Last Monday I was stationed to do my 27 months of Peace Corps service in Azerbaijan, where the dominant religion is Islam. People have been very quick to judge the citizens of Azerbaijan, saying that they are probably anti-Semites and I must be careful not to reveal to anyone that I am Jewish. ""Why would the Peace Corps send you to a Muslim country? Don't they know that you're Jewish?"" one person asked me. They continued to talk to me as if my religion would stop me from going.
However, my religion is absolutely irrelevant to my decision. It has become apparent to me that religion causes many problems and prejudices in people because they do not fully understand what they are judging.
Islam derives from the same basic beliefs as Christianity and Judaism. To overly simplify (and certainly not do the religion much justice), the deviation is that they believe that the Koran is the main book to follow, whereas in Christianity it is the Bible and in Judaism, the Torah. The three religions are like side streets that all swerve off of a main road. But people are so stubborn in their beliefs and insistence in their doctrines that they can only see that they have a different street name, they ignore the fact that they share the same root.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans were so distraught that they seemed to stop caring about the slight variations at all. The media flashed the foreign faces of Muslims and the news stories of terrorists accompanied them so people internalized the connection.
Muslim women are judged and often discriminated against when they are behind a veil or dressed in a conservative manner that suggests their religion. People say it is the fear of the unknown, especially when you can not see most of a woman's face if she is wearing a veil. Those are thinly veiled prejudices. Some women judge other women for wearing a veil and covering their bodies. They say that these women are oppressed and not allowed freedom. Those people need to take a look at their own culture. Being expected to flaunt and reveal your breasts and buttocks is not freedom; it is oppression.
Clearly, every culture has pros and cons and oppressive states. Unfortunately, that is just another thing that levels the field and makes us all human. Every country and community has its astounding flaws, but they also have their awesome goodness that often gets trampled on by the news of the extreme.
What people need to remember is that not all Muslim people are extremists. Surely, the extremists get all of the publicity. What if the only media portrayal of Christians was of Fundamentalists? Their pushy antics and total rejection of other beliefs would put people to shame. What if most people accepted the notion that most Catholics were child molesters?
Those are the behaviors of the worst of the worst, but they do not represent the wide span of people who ascribe to those beliefs. You wouldn't want a foreigner to think that all Americans are like George W. Bush, so why would you accept the idea that all Muslim people are terrorists or anti-Semites?
People forget that we are all united in our humanity. The laughter of a child is the same in every language. The human rollercoaster of emotions is felt by everyone. We are all basically the same; people are people. Yes, we think differently, but that makes things more interesting. Even people in the same family can have vastly different outlooks on life; but we don't make generalizations about them and the ways they think because we know them personally. The dehumanization of Muslims needs to stop and the quickest way to arrest this ignorant view is to always keep in mind that they are people too. We are united in our humanity and no difference in belief or culture can ever change that.
-ÿAlexandria Kassman is a Spanish and creative writing senior. She can be reached at email@example.com.