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Dear Israel

Dear Israel,

Sit down and grab a cup of coffee. Lets talk.

You’ve definitely seen better days. Times when the world was with you, when you had a massive reservoir of goodwill to rely on for a good night’s sleep, and when it would have been absurd and unthinkable for anyone to view you as a liability instead of an asset. You had no need to sell your story to the world, no need to run costly, complex, and constantly shifting PR wars of attrition –  and definitely no need to tell anyone why you exist or what you stand for.

Those days are now seemingly as distant as the signs of any rain over the Arava Valley.

I’d be lying if I said I felt no twinge of pity for you, no ray of compassion, or no desire to help. Regardless of the current geopolitical situation, I am still human, and so are the inhabitants of your cities and of your nation. I would be less of a man if I kicked dirt in your face while you were down, and even less of a human being if I didn’t offer my hand to help you get back up.

Let me tell you about myself – and by extension, the countless number of my Muslim cohorts who see you through similar eyes.

I’m 29. I was born in Canada, and raised in both Canada and the USA. I’ve lived all over, from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea, from the mountains to the cities. I can recite both the Canadian national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance in my sleep. I’m so Canadian even my blood cells are red and white. Naming all states and provinces along with their capitals is a snap. I was educated here in North America, and amongst my friends I count all sorts of religions and ethnicities. As a child and even to this day, American staples such as Coke, pizza, pasta, fries and burgers were all a regular part of my diet. I prefer brown-eyed brunettes but blondes are cool too. Jeans and a t-shirt is what you’ll find me in on a nice summer day, and if I had a guitar, you might find me on the porch late in the afternoon, strumming a slow tune. Affinity for motorcycles runs deep in my family, and I admit a weakness for the larger Harley-Davidson cruisers. I make and laugh at the same jokes as John and Jane Doe do. Travolta, Crowe, Washington, and Smith are some of my favorite actors. I grew up listening to Guns N’ Roses, U2, Greenday, Jay-Z, Evanescence, Coldplay, Tiesto, and more.

But I also grew up listening to Sudais and Shuraim in the van when my hijab-wearing mom came to pick me up from school. Those are two well-known reciters of the Qur’an from Saudi. I grew up praying five times a day like many observant Muslims all around the world. I still ride my bike to the masjid as much as I can for congregational prayer. I abstain from alcohol, smoking, pork, and a host of other dietary choices that Muslims generally find unwholesome. I fast observantly during Ramadan, and not just because it helps increase my self-control and patience, but also because I need my Lord’s mercy. My three sisters all wear modest clothing and hijab, and yet they all excel in their academic, professional, and social lives just like their non-Muslim counterparts.

You might call my kind of Muslim a shumali Muslim. That’s short for “Shumali Amreeka“, meaning “North America” in Arabic. But it has less to do with geography and more with our global outlook. We have one foot firmly and comfortably in our religion and cultures of our parents’ generation, and the other foot firmly in the culture of our lands of birth – North America and Europe. On my bookshelf you’ll find the latest copies of GQ, the Economist, and National Geographic stacked right next to copies of Quranic exegesis, Hadith compilations and the works of Ghazali or Iqbal.

I’m telling you all this so that perhaps you might realize the skies aren’t so dark as they seem and you may have unlikely allies in places you never thought to look.

Just as much as my Western friends abhor the thought of stifling free speech, I too similarly abhor the thought of telling someone how to do their job. I generally keep quiet unless asked, and even when my advice is solicited I keep it restrained. So please forgive me if I keep the following relatively brief – it is not my job to tell you this but given the extreme circumstances in the world today, remaining silent on such matters would mean being an accessory to grave crimes, at best, and a willing participant at worst.

Its about creating a stable and lasting peace between you and your Arab and Muslim neighbors, and in turn, with the rest of the world. And maybe getting a good night’s sleep along with it all.

President Obama may be a good man, but he and his team don’t know how to do this job. His administration as well as the previous one tried various attempts at public diplomacy and outreach attempts with the Muslim world, but their failure was due to an appalling lack of understanding the target market and key drivers. Muslims are human beings like any other people. We have the same comparable tolerances to hunger and thirst, to heat and cold, to pain and pleasure. We want peace and security, to have good health and decent jobs, to have opportunities for better education and to raise good families, and so on. And we certainly don’t want eternal war with an ideological adversary and believe me, I have no intent or desire to push you into the sea, or to see others do it to you.

While we do not equate the desire for peace with weakness or lack of resolve, we do grow tired of war just like everyone else. Omar, the famous caliph who presided over the first Muslim conquest of Jerusalem was known for desiring peace with the Persians, with whom we were at war with. He often stated his desire for a “mountain of fire” between the Muslims and Persians, just so that there would be a cessation of conflict. Nor was he known as a weak ruler. His moral integrity and physical prowess were unquestionable, as was his commitment to social justice.

So what’s the solution?

I and many of my colleagues have no qualms about accepting Israel as a Jewish state where it currently is with a certain condition which I believe you might find more palatable than those that are currently on your plate: that you rule with fairness and justice.

That’s all.

Stay as you are. Heck, incorporate Gaza and the West Bank into Israel proper as their own provinces with provincial legislatures and police forces. Tell the settlers to stay where they are and tell them to stand down and put those guns away. But treat your Palestinian citizens as just that – as citizens and human beings worthy of the same standards of living as you give to everyone else in Israel. Let them become productive and responsible members of your society, just as we let you be such members of Muslim states and empires of the past. Your state need not lose its Jewish identity. Jerusalem can remain your capital, as long as you allow pilgrims of all faiths to visit as they please, and you hold both Arab and Jewish citizens to the same standards when it comes to housing or jobs – standards based on merit and not on religion or ethnicity. Become the true Middle Eastern democracy you so fervently wish to be. Set the standards for others in the region to follow.

If you do this, then not only will you achieve peace but you’ll find Muslims like me to be that hidden ace up your sleeve – we desire peace, and we have the deep knowledge and skill to evangelize on your behalf to the rest of the Muslim world in a manner far more effective and skillful than any US Administration could ever dream about.

Let’s talk.

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One Response

  1. Elena Gervais says:

    I love you …

    haha. And so I have found yet one more Arab with his head on right.

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