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Sunday, November 8, 2009

The little moments

US Flag at half mast.
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Ft. Hood this week, and the revelation that the shooter comes from a Muslim background, many American Muslims are left wondering whether there will be backlashes - whether other Americans, fueled by anger and fear, might retaliate against innocent Muslims. Although Muslims in America are renouncing the shooter's actions and expressing condolences for those harmed, it unfortunately seems to be a distinct possibility, in a society of over 300 million, that something of this nature will happen somewhere.

This is similar to the time just after 9/11 when, as I recall, there were similar incidents of backlash against Muslims in the U.S. In both of these cases, I was reminded of an incident that happened one night when I was a college student. It was, by all outward indications, a minor incident - but one of those little things that stick with you, that make an impression, and that you never forget.

I was in college during the first Gulf War, when everyone was glued to their television sets watching it unfold on CNN. It was during this 100 day period that I was alone one evening and wanted to do something other than watch the news for a change. I decided to walk down to the student center, where there was a game room and other things to do. No one was around, except for two women who were heading up to the front door of the building at about the same time as me.

I probably did notice their heads were covered with scarves (hijab), but didn't really connect it to what I'd been watching on the news the past several days. I may have simply been thinking about what video game I was going to play. Nevertheless, my normal 'instinct' to open the door for a lady kicked in and I held it open for them and smiled as they entered.

The next thing I knew, the woman had turned to me and with emotion in her face began to thank me for treating her and the other woman so kindly. She said that they love America, but had been treated rudely by others since the war broke out. She said people would often turn away from them and so on - and that it was refreshing to be treated like human beings by someone.

I'm not sure what I said, but tried to accept their thanks in a friendly way. I didn't deserve the praise they were giving me - I was just a stupid kid from a tiny homogeneous southern town who was too ignorant to have even appreciated what women like these might have been going through. I can say, at least, that I didn't have animosity for them, but I can't take credit for having considered those of other cultures and made some monumental decision to treat them with dignity - rather, was little more than simply being oblivious and acting by habit.

But the incident took me by surprise and made a deep impact on me. Sometimes, we stumble into certain roles society expects of us, and when we're praised in that direction, it makes us want to earn it.  This was like one of the millions of little incidents that go into making up who we are. They give us a certain impression of the world, help form our perspectives, and help to form who we become. From that point on, any time I saw a situation that might inspire anger against "those kind of people" I think of the two women I saw that night, who felt isolated in a country they had loved.

Does that mean I'm not thinking of those lost and injured, or their families? We should try to keep all innocent victims in mind here, but I hope we will not confuse care for victims with hatred for others.

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