I often pick my English Club topics strictly based on what I want to talk about. So this week, there's been something on my from all the news I've been reading. It seems to be a controversy the media can't stop talking about. And no, I wouldn't dream of talking about Prop. 8 with my club. It's whether the "mosque" should be built in Manhattan at a site in the area near the 9/11 attacks.
In general, I try to avoid the subject of 9/11 with the people in Kazakhstan. It doesn't mean as much to them, not like it does to us. It's hard to hear them talk about it. Although, maybe for that reason I should talk about it more than I do. Here there is a lot of misinformation about the attacks. Apparently, if you put something in documentary form it must be true, and much of the population saw a documentary about how Americans really planned the attacks. Or how Jewish people were the masterminds to make Muslims look bad. People say these things as if they believe them; I think they do believe them.
Today, I thought that's where we needed to start the conversation. What happened on 9/11? I first heard their accounts. Some said that America planned it. Most knew about the two buildings, but had forgotten the two others planes. I decided to fill them in. Terrorists hijacked planes and attacked America. It was an attack by Al-Quida. Al-Quida was based strongly out of Afghanistan, and that's why American invaded. (These facts are true right? I also brought up the fact that some Americans still think Iraq was related to 9/11 somehow. Americans (and everyone) distort and confuse their history.)
I then asked them to describe the terrorists. What adjectives would they use? Crazy. Radical. Male. Extreme. Angry. Suicidal. The list went on. And I couldn't help but think what Americans would have said? What would the first adjective out of most American mouths? Muslim. It wasn't in their top ten. It wasn't even on their minds.
There were about fifteen people in today's club. Fourteen of them were "Muslim," in that if you asked their religion, they would probably say that. Although I don't think any of them abide strictly by the Muslim tenants. I've only met a handful of people here that pray every day, keep the fast during Ramdan, refuse alcohol, etc. Most Muslims here are really like most religious people in the world, their stated beliefs do not always match up with their actions.
I told the club that in America, Americans would have said Muslim terrorists attacked on 9/11, and they immediately responded by saying that isn't Islam. That's not their faith. Those people distorted Islam. They are like any radical group, using faith to masquerade their hatred and extremism. It's what everyone in Kazakhstan has ever told me about the hijackers on 9/11. The terrorists say that they are Muslim, but they aren't.
The topic of the club then moved on to the current controversy. Should Muslims be able to build a mosque near Ground Zero? In America, this is causing an endless debate that is entangling politicians, religious leaders, and pundits on all levels. For them, there was no debate.
Why not?, they asked. Why shouldn't they be able to build a mosque there? It's not like the radical terrorists are building a mosque there? It's just regular Muslims. They didn't cause 9/11.
I countered that many victims of 9/11 feel that it's offensive to them. They once again were confused. Why would it be offensive, they asked. I told them I didn't understand myself.
Then one of my sitemates asked if this was really an issue in America (she doesn't have Internet regularly and therefore hasn't seen this in the news). How many Americans really feel this way, she asked. Over 60% I told her, a clear majority of Americans oppose a mosque being built there.
Really? she asked in shock and disappointment. She sighed a familiar sigh of partial disbelief and confusion. I am familiar with that sigh.
See, it's part of Peace Corps goals to talk about America. It's always quoted "Goal 2: Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served." And it's great when I get to talk about how great America is. Our roads are paved so smooth. We have tons of amazing music artists. Our food and beer selection is out of this world. But sometimes I'm faced with the hard trust about what America really is. It's not perfect. At times, it has problems. There are homeless. There is racism. There is intolerance. Anyone familiar with America, knows that it has its fair share of problems. But usually, I get to talk about the progress we're making. Here, in this situation, it seems like we're moving backwards.
Maybe it's because I've been in Kazakhstan for two years, where a majority of the populating is Muslim. Maybe it's because my first three months were spent with an amazingly welcoming and observant Muslim family and I kept Ramadan with them. Maybe it's because I'm dating a Muslim girl. Maybe because of all of that, I completely fail to see why anyone would be opposed to building a mosque there or anywhere. 60% of Americans have a viewpoint that I not only disagree with, but I cannot even begin to understand.
Islam isn't something to be scared of. It's just another religion, like any other one. Muslims aren't to blame for 9/11. Terrorists are. And having to read that our President made a mistake by speaking out on what is right and just is infuriating. I feel ashamed to share a better understanding of Americans.
But then again, maybe that's why there's a third goal to the Peace Corps. Goal 3: Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Sometimes, it's certainly needed.