How fear can change a worldview, and not for the better
For so many years, Iran was the outline of the country, alongside Iraq or Afghanistan, on the news. Red arrows pointed in directions of how our troops were moving through and removing the regime of the dictator Saddam Hussein. Their stories were tales of extreme Islamic terrorists, terrorism, and how if we didn’t protect ourselves by hurting them, we’d be next.
I never understood, nor did I ever support, the idea that someone born in the Middle East was more dangerous and therefore someone to be feared. I noticed the hollow eyes of the children my age (then in third through sixth grade) looking through the news crew camera at me. I noticed we were nearly the same skin color and I thought, “They’re people God loves; why should wasting their lives be better?”
But I watched “Iron Man” when it came out, and took for granted the desolate rocky landscape, the harsh notes of the Arabic language and the gunfire. I saw the ads making “Arabian” women “exotic” in it, as seen in many other movies, TV shows, and ads, using traditional and cultural symbols to either promote this idea of a violent savage or a lush delicacy to be desired.
I didn’t expect to have my world rocked by two gentlemen in front of me one Friday.
Again, I’ve met, interacted with, and shared meals with Persians, Iranians, and other Middle Eastern families, thanks to my father having a multitude of multicultural friends (yes folks, soccer is an international sport). My brain, however, saw these families as the exceptions to the rule. They were in America. Therefore, they were more American, and less of the country they came from.
Back to these two gentlemen. They were in class to talk about how they’d come from the country of Iran–how the sociocultural and political landscape was so tumultuous that one faced jail for an anti-government statement slogan on Facebook, and the other escaped because he desired to live in a country that didn’t threaten curiosity with a gun.
These men risked their lives on rafts, crossing open ocean for nine days, all to reach safety, and now they face the incredible task of attempting to obtain not refugee status, not work permits, but the ability to have permanent residency in Australia.
They were–obviously–some of the most human people I’ve ever met. Yet in my mind, I’d allowed my culture to shape my perception of these beautiful, loved by God people steeped in a culture hundreds of years older than ours.
I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and sorrow. Grace given, I was a child and easily shaped, but for years, I’d had a perception dictated only by people who had no interest in the heart of Iranians (and no, they are not Iraqis. There is a HUGE difference!
Random but relevant story– The other night, walking down the street back to my house, I saw what I thought was a stick in between the street lamps. The closer I got, the longer it grew in my eyes until I saw a beady little eye and a small tongue flicking out to catch my scent. An internal shriek and short sprint later, I realized my understanding of Australia –the land of poisonous and deadly things–had me gone out of ever knowing what that snake was, whether it was poisonous or not, and whether it was aggressive or not. While I was safe, I’d lost an opportunity to have an experience. Yeah, it was dark, and yeah, I am not an ophiologist, but still; opportunity gone.
The next few nights I did a hybrid of high knees and ground pounding (vibrations scare snakes, not noises) as I walked down that street, but I quickly realized my encounter directly dictated my behavior. Although the snake didn’t attack me, and although I haven’t seen any since, my knowledge of what a snake can do, and the fact I was unexpectedly brought face to face with one, sprouted fear and effectively changed how I behaved and perceived that particular section of road.
did some rabbit-trail thinking about how I got to my “understanding” of their culture after they had gone – trying to understand how I could be so subconsciously two-faced. As an American, I know and remember 9/11. I allowed the idea of men in turbans (Muslims) or women in burkas were unknowable, alien, not like us, radically different, and strange.
Fear of 9/11, the wars in the Middle East, and terrorist attacks have given us an out for looking at the effects of what a few have done, resulting in a judgment of those who we don’t give a second thought to.
As followers of Christ, brothers and sisters, is it not our job to see the person, the created? Why do we spit in the face of a culture that cherishes the importance of family? Hospitality? Along with so many other things that yes, I still don’t know or understand.
Here’s my point: if we’re to make a ruling on a group of people based on the actions of a few, are we truly looking at these people and giving them a chance to be understood, acknowledged and loved? Are we letting fear of a possible outcome stop us from loving our neighbor?
These two men forced me to confront an worldview fed to me and made from fear.
I leave you with a challenge. Today, tomorrow, the next – go talk to someone you have a misconception about. Start a conversation, invest in a new group of people. We’re here to spread the gospel to people, and to love our neighbor. Let’s not forget that and let fear do our thinking for us.