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<-Back to WTN Archives Conflicted Arab-American prays for peace
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Sunday, August 7, 2005



7. Conflicted Arab-American prays for peace


KARIM SHAMSI-BASHA
The Birmingham News
Saturday, August 06, 2005


I am an Arab-American, and I am a peace lover. That is how I announce my
origin if I am asked. If I am not asked, it stays hidden, deep within my
aching soul.

When I heard about the London bombings, I immediately fell into grief for
all the people who lost their lives and their loved ones. Loss of life
always makes me disregard my own feelings of shame.

However, when I think of the millions of Arabs and Muslims who chose to live
in countries offering freedom, a second wave of anguish and sorrow strikes.
Sorrow because we have to wake up every day and try to prove to the world
that we are not terrorists. That most of us have passions and desires not
too different from anyone else's. That most of us would not harm another
human being even if our own life depended on it. That, despite the war in
Iraq and the chaos that has ensued, most of us are still peaceful and
discerning people.

Even though some of us may feel conflicted about the war in Iraq, we condemn
the London bombings along with 9/11, the insurgency attacks and any other
terrorist act committed by an Arab, a Muslim, a McVeigh, or a Rudolph.

I have lived in the United States for half of my life, 20 years, and I have
completely embraced what this country has to offer from free elections to
the fact that I can choose my own destiny. I am raising my three children
and hoping they regard the freedom they have been born into, and that they
would appreciate principles such as self-fulfillment, dreams, and making
them come true. I tell all of my friends and acquaintances how appreciative
I am of the freedom I have been given. I still have to work hard, but hard
work coupled with honesty is justifiably rewarded.

As with most Arab-Americans, I am well aware of what life in America grants.
But we live day in and day out trying to balance our own feelings of
identity against the image that is perceived of us. After 9/11, I continued
to let people know my origin, but my declaration was always combined with a
justification or a joke.

I am having a serious identity crisis. I encounter prejudice as an
Arab-American in the United Sates, but when I visit Syria, I struggle with
repugnance as an American-Arab.

I have an ingrained pride in my roots. Arabs, like the Greeks and the
Romans, were at one point in history the epicenter of civilization. At the
same time, I try to understand where things went wrong. You could blame the
Ottoman Empire, both World Wars or the cacophony of events that followed. A
plethora of reasons for the division of the Arab world in the middle of the
20th century comes to mind. However, the fact we have to endure as Arabs
willing to live peacefully and coexist is this: We can only blame ourselves.

Where is our Martin Luther King Jr.? Where is our Mahatma Gandhi? Where is
our Dalai Lama?

I pray for the people of London; I also pray for all of us. That one day we
can look into each other's faces and love instead of hate. That one day we
can use nonviolence to further peace instead of prevent war. That one day we
can use inner peace to enhance our lives instead of save lives. And that one
day we can focus on feeding the hungry instead of resolving the conflicts
killing them.

I visited Damascus this past February. My father passed away after 88 years
of living as large as any man I know. He was a prolific writer and poet,
writing more than 15 multi-volume books and encyclopedias about Arabic
poetry and literature. He always spoke of peace and how it can be
attainable. He said that people should focus on the beautiful things in
life.

Leave it to a poet to do just that. Being around Dad was like living in a
fairy tale free of anything deceitful or ugly. Dad never had a problem with
me adapting to this culture, although he did always say: "Never forget your
roots my son, it does not matter how tall and majestic a tree is, without
roots it will wither away and die."
Dad: I will never forget my roots, and I will take it on as a mission in
life to do my part in spreading peace on Earth. Until all human beings
respect and consider each other equal partners of this fragile planet, we
will continue the suffering mostly inflicted upon innocent lives.

I will always be an Arab-American with a soul aching for peace. Karim
Shamsi-Basha is a freelance photojournalist who co-owns Portico magazine in
Birmingham.

He hopes that one day it would be safe for his children to visit the Arab
world, and that Americans might one day restore their trust in Arab
Americans.

E-mail: karim@porticomag.com.


Articles in this Issue:
  1. Feeling the long arm of China The consul-general is making sure politicians know where her country stands
  2. Tibetans celebrate Shoton Festival
  3. China and India bury hatchet
  4. NEPAL-CHINA RELATIONS
  5. A reader fails to find jewels in the heart of the lotus
  6. Dragons in the Tibet Sky
  7. Conflicted Arab-American prays for peace



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