Friday, September 10, 2010

Remembering Freedom this 9-11


The year was 1991... I was a Spec 4 in the United States Army serving out a tour at Aviano Air Base in Northern Italy. Our unit was deployed to Diyarbakir Turkey to serve as a part of a mission called "Operation Provide Comfort". Our job was to fly sorties into Iraq and rescue the Kurdish refugees who had taken refuge in the mountains. We would go into Iraq, load dozens of Kurdish refugees into our CH-47 helicopters and fly them back across the border to waiting medical facilities and camps which were being operated by the French and other participating nations.

Within our tent city, there were Americans, Germans, Dutch, French, and Spanish troops, all being hosted by the Turkish Government on a Turkish Air Base. All working together to save the lives of Kurdish people from the war that had engulfed their country.

I was perhaps the only Muslim soldier in that tent city, or so it seemed, and that made me quite a curiosity for the Turks. When word spread that there was an American Muslim soldier on the base, I was invited to accompany our Turkish hosts to meet various members of the Turkish Military. I was even assigned a driver so that if I ever wanted to go to the local mosque, all I would have to do was ask, and my transportation would be arranged.

Over time, I developed a number of close friendships. One family in particular, Dohan and his son Oshgur, who worked on the base selling carpets and other various souvenirs, would cook or purchase dinner for me every night during my last month or so in country. Hadji, a local jeweler who had moved to Diyarbakir from Istanbul, crafted a beautiful engagement ring for me to give to my then girlfriend, and sold it to me for a mere pittance. And of course there was Hanif, the taxi driver, who would always show up to eat dinner with us, and who would offer - almost every night - to sneak me off the base to go hang out downtown  if I wanted...

While I never tipped off the base with Hanif, I was able to make a few short trips downtown during the course of my stay. I was able to visit and attend prayer at the Grand Mosque in Diyarbakir (One of the oldest in all of Turkey). And while I was still quite the curiosity, the warmth and welcome was undeniable. Perhaps the most contentious moment came when I was thrust into a spirited "debate" with some young men who claimed and believed that Vanilla Ice was the 'Best rapper in America'.    

We were at war - But we weren't filled with hatred. We knew who we were fighting... And we knew it wasn't everybody; it wasn't a war against Middle Easterners, it wasn't a war against Islam...

But of all of my experiences during the war, there is one that stands out above all... One moment that offered me a clarity that I will always cherish...

One day I was able to visit a mosque across the border into Iraq. It was very small and there were probably 10 to 15 men inside offering prayers... After making wudhu, I settled near the rear of the room, dressed in BDU's and began offering my prayers. Though I tried to remain completely focused, I couldn't help but notice that a man sitting maybe 10 feet to my right front was turned completely about and staring at me. I wasn't fearful, he wasn't giving off those kind of vibes, but it seemed to be a far more intense curiosity than I'd experienced at either of the Turkish mosques I'd attended.

When I finished praying, the man came and sat right beside me, knee to knee. He introduced himself and extended his hand. He was a local Doctor who lived and worked in the area. We shook hands and I introduced myself as well. After introducing myself, he looked at me inquisitively and asked, "Are you an American?" 'Yes', I replied... Then he asked, "then how can you believe in God?"

...

I've often thought back to that moment and that question... Far more frequently as of late, because it made clear something that I hope to never forget. You see, he had come to believe that we as American's were a bunch of Godless savages. Not because he was a hateful or terrible person; but because he was misinformed and his ignorance was manipulated to serve the interests of others. JUST AS MANY OF US have come to believe that Muslims are Godless savages... It doesn't mean we are terrible people or hateful bigots; but we are also misinformed. And just as Saddam's regime manipulated the ignorance of many, fomenting an anger and divisiveness that he was able to bend to his service, we here are subject to the same manipulations, the same distortions, and the same divisiveness, deployed with the same design of providing short-term political benefit to the unscrupulous. Even in our self-righteousness, we are still the same.

Now I won't bore you with the standard fare; platitudes about how the majority of Muslims are peaceful people or any of that... Because the truth is, some Muslims are certifiable saints, and some are assholes. Some are great examples of humility and piety, and others are plum crazy. And the same can be said for all people - that we all are, simply, people... "Muslim" is not a category for a different type of human, neither is "Christian" or "Jew". We are just people who differ in our beliefs about events that transpired thousands of years before our births. We adhere to different religious traditions and follow different paths that we each hope will lead us to the same divine affirmation of the one Holy God. And that's ok...

While encouraging that young Doctor to reject the distortions and manipulations he was being fed, I made a personal commitment to do the same. So this 9/11, I will celebrate my freedom. Not Dr. Laura's freedom to say 'nigger', not the Phelps' freedom to protest funerals or burn the flag, not Pastor Jones' freedom to burn the Qur'an, nor New Yorker's freedom to build or protest a community center...

This 9/11, I celebrate my freedom from Fear. I celebrate my freedom to reject the childish notion that the whole world is comprised of 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. I have no need for a Boogeyman. I am not afraid of your totems. I refuse to hate others because you say I am hated. I choose to exercise my freedom to see people as individuals. I choose to exercise my freedom to love and to worship with whomever and however I please.

19 evil men attacked our Nation on 9/11 killing 3,000 Americans... but their hatred shall not infect my heart. They may have changed the landscape in New York, but they will not change my character.

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Jung/Myers Briggs

INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

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