On long days when the state of the world seems dismal, and my ability to help it negligible, I find my self turning to the West Wing. One of the most brilliant episodes is entitled Isaac and Ishmael, and is the September 11th episode. It has no impact on the rest of the timeline, but is something Aaron Sorkin, one of my favorite writers of stage and screen, felt compelled to create.
In the episode, one of the main questions a young tour group poses to the staff is “Why do they hate us?” I was reading an article that brought up a similar theme, and as someone who studies the Middle East I am often confronted with both thoughtful and hurtful responses to this question.
So here’s mine:
Who is they?
Leif has been linking often to Jeff Jarvis, who suggests that every criticism should be seen as a reflection of the person giving the critique. This is reinforced constantly by Miss Conduct, who advises readers to tread lightly, as often seemingly random criticisms stem from the speaker’s own insecurities or personal life situations. But for us, in an America that has almost forgotten while simulataneously can never forget September 11, 2001, sometimes we need to turn a light on ourselves.
I know everyone grows weary of the “just blame America” Camp, which I think is only so strong because of the equally tiring “Amurica is perfect” camp, but this isn’t about that. This is about who we think our enemies are, and who they very much are not.
We need a greater understanding of basic definitions, like Muslim and the Muslim world, Arab, the ever-tossed-around “Islamic”, Persian, the Middle East and even the infamous terrorist. We also need to understand that sometimes, the “they” who hate us are homegrown. Sometimes they’re white or educated or wealthy. Sometimes the patriots who stop them are immigrants who barely speak English, but are compassionate people who care about America.
This, to me, is one of my biggest personal causes:
finding They, understanding Them and showing everyone who They are NOT.