Courtesy of un.org

Where did you learn to be so accepting?”
The question struck me as I was exiting Strong Auditorium doors after the Matisyahu concert a few weeks ago. It seemed so baffling that I burst out with, “huh?” The inquisitor explained, among other things, his sincere surprise that I am very open to cultures and religions, evidenced by my attending a concert by an Orthodox Jew. Needless to say, he has never set foot in an Arab country and I am the only Arab he has ever seen in his life. All he had was a perceptual image of me (read: my kind), and here I am defying it just by living my ordinary life.
My replacement was already there in his mind: a threatening, narrow-faced, angry-looking fellow with a beard-crowded face. In my basement, I am probably brandishing a weapon to kill the “kafirs” (nonbelievers), fuming hate in my eyes and Allah on my lips. Or perhaps, in the background, there is a porch, a mansion, oil money falling from the sky and many harem maidens shaking their broad hips to some oriental music. The former image is the one someone might see on the news as he sits on the sofa and asked in an American accent, “But, like, seriously though, why are those people always angry?” The latter is the one you often see in Hollywood movies, the latest of which is “The Dictator.” And between this and that lies my truth and their ignorance.
In their perception, I shouldn’t  be  normal or regular. I, an Arab, cannot be inherently tolerant. I must have learned about that foreign, exotic behavior somewhere else. Truth is, this is far from being accurate. Before editing this article, I wrote about how normal my family and neighbors are. I wrote about women who  adore their children and about loving fathers who toil to provide for their families. But I decided against it because I don’t need to justify my normality, nor am I interested in seeking sympathy from readers.
Of course the Arab world is plagued with religious extremism, economic despair, dictatorships, chaos and bloodshed. Of course the Arab world contains people who believe the pyramids of Egypt should be destroyed and who forced 15 school girls to perish in a fire because they were not wearing hijab in Saudi Arabia. But with more than 400 million people spread across 22 countries, each with its own distinct cultural heritage, dialect, traditions and history, the Arab world cannot — and should not — be reduced to a single narrative: that of intolerance, chauvinism and hatred. Prominent Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie posited that “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
I write this article because silence is compliance. I write this article because I do not want Arabs to be projected along only racial and religious lines. I write this because I do not want radicals, dictators and terrorists to write my story and the story of millions of Arabs out there. Reducing the Arab narrative to the radical, the belly dancer and the anti-Semitic is as ridiculous as reducing the American narrative to the Ku Klux Klan movements, Justin Bieber and Girls Gone Wild.
Stereotypes are not only offensive; they are also lazy. They exempt you from any further emotional and mental effort. They cast off holistic and complicated understandings as unnecessary. You don’t have to be intelligent to parrot a stereotype of a fanatic Arab. Stereotypes, as Adichie puts it, make our recognition of equal humanity difficult.
Hassan is a member of the class of 2015.



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