The Myth of Arab Fanaticism
Excerpted from Metanoia newsletter, the following article by Vincent Kavaloski of the former Ecumenical Partnership for Peace and Justice (Wisconsin) sheds light on myths about the Arab World
Edward Said, the distinguished literary critic from Colombia University, has written in Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (New York: Pantheon, 1981, p. 26): It is only a slight overstatement to say the Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, apprehended, either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab Muslim life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Islamic World.
In other words, a series of crude, negative caricatures supports an unconscious racism in the American mind. For example, the Near East Report (Nov. 6, 1989), a prominent U.S. Zionist newsletter, argued against negotiating with Arab nations on the grounds that the Arab mind is essentially vengeful, violent and irrational. It published an overtly racist cartoon of the Arab mind which allegedly consists of Blackmail, Double-talk, Don't Trust your Brother, Fanaticism, Vengeance, World of Fantasy, Sunni Hate Shiite, No Peace With Israel, and No Compromise.
It is almost impossible to imagine a similar racist slander of the Jewish Mind or Negro Mind being tolerated in this country. Yet deeply racist stereotypes of Arabs go largely unchallenged (except by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee).
Westerners who live among Arab people (such as my wife, Jane, who spent two Peace Corps years in Morocco) discover another reality. They are impressed by Arab generosity, hospitality and compassion.
I recall vividly our own numerous experiences of warmth and hospitality two years ago, when Jane and I Ied a Wisconsin Interfaith Delegation to the Middle East. In Nazareth a group of us went into an Arab bakery for coffee and rolls and talked with the proprietor, Amad, about his family, the Intifada (Palestinian civil resistance to Israeli control) and subsequent Israeli repression, even against Palestinians in Galilee, which is in Israel proper.
One topic led to another in the languorous heat of the Galilean afternoon. Finally, as we rose to leave, Amad thanked us for visiting and then refused our payment. Among the Arab people, he explained, when people open their hearts to one another, they are no longer strangers, but guests, and guests are to be given hospitality. Hospitality is holy, Amad said, and cannot be bought.