This post was originally published in The Journal Gazette under the title "Stamping Out Labels"
"In the infamous bowl of Skittles, I would be a brown one.
You know, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, born and raised in the Mideast, all the qualifiers that would land me smack dab in the middle of the brown category.
Of course, to the discerning mind, my shade of brown is not to be confused with South American brown, North African brown or Indian brown (of course, India Indians, not Red Indians). And for the geographically astute who know that Palestine is in Asia, the yellow of my Asian origin does not supersede the brownness of all my other attributes.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I do not mention the recent advancements our society has made in racial terminology. As an Arab-American or Muslim-American, I am, of course, a minority – further subcategorized as an immigrant. The label is firmly established when you hear that ever-slight accent that still pops up every now and again even after 20 years of living in the Western world.
My parents sought refuge in Qatar in the early ’60s due to the continued military expansionism of Israel on their homeland of Palestine.
My father, a businessman, and my mother, a teacher, helped build Qatar. But Qatar, like the majority of Arab countries, does not naturalize you even if you were born and raised there.
Due to my parents’ dedication to providing a better life for their children, they sought refuge again in Canada after I, the youngest of five kids, finished high school in 1996. After earning my bachelor of science in biology and receiving my Canadian citizenship in 2000, I moved to the United States in pursuit of further education and have been calling the U.S. home since. During this time, I have earned a doctoral degree in pharmacy, worked in the health care field, built a business with my wife and helped establish two new pharmacy programs in two different states.
I am the husband of a beautiful nurse in the making, the proud father of three young children with unlimited potential and the friend, colleague and neighbor of countless beautiful souls. Yet the national discourse around me, and many more like me, strips me down to a label:
• A label that erases the human behind it and serves as a shortcut to conclusions that can be crafted and manipulated by media and politicians to serve as a convenient, easy answer to complex questions.
• A label that can be or is, as the situation is currently, blamed for everything from lack of jobs to terrorist activities. A label that completely blinds you to the flesh and bones that carry it and carry with it real concerns, emotions and aspirations.
Some might argue that labeling and categorizing is simply a human trait. After all, science tells us that we subconsciously gather clues from our environment, process data and deduce action without much conscious thought of all the steps involved as an efficient way of utilizing energy. In many instances, this process can prove to be an effective survival mechanism as well.
For example, when you see a snake, you recognize a snake and assume danger within a few short seconds. You then proceed either to walk or run away to protect yourself or remove/kill the snake to protect yourself and your surroundings. The same can be said of many things that we do in our lives without much thought (think of walking, driving your car or even breathing).
We as humans, however, cannot simply be reactive to a primal instinct in our dealings with one another. When we extend this behavior to our human interaction, especially with those who do not “look like us” and do not go beyond the superficiality of a label, we lose the main distinguishing factor that makes us human.
We lose our ability to think, choose and make conscious decisions. We lose sight of the beauty that exists in our vastly different shapes, sizes, colors and in our philosophies, beliefs and outlooks on life.
The existential threat that we face as Americans today is our own biases fueled by ignorance.
Our lack of understanding of one another.
Our lack of appreciation of the value of the life of the “other.”
It’s time to take a deeper look at ourselves.
It’s time to address the politics of fearmongering and hate.
It’s time to look beyond the convenience of a label."
Honored to share the stage with Rev. John P. Gardner of Plymouth Congregational Church and deliver tonight's Allen County Democrats dinner's opening invocation.
John P. --
O God of all ages, Creator of heaven and earth,
of all we see and worlds we have yet to discover;
O God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar; of Moses and Miriam,
Mary and Jesus; of Mohammed the Prophet: you are the most
bounteous and most merciful; all praise and thanks are due to
You, the most merciful and wise.
John P. --
We thank you for this evening’s gathering; for those who have
planned the program, for those who have prepared the food,
and who serve at table; you nourish our bodies, no less than our
dreams and visions, and we are grateful.
We thank you for those in our midst running for state and national
office; keep them strong in the face of adversity, and humble with
any measure of accomplishment; give them stamina during the day,
rest at night; grant them wisdom and courage to lead and guide in this contentious age.
John P. --
Working together may we fashion a future worthy of our children:
where young and old are secure; where the racial divides of the past
are overcome; where water is drinkable and the rivers swimmable;
and the air is fit to breath and harness for energy; where no child
designed as different is diminished or denied their dignity.
Waken us to the urgency of the hour; open our eyes to see right
and follow it; working together may we boldly advance a better day
for our city and state and nation, that all Hoosiers, regardless of
class or creed or color, may attain the blessings of liberty and peace.
John P. –
We pray in the name of all that is beautiful and excellent and true.
We pray in the name of all that is merciful, just, and kind.
John P. and Ahmed --
Fifteen years ago today, I was a pharmacy student in Big Rapids, Michigan. I was in the office of one of my professors, having a general conversation, when his phone rang. He became visibly shook and looked pale as he hung up the phone. "My wife says planes crashed into the world trade center" he managed to mutter and, to be honest, it did not register with me. I thought it was an accident; A small engine plane that lost its course and hit one of the buildings.
I excused myself from the office of my visibly distraught professor and walked down to my lecture room. It was approximately 30 minutes before the start of class, and as I walked in, the footage of the plane crashing into the world trade center was on full display on the big screens. My heart sank, for many reasons, as I watched the details start to unfold.
A few minutes later, I noticed students were starting to trickle in and I immediately went to the main door of our college and waited for the handful of Muslim/Arab students to make their way to class. I told each of them as they came by to turn around and go home. I recall specifically saying "If someone yells at you, screams at you or even spits in your face....Don't do anything. Just keep walking and get to your home."
The world has changed.
On that particular day, the entire world turned and stared at me.
On that particular day, I became THE representative of the Islamic faith. I now speak for the entirety of Islam and am expected to answer for any and all actions of those who claim it as their faith.
I am now the measuring stick.
I am now it.
I have always been somewhat active in raising general awareness/education about my Muslim faith, my Arab culture and my people's struggle for justice in Palestine. But on that particular day, I realized that trying to be an agent of positive change, peace and coexistence is a full time duty rather than a service to be done on my free time.
On that particular day I was both disoriented and focused,
panicked yet calm,
afraid yet full of courage.
On that particular day I came to understand how I can be surrounded by many yet feel completely alone,
Have many thoughts yet be unable to speak,
Have many emotions yet not be allowed to grieve.
On that particular day I realized the full meaning of "other"
and to this day I don't take a second of my life for granted and use every bit of me to be an agent of change
Is the glass half full or half empty?
People on either side are arguing their point about the glass. A supposed optimism vs pessimism about a current situation.
But the question being debated is wrong.
The question should be who poured the glass and got people locked in a subjective, perhaps fruitless, debate?
Allow me to explain.
Apply this concept to let's say the current "war" on ISIS. Currently the majority of the world is locked in a heated debate on how to curtail and destroy ISIS. Fervent debates about military strategy; where to bomb when and how exact revenge (at least in the current American political rhetoric it is revenge we are seeking and not justice). Some are saying we're making great progress and let's keep the current bombing campaign while others are saying the civilized world is on verge of inevitable destruction and the threat cannot be eliminated so we need to bomb some more.
People are caught up in that bombing debate. Bomb more or bomb less (or at least sustain the current bombing). While a few are the ones who are taking a step back and asking "who poured the glass"?
You're being ushered into a debate where the thinking paradigm has already been set for you. Debating within that paradigm will not get us anywhere.
The word ملأ is often mentioned in the Quran when discussing people who surround an oppressive/unjust person (think pharaoh). It's translated as "the eminent ones" or you can understand it in the sense of those who surround the owner of authority; advisors, confidants, close friends....etc.
When thinking of such a group, the word enablers come to mind. Those who encourage a person's behavior/action and embolden their deviance.
Holy Quran 7:127
وَقَالَ ٱلْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِ فِرْعَوْنَ أَتَذَرُ مُوسَىٰ وَقَوْمَهُۥ لِيُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَيَذَرَكَ وَءَالِهَتَكَ ۚ قَالَ سَنُقَتِّلُ أَبْنَآءَهُمْ وَنَسْتَحْىِۦ نِسَآءَهُمْ وَإِنَّا فَوْقَهُمْ قَٰهِرُونَ
And the eminent among the people of Pharaoh said," Will you leave Moses and his people to cause corruption in the land and abandon you and your gods?" [Pharaoh] said, "We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them."
The "enablers" did not say to pharaoh "go ahead and kill Moses and his people" rather they planted a seed of fear in the mind of someone who is capable of doing great harm and then let things unfold.
My point is, while in many of our discourses and discussions about an oppressor's rise to power (think Trump) or a person's abuse of power (think police officers disproportionately shooting black people) or a person's disregard for the sanctity of life of others (think of anyone who murdered someone) we often neglect the enablers who surround them. We need to look at the environment and who is in it and what role have they played that may have led to the situation at hand.
Another point is for us to stop looking at such situations as isolated from us. We're baffled by these happenings yet we don't take a close and thorough look at ourselves and end up, inadvertently and at the very least, being enablers.
You can enable by encouraging,
but you can also enable by being silent when truth needs to be spoken,
by being complacent,
by shirking your responsibility as a citizen of your community.
Change won't happen unless we change the environment that allows negative enablers to dominate and that change has to come from within.
I became a Canadian citizen in 2000, at the age of 22, and then moved to the US and have been calling the US home since then (I became an American citizen 4 years ago).
Since living in the US I have gotten a doctoral degree, worked in the healthcare field, built a business with my wife and helped establish two new pharmacy programs in two different states. I am the husband of a beautiful nurse in the making, the proud father of 3 young children with unlimited potential and the friend, colleague and neighbor of countless beautiful souls. More importantly Mr. Pence, #IAmARefugee
If you compare #ISIS and #Trump's messaging, you will notice some frightening similarities. It's as if they are both using the same playbook
- both are capitalizing on abstract nostalgia (Make Islam great again vs make America great again)
-both are emboldening a marginalized, due to their hate, group (Jihadists vs white supremacist)
- both label and dehumanize other, therefor justifying their ill treatment (Kafirs or disbelievers/infidels vs Moozlums/Mexicans/Refugees)
- both blame an ill defined, foreign enemy-(The west vs the immigrants)
- both offer simple answers to complex questions- (Build a caliphate vs build a wall)
- facts don't matter to either (every single Islamic teaching vs every single fact)
- both are false prophets (guy with a big beard vs a supposed, self made billionaire)
And the list goes on and on....
My name is Ahmed Abdelmageed
I have been called sand ni**a, camel fag, terrorist and wife beater.
I am sorry if my somber words shocked your conscious awake, even if for a fleeting moment, from its stupor. But we really need to talk.
No, not about me or how I sometimes maybe treated
No, not about Leslie Jones per se (pictured below) and the ugliness she is enduring
And no, not about Trump and how he is "the problem with this country"
We need to talk about the status of collective moral coma in which we find ourselves.
Trump is not the problem, Trump is the natural consequence of all the problems we have in our country.
Trump is the simple manifestation of what our country has done and continues to do to people like Leslie Jones and others like her.
We need to talk about how we continue to seek simple answers to complex questions
We need to talk about the hate that exists among us, within us and around us
I am afraid however, that by the time you have gotten to the end of this post, that fleeting moment of conscious' awakening has already sped by
I wonder what style of numbers would Newt Gingrich like to tattoo on my arm?
Yes, that is a wedding band on my finger.
Yes, I do have children (three beautiful and rambunctious little rascals)
Yes, I do believe in Sharia (which simplistically means what God has decreed for Muslims as lawful, e.g. Enjoying a juicy burger, and unlawful e.g. Desecrating the sanctity of life)
Yes, I will raise my kids as American Muslims
No, I will not forfeit the future of my country to people like you, Trump and others
No, I will not shed my beliefs to appease your warped ideology because truly, that's what ISIS and their like want me to do
No, I do not stand alone as there are many who reject your fear mongering and hate
Dear Mr. Gingrich, consider me number 1 out of the 2.75 million Muslim Americans
I was honored to be invited to speak against hate at a vigil in our fair city of Fort Wayne, IN yesterday.
Here is the body of the speech as the recording is not the best
We stand here today in a vigil for yet another massacre
49 people have ruthlessly lost their lives
Here come the hate mongers from one side beating the drums of xenophobia, theophobia and fear
Here come the apologetics from another side trying to defend themselves from guilt by association
Here come the fervent media debate but unfortunately, hate continues to dominate.
I stand before you today mourning such a tragic loss of life
I stand before you today as a person whose faith compels him to stand with the victimized and the oppressed
I stand before you today because, as I have learned in my Quran God says “whoever kills a soul unjustly…it is as if he has killed the entirety of humanity”
I stand before you today because I, just like you, see the utter dangers of a “label”
Because when you give a group of people a label,
then marginalize that label,
then that group of people become an "it" and becomes easy to hate, abuse and even kill
Yesterday's massacre was not a Muslim-American killing gay Americans. It was an American, killing Americans, using American made assault weapons bought in an American store.
It's time to take a deeper look at ourselves
It’s time to address the politics of fearmongering and hate
It’s time to address our gun glorifying culture….and yes, that is a crucial part of this debate
The existential threat that we face as Americans today is our own biases fueled by ignorance
Our lack of understanding of one another
Our lack of appreciation of the value of the life of the “other”
I stand before you today, asking myself the same questions we ask ourselves after every tragedy
but when will we ever learn?
When will we look at causes beyond the convenient labels
When will we look at our society's ills,
I stand before you today because, like MLK said, I choose love over hate
Thanks to John Gevers for the great photography
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark