2016-09-25

On Discrimination, Prejudice, and Ignorance

With the recent refugee wave from countries with a Muslim majority, we have been flooded by a wave of fear-fueled propaganda against them. Muslims treat their women badly. Muslims are violent. Muslims are this, Muslims are that. The Koran says this, the Koran says that. Europe is not what it used to be, it is getting full of Muslims. After living four years in Brussels and dealing with plenty of Moroccans and Turks, these clichés never matched my experience. I teach that science has flourished and been repressed in Muslim and Christian countries at different epochs, so the obstacle has been not so much the religion but how the institutions use a religion. Just like Jihadists use Islam to promote their agenda, you can interpret other texts for your own ends, and then you have Nazism and the KKK. Humanism and reason should be beyond religions. But the Koran says kill all the infidels. And the Bible says kill all the blasphemous. It is true that terrorists groups are using Islam to brainwash terrorists. But these are very similar to the Mexican youth convinced to work and kill for the cartels: no life alternatives, fake goals imposed by the media, no future. It is the conditions, not Islam which breeds assassins.

I would like to share an episode from yesterday. We arrived at Brussels South station, lots of luggage. Took a taxi, the driver suggested to take an alternative route, because of road works. My first thought: he is taking us for a ride to charge more (this not because he was Moroccan, but because that is the cliché of taxi drivers in Mexico), so I was alert on the roads and turns he was taking. Finally arrived at our friends' place, no problem. A couple of hours later, we realized we had left three bags in the taxi's back seat. Again, images of Mexican clichés made me wonder about whether we would see the bags and the precious toys of our daughters within again. So I took a public bike back to the South Station, and told my story in subpar French to other Moroccan drivers. Looking at the roster of drivers of the day and asking about the driver, they started making calls. First one didn't remember, didn't find anything. Second one, no didn't go in our direction. Who else could be? A third one. No. The fourth was the one, Hamid, and he had our bags. Relief. He was on a ride to Charleroi so would take him some time to return, but told me to write his number and call him in an hour. So I waited, called, met him, got the bags. Gave him a banknote as a token of thankfulness, he smiled, told he wasn't necessary, I insisted, and he took it. Then called me back, telling it was too much, that he could give me change. I insisted. He called back, finally offering us a free ride on our way back. I loaded a public bike and rode back to our friends' place, unaffected by the heavy traffic that the road works Hamid warned us about were causing.

Note that not only Hamid was helpful. All the other Moroccan drivers were. They could have been impatient with my French, or rude, or uninterested. But they weren't. They could help me and they did. And this is not surprising because they are Muslim or from Muslim origin. It is not surprising because they are humans. And just like that, we should not be surprised that most people, independently of their origin or religion, will be humanistic and empathic. Unfortunately, depending on the propaganda we are exposed to, we can become intolerant and hateful, and that is why we have had Inquisition, holy wars, and genocides. It is ignorance we must fight against, not any religion or people.


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