(An open letter to a dear friend in the US)
By Samah Sabawi
I am not an American but I can tell you in a way I know how you feel and I understand those sensitivities you speak of. I am a Palestinian Muslim Woman from Gaza. I know too well the sting of the pain of losing pieces of one’s homeland, watching buildings blow up; landmarks demolished farmlands scorched and people uprooted. My heart is filled with pain over loved ones lost over the years to senseless human violence. But if there is anything I’ve learned in my life it is that wars and terror can take everything you have but only you can actually surrender your principles and your values.
Even though Israel holds my people under siege, even though our loved ones are killed with Israeli fire, even though Israel has committed these acts in the name of the Jewish people, I would never blame all Israelis or all Jews for the actions of the state or the politics of terror. I believe that no people deserve to be painted with one stroke of a brush. I believe in universal values of equality and freedom. I believe in freedom of worship and freedom of speech. I will never surrender my beliefs because that is when I know I’ve lost the battle and lost myself to the violence that surrounds our lives.
My dear friend, you have every right to grieve and to feel the sting of the pain that lingers after the horrific tragedy of 9/11.But I urge you to think of what is at stake. There was a time when the US inspired the world with its values of freedom, democracy and equality. When considering Cordoba mosque in NY these values are under threat.
Ask yourself some difficult questions. Do you believe in guilt by association? Are all Muslims now terrorists? Do you believe in collective punishment? Should the Muslim community in NY forever be asked to pay the price? Do you believe that all citizens are equal in their rights? Do you believe in freedom of religion? Sometimes it is neither easy nor comfortable to stand by what you believe in. Sometimes it takes every ounce of will power to swallow a bitter pill of acceptance in order not to lose ones core values.
The Muslims in that New York neighborhood are Americans just like you and they too have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack. The people who want to warship in that mosque have prayed for the souls of their dead rising from the twin tower ashes. They have carried the scars in their hearts. What happened in Ground Zero is not an exclusive pain and it is not your pain alone!
You too joined the chorus of those who say “just because the Muslims can doesn’t mean they should build the Cordoba center”. Let’s imagine that they don’t. Let’s imagine that they are successfully either bullied or intimidated into halting the project. What kind of statement does this make about the place of Muslims in US society? It is dangerous to allow ourselves to enter this grey area where we say just because the law says something, doesn’t mean that this minority or that minority can do it. This is like saying that just because you have the right doesn’t mean you are entitled to these freedoms.
I will not add my voice to the grey area chorus who say just because they can doesn’t mean they should because saying that means they shouldn’t. I know this slippery slope only too well and its end result is not the kind of society that people who believe in equal humanity want to live in.
My dear friend, I also know you too well to know this is not the kind of society you want either.
With respect and love,
– Samah Sabawi is a writer playwright and poet. She was born in Gaza and is currently residing in Melbourne Australia. She contributed this poem to PalestineChronicle.com.