“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.” – Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
I remember September 11th like it was yesterday. I was a student at the American University campus in Washington D.C. As students hovered over the small television watching the twin towers fall, tears rolled down my face. “Utter cruelty” I thought to myself. More difficult was the realization that this vicious act was done by “Muslims”.
“This simply can’t be” I thought to myself, no person of faith can deliberately kill in the name of God! But then again, history is full of stories of “religious” Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jewish people killing innocent civilians in the name of “God”.
While majority of Muslims condemned the 9/11 attacks, unfortunately many Americans continued to view Muslims not Al-Qaeda as the enemy.
Last July, I was in Abyan province in Yemen, and I visited families of civilian casualties of the “War on Terror”. These families had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda or the Yemeni military, yet US drones and Yemeni aircraft hit their homes and killed or wounded their family members.
Hearing their stories, and seeing the photos of those killed reminded me of that feeling I had when I saw the plane hit the twin towers. Once again I felt horrified and thought to myself “Utter cruelty”.
The effects of the global war on terror are far reaching. No matter who the perpetrator is, murder and death of civilians can not be justified. Every individual that was killed unjustly should be honored, and their tragedy remembered. Simultaneously, the politics that indiscriminately kills innocent people should be criticized. This policy is counter-productive and fuels hates and keeps societies in a cycle of violence.
The anti-American sentiment that is rising in Yemen, reminds me of the anti-Islam sentiment that swept and continues to spread in the U.S. These reactionary feelings are a product of internalizing political differences and forgetting the humanity that we share.
The policies of the “War on Terror” are often very divisive. And helps promote hatred, and continues the cycle of violence. The War on Terror has also made my job of trying to “bridge the gap” between “East & West” a more difficult one.
While I am very vocal about my concerns regarding both the policies of the Yemeni and American government, visa-vi the “War on Terror”, I am also very vocal that politics is one thing, human beings are another. We should not put both in one camp.
As a person who spent a significant amount of my life in both worlds (US & Yemen) I find it easy to float between one or the other. In each place I go, I attempt to deconstruct some of the images people have of the OTHER.
For example, in Yemen I tell people stories about Muslims in America who didn’t have a mosque near by, so members of a church offered them space to perform Friday prayer there. Then I watch their shocked eyes. It seems what I said was jaw-dropping. So I continue: “America is not only what you see in Hollywood movies.”
In the US, I tell people how Yemenis love to host foreigners and despite misconceptions, majority of Yemenis do not like AQAP. Again I see people’s jaws drop from shock. I continue: “Yemen is not only what you read about in your news feed”.
We can not let politicians drive us away from our shared humanity.
We need to remember that we are more alike than different. As a reminder of that, here are 10 silly facts to remind us of our similarities:
- Both countries have talented sportsmen with skills for high jumping. In Yemen the camel jumping tradition, and in the US the “slam dunking” tradition.
- Both countries have very low percentage of women in Parliament/Congress. Women hold 90, or 16.8%, of the 535 seats in the 112th US Congress — 17, or 17.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 73, or 16.8%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In Yemen the number of women in parliament fell from 11 in 1993 to only 1 in 2003. (but there is a high chance it will increase to 30% with a quota that women are currently pushing for).
3. Both countries love their STARS. Starbuger in Yemen and Starbucks in the U.S.
4. The death penalty is legal in both countries. And large groups in the population support the death penalty, despite the efforts of human rights activists for reform.
5. Both societies have their own popular political satire show. Daily Show in the US, Aakis Khat (against the Current) in Yemen.
6. Average citizens in both countries are very friendly and very welcoming.
7. In both countries the Military Budget as percentage of GDP is very high: US its 4.060%, Yemen 6.600% 
8. Both societies love movies. Hollywood makes movies, Yemenis sell the latest movies in every corner, sometimes before they’re even released in the U.S.!
9. In both countries, if you have money you can get proper health care, if you don’t, your screwed.
10. U.S. & Yemen both lead the world in guns