Monday, July 16, 2012

Garden of Eden - The Vision

(Part 2 of 5 - click here to jump to part 1. Images via here)

Now I want to write a bit more about why this is important to me, which I separate from the aforementioned events that put me on this road in the first place. In short, my vision and drive for this whole choice to continue my studies with the object of getting my bachelor's in Middle Eastern Studies. I think that especially at my age, it's hard to be certain of what a life calling looks like. I tend toward the mindset of "do what you're good at because you're good at it for a reason." I totally believe that God gifts different people differently and also puts different issues on different hearts. I'm surprised that this whole Middle Eastern thing didn't occur to me before, because it seems so obvious now. I can't say that I came to the conclusion that this is what I should be doing in a very spiritual way, but now that it's sort of panning out this way, it just feels like it fits perfectly, and to me, that's as much of a sign as any that it's the right way to go. I've changed my mind about what to study many times before and I suppose it's a possibility that I'll lose my fervor over this issue and think it wasn't meant to be after all, but after really struggling with thoughts of a career in art for a long time (I'll write more about that in the next post), Middle Eastern studies finally feels like the right thing at the right time that plays to my strengths and my passions. It's fabulous to be excited and have a direction to go in and not feel like I'm settling for something just for the sake of finishing a degree., because it sure felt like that's what I was going to end up doing, for a while.

Anyway, on to "the vision". By "vision", I mean less what I plan do with with this major (again, next post) but more why I feel like this choice finally clicked in all the right ways. Sometimes I'm afraid of how intensely I feel about this subject and I know I can be pulled toward an extreme in almost any situation just out of a desire to be provocative. I won't deny that part of studying the Middle East appeals to me for that reason, but I don't think it's unreasonable to say that I've also been prepared for this in the last few years and of course during my childhood, even if I didn't realize it until recently.

Seriously, if you want to make me angry, you need do nothing less than say something ignorant, irreverent or bigoted about anything having to do with Islam or the Middle East. I want to make it clear that as much as I adore this region, I don't condone all their customs, attitudes and/or behaviors and religion. What does boil my blood is people saying foolish, angry and unfair things about something they don't understand. Actually, I don't think there's an excuse for that behavior even if you do understand the reality of things. If I could heal all the rends between Western and Eastern cultures by sheer love of my subject, man, the world would be rainbows and butterflies all over. 

Ok, so to actually state my vision... what I want to do is essentially educate and re-educate Americans to understand and respect countries and cultures that are currently unjustly treated with prejudice because of political issues. The more I can show the divide between a handful of politicians and armies on both sides and the reality of day-to-day lives and culture of the people of each region, the more compassion available, in my thinking. I don't always know what to think of what goes on politically and don't often understand it, but I do think I am in a position to be an ambassador and a bridge between humans on each side. I'm actually not particularly interested in peace-rallying or things of that nature. I think the current wars/terrorism is the basis of fear and hatred between the East and West, but I'm less concerned with the politics of war and peace as I am with facilitating proper perceptions across cultural divides. Particularly in the America to Middle East direction. 

One thing that I'm already struggling with is my anger. I feel justified in being angry at people who say ridiculous and hurtful things about people and places they are conditioned to fear and mistrust, but I know that the whole situation is full of enough hatred and anger already and that people don't respond to being told what idiots they are. It's hard to walk the line between cultures - it's hard to talk about the Middle East with any compassion or understanding and not be branded a "sympathizer" with terrorists. Obviously, it's my goal to do away with that reaction in the first place - not just for my sake, but for what that attitude symbolizes. It's hard to be trustworthy in the eyes of someone who is against what my heart burns for. But that's really the whole point; to bridge the gap. Now what I need is the grace to be something other than a rabid chihuahua who is straining to be released on a land of "blind people". I know I need to stay away from the us vs. them scenario, especially when I want to put myself in the "them" category just to be gritty and poignant and different. Sometimes I also sit back and think I must be a naive fool to think that anyone will listen to me about any of these issues with the "credentials" that I do and will have. I wonder if people will consider a love and a heritage tied to the Middle East as having any authority in the face of war and politics. I get it, if you think that that won't cut it. But I still need to try. And I need to try not to do it out of my own strength alone.

Apart from modifying thinking toward the Middle East, I really want to advocate fair treatment of Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants in the United States. First of all, it's offensive and needless to lump everyone from the Eastern hemisphere into 3 main ethnicities; Chinese, Japanese and Korean are not remotely the same and they take great offense at being confused. Indians are not from the Middle East, and the Middle East is not just one country. "If you don't like it here or don't want to be like us, go back to your country," is not a valid argument either, sorry. Actually, I'm not sorry. That's just a rude attitude. I know it's not easy for everyone to distinguish between different nationalities, but it isn't polite to assume that they're all from the same country. Also, it's so important to remember that every American is an immigrant from somewhere or the descendant of immigrants (with the exception of Native Americans). It only makes sense to treat new people seeking refuge with dignity and respect like you would like to be treated if you uprooted your entire life to try and make a better go of things in a strange country. I hope I am not digressing into rants here. I really think it is of the most basic importance that immigrants be treated with respect.

One final thing I want to touch on in relation to my vision and my justifications for why I should be pouring myself into this is 9/11. I know that especially for my generation, 9/11 was some of the first exposure that American citizens had to the idea of Islam and the Middle East as a whole. Or more practically, it suddenly became a point on the radar that may not have been there before. I think it's entirely logical and understandable to be hurt on many levels by that tragedy and I think it's reasonable to be angry at the injustice of it. Obviously, I feel like things went awry when understandable hurt about terrorism turns to blind hatred of an entire school of nations and/or people of the same race as terrorists but with no affiliation whatsoever. Sometimes I wish I had been in the U.S. for 9/11 so that I could better identify with the feeling of nationalism and solidarity that arose afterward. I am, after all, from America, and contrary to what some of my opinions may seem to demonstrate, I love my country.

At the same time, I know there was a reason for me being on the other side of things at that time and witnessing a very different angle of 9/11. As my mom remembers it, many Muslims in areas of rural Pakistan and China around where we lived didn't even realize that a war was starting, nor who Osama bin Laden or Sadam Hussain was. That's kind of an illustration of the entire point I'm trying to convey.

Once again, thank you for reading and I do sincerely hope that I don't sound like a raving lunatic. Like I said, I'm very sensitive on all of these issues, but I also want to learn and grow and calm down when I need to. That said, if you disagree with me, have questions, or have suggestions on how I can be more relatable or  compassionate in my delivery, please do let me know. (Next up, specifics about the actual impending schooling).

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