This weekend, a friend of mine discussed an encounter she had with an American in Amsterdam. I know this woman from my own time working as an expatriate professor in Qatar. She’s a highly skilled, well-educated professional. I’ll leave you to read her experience.
During my trip to Amsterdam, I met an American man who looked to be in his late 60’s and he asked to sit at my table because all the others were occupied. He said that his wife had gone shopping near the restaurant and he was tired and wanted to sit. Of course, I didn’t mind and said yes.
I continued working on my laptop, but after few minutes I noticed he was staring at me. I looked up at him warily thinking “I am not going to talk about Trump just because I'm a brunette.” Of course, we did precisely that for the next 45 minutes.
He opened the unwilling conversation by asking where I was from and if I was Muslim. I wanted to turn away but knew that I needed to stand up and defend the millions of Muslims around the world who were not on the spot.
It was unreal.
American Man (AM): Are you Muslim? I can tell you are Muslim.
Me: Oh yeah? You can tell from what? I can't even think whether you are Christian, Jewish, or atheist.
AM: Your eyes and hair
Me: Hmm... (At this point, how bad could it get?)
AM: We Americans are facing lot of issues from radical Islam. Did you hear about Orlando?
Me: Yes, I heard about it. (No I just came from Mars) It's sad. Did you see the blasts in Turkey, Pakistan, and France? Terrorism is everywhere not just in the US.
AM: Where do you live?
Me: In Doha, Qatar
AM: Where is it?
Me: In the Middle East near UAE. (I'm pretty sure he still doesn't know where it is)
<…After a bit of small talk…>
AM: I will vote for Trump because he will ban Muslims, because we are under attack.
Me: Well, I'm not surprised.
AM: Did you see the wife of the guy who asked Trump to read the constitution?
Me: Oh you mean Mr. Khan? Yeah. What’s the link?
AM: Well, she didn't talk.
Me: And then?
AM: Apparently in the Koran Muslim ladies are not supposed to express themselves.
Me: (laughing) Oh yeah? And what am I doing right now?
A couple behind him couldn’t believe what they were hearing and gave me sympathetic looks
AM: Oh. You don't wear a long dress? (looking at my clothing)
Me: Does this look like a dress? [Editor’s note: I’ve only ever seen the author in “western” attire.]
AM: Well the Koran says women should wear long clothes and cover their faces.
Me: Did you read the Koran?
AM: Hymenia (his wife) and I are Christian try to live Biblically.
Me: Well, I’m Muslim and have read the Bible. I can tell you that some Muslim women dress like nuns so if you don't have a problem with habits, you should have no problem with women who choose to cover their heads. When a woman is not wearing a scarf, it doesn't mean she is not Muslim. So guessing my religion based on the color of my eyes and hair is pretty simplistic.
AM: You read the Bible? (Incredulous) That's unusual.
Me: Have you visited any Muslim country?
Me: Well, you probably should.
AM: Yeah but Iran is a Muslim country I will never visit.
Me: Why is that?
AM: They are radical.
Me: Oh yeah? Who triggered the revolution in Iran that led to this situation?
AM: What do you mean?
Me: Do you know the history of Iran? It’s the CIA who triggered the revolution.
AM: Yes, but today is different.
Me: How is that? By the way, are you Amish? (I’m already regretting moving the conversation in this direction.)
AM: Oh you know about the Amish?
AM: Yes, they are quite strict.
Me: Strict? What if a country banned Americans because of the Amish?
AM: You have a point.
Me: Sorry but I need to go. I would highly recommend you visit a Muslim country and probably stop watching Fox News. It was nice meeting you. (How could I have said that and ruined 45 minutes beautiful Amsterdam?)
And with that, I escaped. I'm so blessed to have American friends who remind me daily that not Americans are like this. They give me faith and hope in American society every day.
Islamophobia and all discrimination is fundamentally un-American and contrary to the Founding Fathers’ intent. Though, as products of their era, the Constitution enshrined slavery and limited suffrage. Through struggle, we have and continue to address discrimination.
Most of the time discrimination results from ignorance and generalization. If we are open to learning and treating people as individuals, we can root it out in all its forms. What’s more, we can move ever closer to that city on a hill.