I don’t know if it’s stupidity or a renewed sense of “helping people is important, dammit” but after a 34-hour trip from Doha to Danforth and a shortish but passionate love affair with my bed, I made questionable decision #1 (I answered the phone) and followed it almost immediately by QD #2 (I agreed to help Travis move).
This actually worked out okay in that it helped marshall my thoughts a bit. Both Trav and Alan (intrepid partner in questionable decision-making) are pooh-poohers of all that is social media so when they asked about my trip, they were working from the blankest of slates.
“What’s the Middle East like?” asked Alan. “And is that how you pronounce ‘Qatar’?”
**SIDE NOTE: Ever since I did/did not date that Navy fellow, who was frequently shipped off to Qatar in between his deployments to Rivalries and OPT, where he flexed obnoxiously while wearing closed-toe athletic socks with flip-flops (it occurs to me that my history of questionable judgment is long and varied), I have wondered how on God’s green (exception: the Middle East) earth to pronounce that country. “Where’s Flex?” people would ask, and “ohhhhh,” I would hem and haw, “like overseas or something.” Because I did not know how to pronounce Qatar. But guess what? The embassy folk who briefed us (best briefs ever, excluding underwear) admitted candidly that there were two ways and both were acceptable. Yay! Clarity. So you can either say “Cutter” or “Ka-TAR”. And while you go ahead and choose one of those for future reference, I’ll just be sitting here practicing the third cool guttural way I heard the locals go.
Anyway, I couldn’t answer Alan’s first question. What IS the Middle East like? I studied my face off (ouch) for two weeks previous to the trip, reading anything and everything about Islam and plumbing a most helpful set of students and colleagues for tips and tricks about Arabic and dressing myself. I got pretty good at dressing myself.
The rest is complicated.
Islam itself is gosh-darn fascinating, and I wish people knew more about it before doing the much more harmful and destructive pooh-poohing than Alan does toward, for example, Facebook. And before I go on, can we mutually agree that extremism is not at all representative of a religion? This is true for Charles Manson as well as for ISIL (time out while I look up what “the Levant” means, because I’ve been meaning to do that ever since the last “S” became an “L”. Okay basically it’s a big ole chunk of the Middle East, encapsulating parts of Syria, Iraq, Saudi, and Egypt, plus Jordan and Lebanon and whatever disputed things are happening around the Jerusalem area right now. It’s good to have a grasp of current events, even if that grasp forces you to take three minutes out of each day now to send the “hey, I’m paying attention and Betsy DeVos is the latest in dangerous crackpot appointments- please vote against her, thanks” emails to the Senators King and Collins, whose names together sound suspiciously like a duo of whiskey shots now that I think about it.)
Where was I? Oh! Islam.
Yeah, turns out this is an incredibly peaceful and inclusive religion, if looked at through the eyes and intention of Muhammad. Of course not everybody practices it that way, but that’s true of all of the faiths (evidence: endless). And the word jihad might be the most misunderstood ever, which is a shame because I am 100% behind the concept, although admitting so in this world means- at the very least- being subject to an even more thorough airport search than the one in the Netherlands (aptly named because she was uncomfortably brushing my nether regions while- is it jocular when there’s awkward touching?- attempting a joke about my fuzzy sweater. “Did you shoooooot da bear yourself?” Crikey.)
Jihad is the word for struggle, and it’s meant primarily to be a description of a struggle with the self: to be pure, to do good, to submit to Allah (exact same god as Christian and Jewish god, just an Arabic word. Honestly if you haven’t had the chance to learn the parallels and connections between all three religions, do it. It’s fascinating and enlightening, and I’m far too jet-lagged to give it justice now.) But sadly, the media (Jerk Store called, would like to make a prototype) has portrayed it as the extremists they glorify would like: as some kind of bloodthirsty excuse to wage holy war against infidels. Media, I say to you: C’MON. Little research maybe?
If you follow the principles of true jihad, you’re not actually allowed to attack anyone unprovoked, and Muslims who follow the teachings of Muhammad are not allowed to try to convert people because it’s all about peace and tolerance. What jihad means is that a follower of Islam must defend those who cannot defend themselves, but only with the force necessary to make the injustice stop. Pursuit of power? Not allowed. Revenge? Not allowed. Violently stopping a bully with more aggression than is necessary because you want to teach him a lesson? Noooooooooope. There are definitely people who ignore this and they are definitely, heartbreakingly, frequently in the news… but that’s not actually what jihad has always meant and it’s not the vast majority of Muslims.
I could go on, but nap time is increasingly demanding priority. Plus round two of moving is later today, and the well-rested lift up the heavier load. Want to learn more about Islam and the Middle East, though? I’m no expert, but I’m here… and Portland has a phenomenal community of really nice, really helpful people who are way more willing and eager to talk than to fight.
Let’s do that.