What We Learn From Each Other

I follow Mona Eltahawy on twitter to get a good Muslim view of things happening in the Middle East right now. She is an award-winning columnist and an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. She writes for Canada’s Toronto Star, Israel’s The Jerusalem Report and Denmark’s Politiken.

I follow her also because we agree on supporting the freedoms that the people of the Middle East are fighting for right now. We also agree on the horror of women’s oppression in certain Middle Eastern countries. In fact, there is nothing that she has tweeted that I have disagreed with, so I was shocked when she retweeted a tweet that said that the right saw Muslims as “animals,” and she wrote, “Bingo!” after it.

I tweeted back that if she believed that, it was ignorant and wrong. She retweeted that, and that is how I got into a discussion with three or four young Muslims. It was one of the most interesting and rewarding tweet discussions I have ever had. My point to them was that I saw Muslims in America the same as I see everyone else. We are all created equal. We are all children of God. Never, in a million years, would I think of Muslims (or anyone) as animals. I told them that no one I know thinks that way either. I asked them where they got that impression. The answer, of course, was from the media.

One used the example that Bill O’Reilly had said Muslims killed us on 9-11 on The View. He said it gave the impression that O’Reilly believed all Muslims were terrorists. No one I have ever heard of believes that. O’Reilly later apologized and said he should have said, “radical Muslims.” But then leftwinger Bill Maher defended O’Reilly saying it was true that Muslims killed us on 9-11. But, of course, the media didn’t play that over and over like they did The View clip, leaving the impression that only someone on the right believes that, when in fact, someone well known on the left said the exact same thing.

The Muslims on twitter also said that Glenn Beck had said that 90% of Muslims were terrorists. What Beck actually wrote in his book was that 90% of Muslims were peaceful people, and 10% had perverted the religion and were terrorists. So he actually said the opposite of what they believed.

One Muslim pointed how the right focuses on Obama’s Muslim heritage. I asked him if he knew that it was Hillary that leaked out the picture of Obama dressed in Muslim garb during the primaries. I reminded him that it was also Hillary who said on 60 minutes when asked if she believed Obama was a Muslim said, “There’s nothing to base that on. As far as I know.” Leaving the impression that it could be true, but as far as she knows, it isn’t.

Of course none of the Muslims had heard of the Hillary interview or read what Beck actually wrote. Why? The media. The media has a narrative that it wants out there. The media likes to stir up divisiveness. It also has a leftwing bias, which is why you didn’t see the Hillary or Bill Maher clips over and over. The media stirs the pot of hate. Sometimes meaning to, sometimes not. But it is what it is. When I write about despicable things on the left, I always try to make it clear that I am not talking about regular Democrats. I have good friends that are Democrats. But they do not believe what the leadership does or what many of the leftwing pundits do. There is also the organized far left, like the Daily Kos, which is far different than your average Democrat. It’s the same on the right. I think we all need to understand that that media types and even leadership does not always speak for us, no matter what side we are on.

My point to them was that this wasn’t about political ideology. It was about human decency. Both sides in politics play the game. Both sides play on fears. But I asked them to please not believe that conservatives think of them as “animals.” It couldn’t be further from the truth. There are racists out there, no doubt. But their hate doesn’t come from politics. It comes from the heart. We can spend all day giving each other examples of “hate” from each side, but at the end of the day we know that most people don’t hate each other. Most of us, on both sides, just want the best for America. Even if we have different ideas on what that means.

I remember when the young Muslims of Iran tried to start a revolution in 2009. My fellow rightwingers were going crazy on twitter in support of them. We turned our avatars green in support. Does this sound like a group that hates Muslims? We have done the same with this most recent uprising. We are the ones calling for a no fly zone in Libya. Obama was ignoring We are 100% behind the protestors who yearn for freedom. But the media never reports that.

What I learned from the Muslims I tweeted with was how bad these things made them feel. I realized that we don’t consider that they may walk around with the impression that so many people in America hate them, and think of them as a lesser human being. Make no mistake, there are people out there that do hate Muslims just for being Muslim, but I believe that they are few in comparison to the decent people in this country that believe in freedom of religion and expression and do not look down on Muslims, or anyone else.

I think we on the right need to a better job of letting Muslims know that we look at them the way we look at anyone else. We are all different. We are all diverse. The right understands, as most people do, that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, and only a small portion have perverted the religion into terrorism. I explained to them that at CPAC, a very conservative gathering, had a booth, “Muslims For America.” Did they think that would have been allowed if we had felt hatred toward Muslims?

We learn a great deal when we get to know each other. I don’t think any of these Muslims I tweeted with had ever talked to a conservative. Sadly, their impressions were from the media that distorts and spins.

My son in high school is in an organization called HOSA (Health Occupations Society of America). In that group he has several Muslim friends. He tells me how they discuss each other’s religion and faith. They learn a great deal about the misconceptions about the other.

When I write about being a child of integration, I always emphasize how important integration was. We needed to get to know each other in order to find out that we are not that different from one another. The same goes for Muslims in this country. We all share the same fears and hopes. We all want the best for our children. We all want to feel we are a part of this great country. We all want peace. We may have different beliefs, but that is what is wonderful about America.

I think that as we in politics fight for what we believe is right, we need to keep in mind the feelings of others. I am as guilty as anyone else in politics of painting with too broad of a brush. But I can promise you that I don’t see any group of people as “evil.” I judge a man or woman by his or her actions individually.

At the end of that twitter discussion last night with those few Muslims, we agreed that we had learned a great deal from each other. I think we all said goodnight feeling better about fostering an understanding about how each of us feels, and what we believe.

Who knows? Twitter may be the real revolution. It may be the place we really and truly learn about each other in this world.

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