In the aftermath of 9-11, I noted two different types of reactions, one defensive, one empathic. The following is an e-mail exchange that I had with some friends. The names have been changed in this account. First is a letter from an Egyptian graduate student who I met in Egypt in June, 2001. I asked her the question that many were asking: "Why do they hate us?". I shared her response, the first e-mail below, with some of my friends and relatives. Several responses, and my reaction to them, follow.
E-mail from A
My response to A
My cousin responds
A friend responds
My response to S
S responds to me
And my response to S
E-mail from A:
How are you? I heard that the new bacteria is making many victims now, it is a very awful thing, just be careful. when I told you that others were encouraged to humiliate us, I meant when it's been broadcasted in the news that, I don't remember, whether the prime minister of Italy or one of the ministers, who said " Islam should be fought to get rid of terrorists". And Israel too and others in some other places but I just don't remember who. I didn't care about the details then, I was just interested in the headlines. Anyway, next morning your president said that Islam and terrorism are not the same thing. But before that declaration all words were coming indirectly to suggest that Moslems were terrorists, until that Italian said it clearly. And when I said I am with Ben laden, I meant that I feel sorry for him, although he's never been an angel. He took a lot of stupid uncivilized decisions like saying that it's religiously forbidden for a woman to go to school, and to men to raise their beards, or to keep the historical status which he has already destroyed a few months ago. But on the other hand he has a point in what he did in N.Y. He was trying to revenge to all those who were innocent when they were murdered in Iraq, Bosnia and particularly in Palestine. Do you know that the USA always uses the VETO in the UN against anything that would help Palestinians? Is this fair? From the very early beginning of America, it always gives itself the right to judge and execute the judgment in very different situations like if there are no other countries exist.
Do you remember erasing the red skins unmercifully from the map of the world and turning them to a history? Do you remember who invented the racial discrimination? Do you remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan? Do you remember Vietnam where you shouldn't have been? Do you remember bombing Cuba? Do you remember bombing Libya? Do you remember bombing the Sudanian hospital? Do you remember the embargoes and airbans on Libya? Do you remember the airbans, which starves children in Iraq? and Now, we should add Afghanistan to the list too.
So, what Usama is doing is a way to make the USA pay back, plead; and feel sorrow as much as they are making others, who are not as half strong as it, sad. He wants you to cry for the same reason people in Iraq, Libya, and Palestine cry; for loosing lovers, friends and families, he wants you to feel unsecured just as much as they do. He is using a very ugly way, but he as well as Palestinians and Iraqis are desperate. They have nothing at all left. At least they don't have a safe place to return to and call it home. They don't have enough food. Their children don't enjoy gardens and toys and mostly don't go to schools. But they only have a cause to fight for, which is justice. Now, I want you to tell me if there is any other way that he could have used to give the message? Conceding that there have been tens of treaties, which are broken and never respected. hundreds of peace talks, which are failed. millions of reports in newspapers and t.v. Asking the world to save nations from being murdered and tortured, with no response. and uncounted number of requests, demands and begging, which are only neglected. Maybe his stupid way to handle it and to give the message wasn't clear, but at least it made you think of why he is making it, And why you are hated in many countries.
I never said that he is innocent, but that doesn't mean that it's America who is. I never said that what he did is right, but that doesn't mean that what America does is the right.
Karen when you are hurt, you fight back and say " an eye for an eye" and when you are desperate, you risk and say, "maybe that would help".
You asked why you are hated. I think now you can understand that it is difficult to fall in love with someone who's not fair with you and make you live to suffer, except if you were masochist.
About your idea, I am very flattered about your opinion of what I write to you and about your suggestions, but I don't think that I am capable of going through it. *First because I don't have a large background about policy to start from. *Second whatever I say represent me alone, or me and the street's man opinion; so it can't be taken into internet where some would think that it represents an idea of the whole country or all Arabs, or all Moslems. *Third, I am not a woman of religion or policy so that I go through the net and argue or spread ideas about any of both. So, my emails are opinions that I share with you, not with the American public. You shouldn't spread them around or forward them to any one, or put them on your web page. But maybe I can translate some important and interesting articles for you from our newspapers from time to time. But I would suggest that you would forward only this e- mail just to answer the American popular question about why are you hated? Maybe it would help people to think before they judge.
Hear from you soon,
>So, what Usama is doing is a way to make the USA pay back, plead; and fell sorrow as much as they are making others, who are not as half strong as it, sad. He wants you to cry for the same reason people in Iraq, Libya, and Palestine cry; for loosing lovers, friends and families, he wants you to feel unsecured just as much as they do.
He has succeeded very well in this. When I was in Egypt, Dr. P drove me to Luxor. Perhaps you heard the story: we had a hard time getting from Port Safaga to Luxor because the police would not let Dr. P drive me there unless it was in a convoy for foreigners. Dr. P tried to convince the police to let us go because he said I would go home and tell people how difficult it is to travel around Egypt. But the police would not be persuaded.
I appreciate that the police in your country were trying to protect tourists from terrorists, because tourism is a very important industry for you. Actually, I do not complain about the police insisting on protecting me. But it saddens me that your country must spend money to do this, when that money might be spent helping the Egyptian people who have little and are struggling to make a living. They are the ones who may find terrorism to be the only solution to their problems.
Ironically, the US is now becoming more like Egypt. We are spending billions of dollars to protect ourselves from more terrorism by adding extra security to airports and important buildings, and by checking all mail very carefully Not to mention all the money that we are spending to try to find Ben Laden and his followers while killing innocent Afghanis! Meanwhile universities are cutting back on faculty and staff, agricultural education programs are being cut, student costs are going up, etc. Air travel is greatly reduced because many people are afraid to fly, and hotels and restaurants in New York and other tourist places are suffering. Tourist travel to places like Egypt has probably gone way down as well. So, we are suffering, but I expect that Egypt will also be hurt in the long-run by the terrorist attack, rather than helped.
What do you think? Are there ways that things have improved in Egypt because of the attack on Sept. 11? Are there ways that life has become more difficult for you and the people that you know?
>Karen when you are hurt, you fight back and say " an eye for an eye" and when you are desperate, you risk and say, "maybe that would help".
>You asked why you are hated. I think now you can understand that it is difficult to fall in love with someone who's not fair with you and make you live to suffer, except if you were masochist.
When you write me about the frustration and anger of your people, I think about you and ask what can be done to help?
When terrorists kill people, their victims focus on protecting themselves, and on revenge. The Sept. 11 terrorists wanted revenge. Now people in the US talk just like the terrorists, of protection and revenge. I prefer the power of the pen to get us thinking, not about ourselves and how we have been wronged (any of us), but about the other and how they can be helped.
It seems to me that the power of Islam (or any other religion) to unite people should come from the love of God, not from the hate of others who have wronged them. If we all focus on the love of God perhaps we can stop hating each other.
You say that the terrorists did what they did because "they don't have a safe place to return to and call it home. They don't have enough food. Their children don't enjoy gardens and toys and mostly don't go to schools. ..."
Do you think this situation will improve by killing Americans? What positive alternatives are there? Are there ways that people of your country and mine could work together to so that the people of the middle east have safe homes, enough food, can go to school, and have gardens and toys?
> So, my emails are opinions that I share with you, not with the American public.
I will respect your request.* Our correspondence will be just between you and me, except that I will share this e-mail with a few friends and relatives who will appreciate hearing your answer to the question that so many people are asking ourselves these days. I think that the most important thing that can bring peace to the world is for people from different places to get to know each other on a personal level.
I also think that your thoughts are very valuable even if you are not an expert on policy or religion. You can express those thoughts very well. In a democracy like ours, everybody's thoughts are considered valuable. We are encouraged to express them. Your ability to do so in English as well as Arabic is a gift. Use your gift, and use it wisely
* With apologies to A for going back on my word, because I think that anyone who reads this correspondence will find food for thought.
My cousin responds:
Thanks so much for the letter from A. It was very powerful. I'm certainly grateful that she consented to you sharing it with others. I agree with much of what she says. My dearest wish is that the horrendous events ofSeptember 11th will be turned into some positive action and will bring greater understanding among all people. It's a very complicated problem but we must keep trying and must never give up. You are lucky to have A to talk to.
A friend responds:
Karen my dear,
In response to your pen-pal I submit the following article from the NYTimes. In response to your pen-pal: she may find reasons (or excuses) to dislike the U.S. Surely you and I are not to blame for issues like the treatment of Indians (neither of us had ancestors here 100 years ago) nor the stupidity of Vietnam (Which we both opposed). Hiroshima? What was the alternative? I believe that the real problem comes from using all-inclusive words like "always takes the side of Israel" or "never helps the Palestinians." Funny world ain't it, how that old jewish guy Henry K, spent months shuttling between Israel and Egypt brokering a deal that allowed this woman to live in relative peace. Hmmm.
Exploring the Flaws in the Notion of the 'Root Causes' of TerrorNovember 17, 2001 By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
It is worth thinking about just what premises about terrorism and fundamentalism lie behind these arguments about their root causes.
My response to S:
Yes, and Sadat was assassinated for his role in that peace agreement.
If I forward your response to A, do you care to know her response? Or are you content to demonstrate my point that most Americans "are ignorant of other cultures, and don't see the biases in their own culture"? Have you noticed that your response is basically defensive and shows no interest in trying to understand a different world view?
As for Rothstein's article, I see his point that the terrorists are trying to destroy those who disagree with them, and that intolerance is the root cause of terrorism. But can you understand that from the Muslim point of view, we are doing the same every time a civilian is killed in Afghanistan? Never mind defending our past actions. How do you defend our current actions to the man on the street in Egypt? Or more importantly, to a unique, bright, and talented young graduate student who speaks fluent English and who is forming opinions and making decisions that will determine the direction of the rest of her life?
My Dear Miss Strickler;
I believe you have reached a multitude of inaccurate conclusions. Perhaps I can clarify: After the 9/11 attacks, I saw a number of responses which tended to find fault with the US and show why this country "deserved" the violent events that occurred that day. Those included the likes of Ayatolla Jerry Fallwell, Bill Clinton, and lesser University professors. If Ms. A wishes to fall in step with those who would seek a simple and wrong reason for those events, she is welcome. The real reason for the events of 9/11 was the cumulative actions by one tall, very wealthy, political opportunist. He was successful in rallying numerous poorly educated religious zealots in a Jihad (you could use the word Crusade) against the wealthiest profligate state. It is certainly a common event in history. My sending you the NYTimes article was an attempt to defuse a little of the "Blame Game" which seemed to be part of Ms. A's response. Please ask her if she thinks that the Afghan women are better off for the US presence.
As to the whether I fall into that category of those who "are ignorant of other cultures, and don't see the biases in their own culture.." Oh Pu-lease, Miss Strickler. I doubt if you know another human who has had as much experience as I have, in traveling with, speaking with, and pestering foreigners, both in their country and in mine, about "cultural". The overwhelming majority of those folks expressed a positive attitude towards this country [and they are probably attracted to all the things in this country that I dislike.] The few natives of Moslem countries may have expressed a distaste for the US policy of coddling of Israel, but then so do I.
The word "culture" in this case, I believe, refers to "cultural values". My own personal cultural values stem from an attraction to Eudemonia-happiness rightly derived from a life of logic and reason. As such, I have a definite prejudice against cultures where religion is a prime political and coercive factor. I doubt if you believe that "understanding" other cultures equates with "condoning " other cultures.
Best wishes for a Rational Universe,
And my response to S:
> My Dear Miss Strickler;
That's Ms. or Dr. Strickler, if you please. Or Karen will do.
> I believe you have reached a multitude of inaccurate conclusions. Perhaps I can clarify: After the 9/11 attacks, I saw a number of responses which tended to find fault with the US and show why this country "deserved" the violent events that occurred that day. ...
> Best wishes for a Rational Universe,
S, you are the one who is reaching "a multitude of inaccurate conclusions". You are missing my point. My point has nothing to do with the details of what you write, but in the approach of your response, in the overall question that you are addressing. Your wife called it "a gender thing". I agree with her in part, but more to the point it is a matter of what I call "empathy" vs. what you call rationality. To some extent this is gender related, but there are a few men out there with well developed empathy, and lots of women without it, so the gender connection is a matter of different averages in populations that broadly overlap (as I explained in our conversation over pizza in Sept.), and societal expectations of gender.
Try this. I'm taking this from a chapter called "Procedural knowledge: Separate and Connected Knowing", in Belenky et al. 1986. Women's Ways of Knowing, Basic Books, Inc.
(Two quotes at the beginning of the chapter)
"I never take anything someone says for granted. I just tend to see the contrary. I like playing the devil's advocate, arguing the opposite of what somebody's saying, thinking of exceptions to what the person has said, or thinking of a different train of logic" - a college sophomore
"When I have an idea about something, and it differs from the way another person is thinking about it, I'll usually try to look at it from the person's point of view, see how they could say that, why they think that they're right, why it makes sense." - a college sophomore.
(From the chapter text:)
"At the heart of separate knowing is critical thinking, or as Peter Elbow (1973) puts it, 'the doubting game.' Elbow, a teacher of writing...appends his essay on the believing game and the doubting game to a book about writing. ...
"As Elbow says, the doubting game involves "putting something on trial to see whether it is wanting or not. Presented with a proposition, separate knowers immediately look for something wrong - a loophole, a factual error, a logical contradiction, the omission of contrary evidence. ...
"In general, few of the women we interviewed, even among the ablest separate knowers, found argument - reasoned critical discourse - a congenial form of conversation among friends. The classic dormitory bull session, with students assailing their opponents' logic and attacking their evidence, seems to occur rarely among women, and teachers complain that women students are reluctant to engage in critical debate with peers in class, even when explicitly encouraged to do so. Women find it hard to see doubting as a "game"' they tend to take it personally. Teachers and fathers and boyfriends assure them that arguments are not between persons but between positions, but the women continue to fear that someone may get hurt..."
"Connected knowers develop procedures for gaining access to other people's knowledge. At the heart of these procedures is the capacity for empathy. Since knowledge comes from experience, the only way they can hope to understand another person's ideas is to try to share the experience that has led the person to form the idea. A college senior, discussing The Divine Comedy with us, said, '... I tend to try and read the mind of the author and ask 'Why did he write that? What was happening to him when he wrote that?'.
"Connected knowers know that they can only approximate other people's experiences and so can gain only limited access to their knowledge. ... Elbow (1973) calls this procedure the 'believing game,' and he says it is very hard to play. Although it may be difficult for men, many women find it easier to believe than to doubt. An undergraduate we interviewed said "I'm not superanalytic. It's easy for me to take other people's points of view. It's hard for me to argue, because I feel like I can understand the other person's argument. It's easy for me to see a whole lot of different points of view on things and to understand why people think those things.'..."
So, now S, if you still have the previous e-mails in this thread, please re-read them, and see if you can pick out who is approaching the issue as a doubter and who as a believer?
Note, S, that the rationality of your argument depends on your explaining to me the context of your response: "After the 9/11 attacks, I saw a number of responses which tended to find fault with the US and show why this country "deserved" the violent events that occurred that day. Those included the likes of Ayatolla Jerry Fallwell, Bill Clinton, and lesser University professors. ..." In other words, you were responding to something more than A's e-mail, something that neither she nor I could have known about without you explaining it. Does it not follow that A's opinions may be perfectly rational in the context of her experience, if only we knew what it was?
The believing game seeks to find out what that experience is before judging it. The doubting game seeks to find the loopholes in the argument, never mind the context. In my opinion, neither approach is superior to the other. Both are necessary for people to come to an understanding of each other. Personally, I don't want to live in a purely "rational universe". I'd rather have a universe where reason and emotion interact, where emotions are understood and appreciated, and where everyone knows how to deal with emotions constructively.
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