are going to be honest and treat me like they’d treat a local. Some people are going to think I’m less valuable because I’m a woman, while others are going to hear what I have to say. This has nothing to do with culture. It has to do with personal choice.
Every single one of us has the choice to see people for who they are instead of who we’re told and taught they are. Yes, it’s harder to make that choice when you’re flooded with fear-based news, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in your hands to make it.
The worst offenses in human history have been driven by fear turned into hate. Do we really need to make those mistakes again? Haven’t we had enough? Isn’t that exactly what these “enemies” that the politicians always talk about are doing? How can we ever stop hateful actions by becoming hateful? Don’t we just become the worst versions of ourselves?
Nietzsche said: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
I think the real monsters are violence and prejudice. And violence doesn’t have a religion. Prejudice doesn’t have a race or a gender. When we fight violence with violence, hatred with hatred, we become the enemy. We solve nothing.
When we accept someone’s explanation for violence at face value, and then go about fighting that supposed “cause” instead of addressing the violence itself, we do ourselves a great disservice. When we put the blame for violence onto a faith, it’s the same as when we put the blame for violence onto video games or music lyrics. We overlook the thousands, if not millions, of consumers of that faith or music or game who do not engage in violence, and we set to fighting a senseless war on a scapegoat instead of working to fix the actual problem.
The real enemy is not a specific person or ideology. It’s violence. And violence is an old problem. It’s been with us since before we began to develop language. So has xenophobia and prejudice. Now, we are growing more evolved and more intelligent as a species, and we can work to overcome these ancient problems together. But we won’t get anywhere if we forget the past.
The way that a violent group stays powerful is by brainwashing its members. Must the first world media brainwash its citizens right back? Will we fight blindness with blindness? But most importantly—even if the news keeps on spitting out bigotry—what will you choose? What choice will you make, as an individual? What will you believe?
I hope you’ll join me in facing the current issues in the world without hate. I don’t know what we should do or what we can do. I know that being passive may not always be the answer. But hating is never the answer. Hatred only consumes us, as individuals and as a society, from the inside out.
We can do better than this. We don’t have to let ourselves be broken apart by fear and tragedy. We can come together and unite against violence, hatred, and bigotry—regardless of the source. We can fight the monsters of humanity together, instead of fighting each other. That, I believe, is the only way out of this mess.
(The photo above is courtesy of Nadia Martinez – Nadia was kind enough to allow me to use this photo for this post, even though the photo is under a copyright. We’re working together to make a difference. That’s love.)