(Amazing Egypt, the cradle of civilization. Photographed by Les Tyler during our 2010 visit)
This is a good opportunity to share more of my Muslimish experiences, particularly after the horrific acts in Charlottesville, Virginia.
First, my heart is with the innocent victims and I denounce the hateful hearts of the white supremacists who brought on such violence. Last weekend was a terrible reminder that despite the great progress our country has made in embracing diversity, small pockets of hate-filled groups are thriving since our current administration has legitimized and energized them by refusing to denounce them by name (until he was shamed into doing so, which was far too little far too late).
That he didn’t denounce those acts for what they were should come as no surprise. We saw the evidence during the campaign. Moreover, his closest adviser is a white nationalist himself. This is why we now see those small cracks that already existed turn into huge and visible chasms of hate. This threatens the very foundation of our country.
I know quite a bit about the white supremacist movement. While studying at Montana State University, my honors thesis was ‘Women’s Roles in Right Wing Extremist Groups.” I worked with a sociologist at the University who these groups had come to trust. Without his help, I would have never gained access to these elusive groups. They would have never allowed me entry into their homes without this professor, as they viewed me as a ‘mud person’ because of my Egyptian heritage.
Their views appalled me but I also came to realize that despite our differences, they cared about the same things we all do. They love their kids, their families, their parents, and their friends just as we all do. They want the best life possible just like me. They claimed they were true patriots who love America. On just about every philosophy of life, we differed so I worked to find our similarities and concentrate on those. Because if I didn’t, I couldn’t have stood to be in their midst: I could never wrap my head around how any person or group could hate other groups of human beings for being born the people they are—something none of us have control over.
I still don’t understand how that hate can fester and I probably never will. But I did learn to communicate with people who hold views in diametric opposition to my own.
I met my beloved husband in the fall of 2000, after I had finished graduate school and had moved back to San Francisco. I had spent most of the 1990s in recovery, attending college, and then graduate school. Besides learning psychology and human development, I also learned to love myself. I had been single since my first husband’s death in 1992 and those eight years before meeting Les Tyler were crucial in learning to love myself, which I did with the help of many people and therapy. This journey was amazing: I found that when I opened my heart and soul to change, doors of opportunity swung open. At each crossroad, I seemed to meet just the right person at the right time to help me on the next step of my journey.
My then boyfriend and I were on our first romantic vacation in Hawaii when the horrific events of 9/11 occurred. At once, our vacation changed in dramatic ways. We were six hours behind and had no idea what happened when we started our day. We had planned to fly from Kauai to Honolulu on that day. I turned on the television to check the weather and found a grim faced news anchor warning those in Hawaii to stay away from the airport because of the ‘events that had occurred on the East Coast.’ It baffled me. What could have happened on the East Coast that would affect flying from one Hawaiian island to another? Within minutes, I learned the answer as I watched in horror as a replay of two planes crashed into the twin towers in Manhattan. I turned to Les and said, “Nothing is ever going to be the same again.”
I was right.
After we were able to return to the mainland, we spent a week in San Francisco before Les would have to return to Massachusetts for business there (at that point, I was still a California resident and only occasionally accompanied him on his trips east, which increased as our relationship grew).
One night before he was to return to Boston, we had a dinner where I met one of his company’s highest-level employees. I later learned that Les had even considered him as a potential replacement to him as CEO after he retired. That won’t happen because he no longer works at the company.
After dinner, this employee began attacking all Middle Easterners. I told him that I was half Egyptian and he told me that he hated anyone from the Middle East—that every one of us were against God and Christianity and that he hoped my kind would be eradicated from the earth.
I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to say so I remained silent. I was in shock. His remarks also caught Les off guard; he had no clue that this employee held these deep seated and hateful views. He didn’t know what to say either but each hateful word out of the man’s mouth was like a psychological slap. I sat in silent horror and took this abuse until I could no longer reign in my emotions. I retreated to the bedroom I shared with Les at his company’s apartment and cried my heart out. I knew Les didn’t feel the same but I was stunned that he didn’t come to my defense (as he would on every other occasion that occurred after—the experience had stunned him as well). Les came into the bedroom to check on me and saw how hurt I was. He returned to the living room where I heard muffled, angry words. Les later gave me profuse apologies for putting me in that situation. I didn’t know what to think. I was too shell shocked to sort my feelings out.
After that shocking experience, we both became more vocal about my Middle Eastern heritage. I was proud of it and no one was ever going to reduce me to feeling a ‘lesser’ again. I had come too far for that to happen. I wanted to be a voice for the Middle Eastern community because it is part of me, even though I am not Muslim. I have deep spiritual beliefs but I don’t believe in organized religion. My views result from the best of many religions but most evolved from my friendships with many Native Americans I had grown to love during my college years in Montana. One of the men I have respected most in life was a Crow Medicine Man, whose life made mine look like a picnic. He taught me much about love for oneself and for Mother Earth.
As we speak up for my Egyptian family, who are all Muslim, and for my heritage, there are times I feel the same kind of discrimination I had felt as a child. Nevertheless, far more often I feel loving support from friends and strangers.
Anne Frank was right: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
We must remain vigilant in our messages of love and do our best to cut the malignant growths of cancers that threaten the life of our society. This must come through dialogue and diplomacy and speaking to everyone with respect, no matter how different or abhorrent their views. I did this long ago during that research study on women’s roles in extremist groups.
I encourage everyone who listens to their better angels to do the same. Violence is never the answer. Peace results from love, not hate.
I bid you peace as well.