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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Deadly Perceptions: Mankind's Failure to Coexist

"If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances... then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen." - Amin Maalouf.

First, allow me to pose these questions to you as a prelude to this discussion: What is your identity? Is your identity what makes you similar to people around you or is it what makes you different from everybody else?...and by the way, where are you from?

The concept of ‘identity’ has been debated by great philosophers and thinkers throughout human history and it is in that tradition that we must continue to actively pursue a deeper understanding of what leads humanity into a path of conflict and mutual destruction.

Identity is not a predefined state that is either innate or permanent, unless we limit our definition of it to elements such as race, ethnicity, and/or gender, and even then it is not so much those fixed elements that shape our identity but rather their significance within our living environment.

Let’s take me for example. If you were to have asked me 15 years ago what my identity is, I would have thought that my nationality, ethnicity, and religion (Moroccan; Amazigh; Muslim) are the only elements comprising my identity. Ask me again today and my answer would be a tad more complicated. Since my seventeenth birthday, I have lived in Europe and spent all of my adulthood to date in the United States. I am a Washingtonian insofar that I consider this nation’s capital to be my home, not to forget that I am an avid Redskins fan. Yes I said it, I love American football. I also love the constitution of this nation and I never tire of reading ‘The Federalist Papers’.

So, am I American and no longer Moroccan? Wait a second…

I also love my Moroccan heritage. I love my Middle Eastern culture and Arabic music is my favorite. Identity, I gather, is three-dimensional. There is the vertical plane that carries our heritage from our ancestors and there is the horizontal plane that carries elements transmitted to us through our living environment. It appears that it is the horizontal plane that makes our identity so dynamic. It is also supposed to be the dominant one, although many still scourge the vertical plane for elements that focus their ‘need to belong’.

I found out that what I have is a ‘Composite Identity’. I thought it must be because of the particular experiences I have had in my life, until I realized that every human being lives through a unique set of circumstances. Even two identical twins would grow up to have two different identities because not all of the elements contained in the horizontal plane of their identity would be similar. Therefore, we all have composite identities. The problem is that we often look within ourselves for specific allegiances in which we can recognize ourselves as opposed to looking for all the ingredients comprising our identity.

Ok, I have a composite identity, but where am I from?

To a fellow Moroccan, I would say that ‘I am Soussi (Amazigh from Southern Morocco)’. Yet, to an American, when ‘from Washington’ draws a skeptical look, I hastily add: ‘Originally from Morocco’. See, in my native land, it matters that I am Amazigh for it is an integral part of the vertical plane of my identity. But in America, I am only ‘Middle Eastern’ (despite the fact that Morocco is in Northwest Africa) or ‘Muslim’. Both of these labels are used interchangeably and they both trigger a consistent set of perceptions and responses. It matters not that my last trip to a place of worship was to a Synagogue nor does it matter that the two most influential people in my life are his holiness the Dalai Lama (a Buddhist) and Dr. Martin Luther King (a Christian). Finally, it matters not that my political heroes are the founders of these very United States of America.

Once, I met a nice woman who tried to 'console' me after I had told her that I am originally from Morocco by saying: "Well, there is nothing wrong with that!" suggesting that there was, in fact, something wrong with it. She was a well-intentioned lady. She was just exercising her memory and produced a response that reflected her built-in perception of my place of origin all while trying to be courteous and nice at the same time.

After 9/11, America’s negative perception of the Muslim World went into overdrive. The words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Middle Eastern’ have, in the collective memory of Americans, become attached to words such as ‘terrorism’, ‘insurgency’, ‘suicide bombings’, ‘Bin Laden’, and ‘Al-Qaeda’. The US media and the Movie Industry have streamlined those stereotypes into mainstream America. They do so for the sake of public consumerism and market economics. This is the theory of the ‘Boogy Man’. The media loves the ‘Boogy Man’ because it sells. Apparently, people consume more media when they feel anger, fear, and hatred of the other.

The Pew Research Center found in a 2003 Survey that a third of Americans say media coverage of the Middle East has had the biggest influence on their thinking about the issue, followed by education (21%) and religious beliefs (20%). The same survey found that American views about Islam have worsened since the previous year (2002). A majority of Americans now believe that Islam encourages violence, a 20-point jump from a year earlier, and that nearly half of Americans now think that half or more Muslims worldwide are 'anti-American'. The survey points out that this opinion is as prevalent among better educated Americans as among the less educated and that there are few differences among other religious groups in the US regarding this opinion (Evangelicals and mainline Protestants have the same opinion while the negative opinion of white Catholics, black Protestants, and seculars has grown).

On the other side of the divide, a 2004 Survey also conducted by the Pew Research Center found that in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, anger toward the US remains pervasive. People in Muslim nations strongly doubt the sincerity of American anti-terror efforts and see the motives behind US actions to be Mideast oil, support for Israel, and targeting unfriendly Muslim countries. Majorities in Middle Eastern countries considered to be US allies (Jordan, Morocco) viewed Americans unfavorably in 2004 when majorities expressed the opposite opinion only two years earlier. The decision to go to war in Iraq has clearly worsened Middle Eastern perceptions of the US. Furthermore, Arab media, especially satellite-based television, plays a prominent role in shaping opinions in the Middle East similar to the role played by the media in the US. The US and Arab media perspectives may be diametrically opposed, but it is the same old market theory that governs both.

As I witness these hardened perceptions on both sides of the information divide, I can not help but be reminded by Amin Maalouf, who writes: “If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they can not reconcile their need for identity with an open and unprejudiced tolerance of other cultures; if they feel they have to choose between denial of the self and denial of the other – then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen.”

35 Comments:

Blogger laurenbove said...

A very coherant response to such an open question a few posts back.

I really cannot tell you how incredibly warming and touching it is to read this post. It is in places like this blog that I gain my identity.


I make as few generalizations as possible. However, if I must: I'm a globalist. I identify with every human being on this planet. I don't care where you're from, what your religion is, who'se your daddy...etc. I am your sister. I relate to you.

Maybe it's easier for me b/c I grew up in a mulitculural environment with very openminded hippy parents. Maybe because I live in this "Melting pot" barely an hour from Ellis Island. Perhaps it's something innate

I just don't have or really want/need a specific heritage or religion that I identify with. This of course makes it easier for me to relate to all types of people. I'm a control group, a tabula rasa, if you will. (please allow me some inept descriptions and poetic license.)

I don't believe anything I hear but am influenced by it, I admit, regrettably. I don't believe "authrority" on face value. My father taught me to question authority. Make up your own mind about things...people...for yourself.

My strong footing in science also teaches me that we are *all* cousins. Genetically we are all linked to the same few first humans to inhabit the Earth. The very definition of "race" is erroneous, scientifically speaking.

If I had to form a distinct identity thread, it would be frayed. I am an Irish, English, German, French, Native American whose mother was Catholic and whose father was Episcopal...and are both ignostic currently. I have no affiliation in reference to religious matters. I hate labels as they are so damn limiting but I'd lean toward Buddism and the spirituality of the Native Americans before European colonization. I have always lived in the USA. I am an American because of this fact. I am a straight woman if you want to add sexuality into the mix.

If I had to title this post it would be: "Don't Hate Me Because I'm an American."

April 12, 2005

 
Anonymous Nadir said...

Is this the greatest piece you wrote on this blog, or is it just silly me? Me likes, me likes!
Lauren, let’s sing ‘we are the world’ LOL sorry about that ‘sista’ :p

Once, I met a nice woman who tried to 'console' me after I had told her that I am originally from Morocco by saying: "Well, there is nothing wrong with that!"

I’m still laughing hard! Thank Allah err God I’m not alone, I think we both spoke to the same lady, is her name .. just kidding.
A week ago, some dude asked me if is it true Muslims can marry six women, I told him – with great pleasure – that we can marry up to twelve, I also told him that I only shower once every six months because of my religion and other BS I made up on the spot. What can I say, I hate to be the victim and I hate to argue, ignorance brings a sense of balance and well-being to our lives. Homer Simpson is my hero.
Great post Jawad, thank you!

April 12, 2005

 
Blogger Eman said...

I agree with Nadir, this is one of your best posts ever!
WOW! Excellent, really.

Like Lauren, I don't really judge people by their origin, religion, or nationality. I just need to know out of curiosity :D

I don’t know why I thought you were Lebanese! Anyway, it’s great to know more about you.
I’m a Palestinian- Jordanian, married to a Tunisian, and I’m Muslim. I was born in Kuwait, travelled quite a lot. And I’ve always asked myself about my identity.
Now I know, if I’m proud of who I am and love it, others will respect me for it. If they don’t, well… they can bite me ;) All people are free to like or dislike whatever and whoever they want.

Again, thanks for the lovely post!

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger laurenbove said...

It is Jawads finest work indeed. I also liked the clarity with which the vertical and horizontal provided... nice.

Nadir don't :p at me, bro. I'll sing w/you any damn day, but, couldn't you come up with a catchier tune?

Eman: I get the curiosity thing. Just so long as it rests there and doesn't go further into judgements and labels.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

An excellent post, indeed!

I'd say that my identity is likewise composite, and I've experienced a similar problem as Jawad. In Ukraine, I felt somewhat isolated, because I was considered a minority - Jewish, but when I came to the U.S., many people I met were ignorant that Jews aren't just Chassidim (ultra-Orthodox, wearing traditional attire) and insisted that I'm Russian (though I'm from Ukraine). That annoyed me to no extent, because even when I was living in Ukraine, I realized that I even look different from the majority of the population.

Anyway, my identity is influenced by my ethnicity (Jewish), religion (Reform Judaism), citizenship (American), background (from FSU, Russian-speaking, not Ukrainian-speaking, which would make a huge difference if I were to go back!), gender (indirectly) - I'm female, values, political affiliation (conservative), education (college-level), tastes and preferences, and many more things. I try to stay open-minded and learn about other people's cultures before judging them, but I do judge them in order to make moral (or immoral!) decisions.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger laurenbove said...

Don't you also agree that in coexisting with out these preconcieved notions it opens us all up to even more freedoms?

I don't know about you, but I think the most beautiful babies and people in general are those from diverse parents. By extrapolation...doesn't it follow that we could have so much more fun if we weren't limited to dating inside our "race" or "ethnicity" or worse yet, "religion?"

Just another happy thought from a globalist.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

To some extent we already have it... But religion and individual cultures have beauties of their own... without them, the world would be a much poorer faith. It's good to have a democratic society when you could choose either way of life.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger laurenbove said...

Religion and culture are not one in the same although religion can be a subset of culture. I think there is much beauty in diverse cultures. That's for certain and would not change should we all intermarry and breed like rabbits.

I'm not into religion so I cannot speak for it. I see it as a major sticking point for global peace, among other things. I'm also wary of overly valuing same faith/ethnicity marriage or procreation. Too much like the aryan nation etc. for my taste.

You don't need to isolate others not like you to gain a sense of identity and belonging.

I think Jawad is doing something great here in providing this forum and I think his point is greater understanding. That doesn't come with isolating people or making them appear foolish for wanting to feel united to mankind, not just a certain special group. I also find that groups (any kind, could even be soccer moms or playgroup moms) tend to elevate themselves by denegrating others.

I think a true sense of self and identity would be so strong it would gain energy from within the individual and seek and feel the bond with all others.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger rayhane najib said...

salam
nice very nice

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Myrtus said...

Jawad THANK YOU for sharing amazing insights! Wunderbar! (:
just so I don't repeat myself, here is what I just posted on my blog...

Jawad's Brilliant Masterpiece
Right before I left to go to work this morning I took a quick run through a few blogs here and there and I stumbled upon THIS MASTERPIECE written by Jawad. OMG what an eye-opener this is for me! After I finished reading it, I immediately sunk into deep thought and never snapped out of it, but oddly enough, I did have one of the most amazing, most productive days at work today. Everything suddenly started falling into place for me, making so much more sense than ever before.
I intend to write more about this once I finished gathering my thought. Man! I just can't stop thinking about it!
Jawad, thank you thank you thank you! haha Sorry, I just can't contain myself. (:

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

By staying close to one ethnicity/religion, one doesn't necessarily denigrate others. I say, laissez faire. I think it's only like nazi if you persecute others for being what they are.

April 13, 2005

 
Anonymous nadir said...

Nadir don't :p at me, bro. I'll sing w/you any damn day, but, couldn't you come up with a catchier tune?

Lauren, I was trying to show you my tong piercing. Now, if you don’t mind hard rock, how about ‘Stupify’ by Disturbed?

doesn't it follow that we could have so much more fun if we weren't limited to dating inside our "race" or "ethnicity" or worse yet, "religion?"

Equal Opportunity Dating. Most of the girls I’ve dated in the past were not ‘inside’ my race, ethnicity or religion. I have dated Black, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, hippy chicks that eat tofu and even republican girls. In fact, the only girl from Morocco (my country) I dated is my wife. ;-)

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Rebecca said...

Thank you for the encouragement, it is very much appreciated. Just for curiousity's sake, where in Pennsylvania did your friend learn Arabic? I'm quite close to the border and I've yet to find a suitable program. I enjoyed reading this although I can't fully relate. However, I can vouch for the skeptical looks that Washingtonian/metro status brings.

April 13, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Oh My – Oh My. I think you have all conspired to make me blush and I must say that you have succeeded. Seriously, thank you all very much for your kind words. I am so glad that you have added to the post with your own very rich perspectives. This is what it’s all about. So, thank you for adding to my understanding.

Lauren: I am so happy to have such a fun-loving and open-minded person like you around.

Rayhane: Salam and Welcome to my blog.

Eman: One of my very good friends is a Palestinian-Jordanian married to a Tunisian. Can you believe that?!!

Nadir: You made me spit out my morning coffee all over my desk with that last comment...still laughing :)

Irina: Thank you for sharing how diversified and rich your identity is. You really helped me make my point about the dynamics between the vertical and horizontal planes of identity.

Myrtus: You made me blush the most. I am really flattered. Thank you.

Rebecca: Welcome to my blog. He did not learn in PA but rather here in DC. I will ask him though if he knows of a good place in PA and will let you know.

April 14, 2005

 
Blogger marybishop said...

Came here from Mindful Things and WOW - I must also join the crowd in telling you how moving this blog entry is. Beautiful and articulate at the same time.

I wish I'd had your hippy parents LB. It is a wonderful thing to grow up without prejudice and preconceived notions.

April 14, 2005

 
Blogger laurenbove said...

Nadir: You're too funny. Excellent and witty retort! I'm glad you had some fun in the dating pool (except for the Republican.) I actually married outside my ethnicity and I guess you could say, that's where a lot of my passion comes from.

Regarding your tongue piercing...Very cute. I couldn't see it at first...but it's truly a thing of beauty. Sure I'll sing stupify by disturbed with you. You start.

Thanks Jawad for appreciating my special qualities. I think that with this blog post, you've certainly shown a few of yours!

Hi MB: This is the place to be! Very happening, man.

April 14, 2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

salut, ton blog est magnifique!! j'ai bcp aimé ,je crois qu'il me faut des cours accéléré en anglais...:)
bon courage

April 14, 2005

 
Anonymous Meriam said...

Oups!! c moi l'Anonymous

April 14, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

LB: Hey! What about love across party lines? Isn't love supposed to conquer all?! ; )

April 14, 2005

 
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Came to this post via Irina.

Very well said, Jawad. As an identifiably Orthodox Jew (wearing a beanie) I can tell you that when people look at me they only think one thing: Jew. Truth is I don't look particularly Jewish (whatever that means) and I suppose I could ditch the yarmulke and no one would know what I am. So in part I guess I choose to be identified as a Jew (though it's considered more of a requirement than a choice).

Although I'm a professional Jew, I'm not a professional jew. By that I mean that I don't spend my day dealing with Jewish issues. I have a job, I'm a professional, I have hobbies, and I participate in the secular world.

But still I'm identified first as a Jew. I can't tell you how many times people have asked if I'm from Israel, despite the Christian first name and lack of any perceivable accent. Brooklyn, I tell them.

On my blog, I compared it to being a woman with a nice rack. People won't look me in the eyes.

April 15, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

PT, that's a hilarious comment...

April 15, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Irina: If Mary Matlin and James Carville can make it work, then there is hope for everybody else :)

PT: First, welcome to my blog and thank you for your insightful comment. [Irina, thank you for getting PT here]. I've heard almost the same thing from Muslim girls who wear the Hijab and from Sikh men who wear their traditional headdress. See people, in general, create rules that they associate with images they see and they hardly ever get past what their eyes see. For instance, how do you know that a table is a ‘table’? Well, somebody probably told you when you were a child that it is. Then your brain associated rules with that new object. The rules may have been: It has 4 legs, flat top, we use it to put things on including food, etc. Those are the kind of rules you build for that object so every time you see it, your memory automatically tells you that it is a table. Same with people I suppose. People build rules for 'other people' with whom they do not share allegiances on the vertical plane of identity. When they see a Jew in traditional dress, their data bank (memory) sends out learnt rules through their cognitive system (i.e., Israel, etc.). Same applies to Muslim girls wearing Hijab.

Consider this: If we take three American girls on any college campus: one is an orthodox American Jew, the second is an American veiled Muslim, and the third is an American conservative evangelical and convinced them to put aside their vertical allegiances and hang out. You know what they will likely talk about? Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, American Idol, Makeup, etc. If you were to close your eyes and hear them talk, there will be no way you can tell who is who. So, they are really almost the same person. What they don't realize is that they have a whole lot more in common than those vertical allegiances and associated rules tell them when they first meet each other.

...and you know what's even funnier is that if we brought an Israeli girl, a Saudi girl, and an Irish girl (all of similar conservative religious background as the American girls in the first example) and made them listen to the tape of that first conversation, it is very likely that they respond the same way. They are likely to all say: "Those American girls are crazy!!"

April 16, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

MB: Welcome. I'm glad Lauren lured you into my blog :) Thank you for your kind compliment. Hope you come back.

Meriam: Bienvenue sur mon Blog. Merci pour le compliment et puis j'espere que tu reviendras bientot.

April 16, 2005

 
Blogger marybishop said...

Jawad you are so wise.

We, as humans, will always be more alike than different no matter what veil, hat, tattoo, piercing etc. we wear. No matter where we worship or what color our skin..for the simple fact, we are human beings and not trees or cats.

If everyone could figure out a way to stop judging people ....

I guess we'd all be bored to death and our world without conflict wouldn't advance, but I can wish it were different.

Arnold Toynbee -- I struggle with his concepts of adversity..and wonder if it only applied "then" and not now...if ever.

April 16, 2005

 
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

It's funny you should mention Sikh headdress. There's a fellow doctor at my hospital who's a Sikh who wears the full headdress, long beard. He's about my age. No foreign accent, American born. When we're both in the same room, we're naturally drawn together. I can see in his eyes that whatever descrimination I think I face, he feels it much more. I feel a very strong kinship with him, in some ways moreso than with the non-religious Jewish doctors.

April 16, 2005

 
Blogger Eman said...

Hey Jawad, what can I say, a great post, a group of great comments and very interesting discussion!
As for your “Palestinian- Jordanian married to a Tunisian” enviromentalist friend, I still can't believe how small this world is! What a nice co-incidence! Does she have a blog too?
Please tell her: your twin-sis says hi to you, I’m sure she’ll freak out :D

April 18, 2005

 
Blogger Myrtus said...

"professional Jew"
LOL Psychotodler, are you sure you're not a comedian?
You're making excellent points here, I really admire how comfortable you feel with being YOU.

"If we take three American girls on any college campus..."

Excellent point, Jawad. As a matter of fact I saw an interview on TV about a year ago prooving exactly what you mentioned in your example. If I remember correctly the three girls were in elementary school at the time. They got together and became actively involved in their community to prove to people that it is indeed possible for people to see past their outward appearances and different religions and find common grounds on which to build on.

April 18, 2005

 
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Heck, the very idea of us here discussing all this proves it!

April 18, 2005

 
Blogger Khalij-Khazar said...

You know what they will likely talk about? Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, American Idol, Makeup, etc.

sheer genius...i love it Jawad

April 20, 2005

 
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thank you very much, Jawad, for your thoughts, your eloquence and your courageous writing. And thanks to the rest of you for being so forthright and open with your own ideas.

Seems to me that one of the best things about blogs—and, more particularly, about great posts and comments like this—is that this conversation can filter down through the blogs and through information communities. A small tide, but this is the kind of writing and open communication that needs to happen if we are to counter the dour results of the PEW polls in any way, right? Thanks for starting it, Jawad. (And for the Amin Malouf quote, too.)

FYI, I came here through Rebecca White's blog (And have now linked to DHD; thanks for all the great posts!)

May 05, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Hi Jonathan: Thank you and Welcome to my blog. You are right: we now have advanced media we can use to pursue a wide-reaching dialogue on basic human issues in order to promote a better understanding of who we are as a species. I, like you, very much hope that we can make good use of technology to further human thinking on our respective roles and responsibilites as members of a global community.

May 05, 2005

 
Blogger Jonathan said...

Jawad, Thanks for your response to my comment.
To follow up: I have been writing about similar stuff on my blog and elsewhere, and I wonder if I could excerpt the last three paragraphs in this post in one of my own posts on this topic. (If you wish, you can contact me via the email link on my profile; of course I'd be happy to show you the post before publishing it.) Thanks.

May 09, 2005

 
Blogger Jawad said...

Hi Jonathan: Please go ahead and use what you need. Thanks for asking first.

May 09, 2005

 
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks!

May 09, 2005

 
Blogger Jallal said...

Jawad, I missed this one!

Splitting up identity into its vertical and horizontal components was really brillant.

There's much to say about identity, willingless to be open to other cultures, etc. Hopefully, we'll have the opporunity to address this issue again.

June 06, 2005

 

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