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September 14, 2012 / calebdresser

An Open Letter to the People of the Muslim World

I cannot speak for anyone but myself. This is what I wish to say.

To the Libyans protesting against the killings in Benghazi, thank you. You have been heard, and we recognize how much courage it takes to apologize on an international stage while gunmen watch from the sidelines. To the local soldiers and police fighting to protect our embassies in Sana’a and Cairo and elsewhere, thank you. You have put aside whatever private anger you may harbor in order to help us. To Muslims everywhere who recognized that a malicious video does not represent the beliefs of most Americans, thank you. You are able to recognize extremists when you see them, something we must both grow better at doing.

You have your radicals; we have ours. The radicals get all the attention; as a result, we must learn to separate these individuals from the larger mass of our respective societies. Our responsibility is two-fold: we must work to contain their effects within our own countries and – much more difficult – we must learn to look at one another and see people, not headlines written about madmen.

If I were to take the headlines I read as the whole truth – which some Americans do – I would be fooled into thinking that the Muslim world was a cauldron of violence whose people were dangerous and wholly opposed to my way of life. This is an image that is just as inaccurate as that espoused by some members of your societies, who see America as seeking to corrupt and destroy your way of life. These misperceptions frighten me, for they are in large part invented fears that have come to hold a central place in determining the course of events on a global scale.

What gives me hope is the fact that, with the exception of a handful of extremists who grab headlines, we are decent people – whatever our faith. Here in America, I have been fortunate to share classrooms and restaurants and dinner parties with people of every faith and to learn from their stories.

Though I am not a Muslim, I have had the privilege of living in Muslim countries and learning that you, like most of my fellow Americans, are people with whom I am genuinely glad to share this world. On the edge of a park in Sumbawa, you took the time out of your day to make sure that I, a total stranger, was safe and happy. On a train in India, you found me and returned a camera worth more than your salary for a month. In a restaurant in Dubai, you sat beside me because I looked lonely, though neither of us could speak a word in the other’s language. On a heavily mined ridge in the Horn of Africa, you showed me where to place my feet, and all day you lugged a rifle through the glaring sunlight to make sure I was safe.

We are not crazy. Neither are you. True, there are many details we disagree about, but by and large we all want to live honest, peaceful lives. We want the freedom to follow our beliefs and conduct our affairs in accordance with our religious, ethical, and cultural convictions. Some of these beliefs do conflict – we are committed to freedom of speech, even as you are committed to the inviolability of name of the Prophet Muhammad – but even this is not insurmountable. While we cannot apologize for our belief in the importance of a free society, we can express our tremendous sorrow at the fact that someone chose to abuse this freedom in a way that did you harm.

We have had our differences of opinion, our arguments in sidewalk cafes and hospital corridors, but even when you have been very angry at what America is doing, you have never once blamed me.  When American aircraft attacked targets – people – a few hundred miles to our south, you took the time to translate the news for me before explaining how upset you were. We had tea together the next morning as friends.

You have had the integrity to see me as a person, as a well-meaning member of a fallible society, and even as I recognize that your societies are also fallible, you have earned my respect. It is my hope that we as Americans can continue to deserve yours, and that you will give it freely. My belief is that this will only be possible if we can learn to see one another as individuals, rather than stereotypes, on both sides of the walls that extremists seek to build between us.

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3 Comments

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  1. Lydia / Sep 14 2012 1:20 am

    I couldn’t be more proud to know you and call you my friend…..and partial son.

  2. Paul / Sep 14 2012 5:54 am

    …dangerous…destructive and delusional – the history of ‘islam’ – now JESUS…HE had something real!!!

  3. minstrelm3 / Sep 14 2012 11:56 pm

    These words are wise and good. Thank you for writing about the big framework of these things. Thank you for illustrating your experiences and hopefulness with the details you have described, including some of the kind Muslims whom you have met. Thank you for saying so clearly that crazy people do not represent most people, and we can be very sad and sorry that crazy people have done hurtful things. I can feel hopeful in part because so many people whom I know in your generation, Caleb, are good friends across religious and cultural lines. Thank you for writing.

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