I grew up in a desert in the United States. I grew up — removed from conflict and war; removed from fear of demolishment and becoming extinct. I grew up far away from hate, and yes, I grew up lucky.
If you want to know more, with a Lebanese family that emigrated to the US in the 70s, I also grew up in the beauty of Arabic culture. My grandparents came from the mountains outside of Beirut. When they made the decision to flee from hatred in the 70s, they welcomed life in a new land with a new culture surrounding them. They welcomed the comfort that their children would be safe. Instead, they would raise them in the light of their roots. They would grow up dancing to the music of Fairuz. To the smell of olives smothered in lebane melting against warm pita. They would grow up to the coos and expressions of love in Arabic, and they would grow up in peace.
Thanks to my mother’s and grandmother’s influence, we grew up in this Arabic light too. Our ears heard its language in its lullabies and whispers. Our mouths tasted its cuisine almost three times a day. Our eyes saw its gold and embellishments - its people and their houses adorned with what their culture has deemed precious.
And in this, our hearts have always been hungry for her: an Arab-ness associated with beauty and love—something so wonderfully positive. Our people’s special sparkle that colors our humanity. Every soul on this Earth knows their own.
As we grew older, there was a moment where we came to understand that destruction and conflict also associate themselves with the Middle East. They told us the stories of my family’s people and their city: demolished and rebuilt, demolished and rebuilt…and that it was by the hands of neighbors and friends and people they loved. They told us that many of those people were lost since, and we also lost a little bit of our childhood each time we heard about it.
It happens, where your innocence starts to dim and the sparkle of your roots turns dull. Negativity can be overpowering if you allow it to be — but we were also taught to believe that tragedy is not meant to overtake us.
As many have heard and even witnessed, there are more mothers in the Middle East who are losing their children this month. People are dividing themselves further again because of it, fueled by a hate for the other. The ones who caused it all.
Some moment along the way, they chose to ignore that these are women and families that all know what it means to love their children. Actually, the situation is so dire that the mothers have even begun to ignore it themselves. They’ve begun to ignore the fact that they both know what it is to wrap their arms around their sons. To smile when they are filled with honest pride for them. To taste the same sweet food with them. To dance to music that makes them dream together. They’ve made the decision to focus on the hatred that surmounted in the tragedy; they’ve dehumanized the other. It’s what their world has told them to do, and they have allowed it to happen.
Despite popular belief, hate has no religion. It does not come from politics, from occupied land, or from death. Hate is a faceless, culture-less, human decision. Hate is a focus. “The other” — no matter what his roots — can only be separated by a focus on hatred and darkness. It’s the same poison that will not only continue to divide the Middle East, but if you so choose, it can divide you from your friends and fathers and sisters and brothers. You from your children. You — from cultures and people around the world that you choose to denounce because you think they are different. Hatred is a poison that can separate all of us, even though we all hold the power to prosper through humanity.
What would we be without hatred? How would people in the Middle East and other parts of the world live without the prospect of war? The beautiful sparkle of our culture is losing focus. There are people who have welcomed hate and made it contagious.
In thinking through all of this, I heard a voice. Today’s conventional voice that interrupted and told me that maybe I should just keep quiet, because it’s not my place. It’s not my place to speak above the endless suffering others have been through. To understand that love and light feel impossible in the face of so much hatred, death and war. It’s not my place, because I did not grow up to know what that’s like. Instead, I grew up lucky.
And even though it’s not my place, I want the world to know that I grew up with the perspective that light and love can be real for everyone, no matter where you come from. That happiness can be achieved with compassion and that we can shift our focus from gunpowder to zaytoon. From bullet fire to the strum of the oud, the same one that makes all of these Arabs and Jews and Christians — all of these humans — dance and celebrate that they’re alive and that they’re alive together.
To be human: it is the overpowering similarity that will never die, no matter how many of ourselves we try to kill. Those who continue to accept hatred will taint their children and the lives ahead of them. They will distort the vows of their religions; they will make life impossible.
I think it is my place to fight for the beauty of our humanity. That despite faiths that may not be mine, with laws and practices I will never know — that despite our differences we can all know what it means to prosper. And we can change—we can choose to grow up in the light of our humanity. We can change to value the life and light of others. We can change our focus so that love of life overrides differences in faith and in land. We can prosper in our sparkle, and we can live in peace.
Every moment is another opportunity to turn it all around and uncover our humanity again, together.