Written by Mariem ELTagoury
Yet here’s a spot.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.
The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?—What, will these hands ne’er be clean?—No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting.
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1
It’s been 40 days since the two suicide bombers targeted two churches in Egypt. The first targeted St. George’s Church in Tanta, which exploded inside the church; the second target was St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, where the bomb exploded in the street at the front gate. The bombing of churches has bitterly become a frequent incident in the last years, yet as death morosely is, it still shakes us to the core.
I am not one who likes to give immediate reactions in the face of disasters; I prefer to let sorrow take its time, prayers be made, and hearts weep and heal, then when the dead have been mourned, now is time to speak. Unlike the previous attacks, this time I noticed that the responses of the church were harsher. Instead of the usual abundance of preaching, forgiveness, and talks of God’s mercy, which were still present but with lesser degree; there was fury, anger, and promising of God’s wrath; talks of how God can let things slide, but when He is angered nothing can protect mankind from His fury.
On that same week, the clouds crushed down over the capital; you could feel the pressure of the clouds closing in, and then it rained. We saw thunder and lightning; the kind we rarely see in this part of the earth, and as the skies opened up and poured down on us, I wondered about all the prayers of the broken-hearted rising through the sky’s opened doors. All those prayers of hurting mothers must count for something, I thought. I remember my heart contracted a bit as I thought of what could possibly happen to a city that failed at protecting humanity in such a manner.
I do not intend to talk about religion today. No, I do not. I am just going to talk about how we failed as a society, as humans. Why do we walk every day with stains of blood on our hands, and what can we do to make sure that our future holds more love?
Words Have Power
What we say determines and influences our thoughts. Words have power. When you call someone by a biased expression, you stick a label to them; you make that label a reality, and with that label comes an exclusion of that person from the norm. When you label, you place people in a certain ‘other’ category, excluding them, making them seem unfamiliar.
When you call a group of people or someone “kafates”, “kofta”, “4 reesha”, “2 reesha” or any other label that comes to your head, you exclude that group of people from the norm, hence labeling them as ‘not normal humans like you’. When you give a group of people a label, let alone a demeaning one – even if it is not intended – as a sense of humor or because everyone says it, you just branded them as ‘not normal’, hence of ‘less worth’, hence ‘deserving of discrimination’.
The same goes for words of extra personal praise like, “ahl elgana [people of heaven]”, “we’re the honest ones”, “God chose us”, “we don’t swear”, “we don’t lie”. When we choose to give ourselves and/or other people of the same religion broad continuous phrases as if they were unquestionable, we aggrandize ourselves and our self-worth to a state where we believe our worth is more than others who embrace different beliefs.
You might think “these are just words”. Think again. It started as ‘words’ years ago; ‘words’ became ideologies and beliefs. It is easier for a child who heard words of discrimination to hate those who are labeled, or to not see them worthy of his/her affection or respect; or to see him/herself as higher, better, and more worthy of life.
Solution: STOP! Do not praise an entire group of people based on a personal belief that all the followers of that religion can do no wrong. Praise individuals for what they do, not for what their religion is. Do not use words that discriminate or stereotype others. People have names, religions have names, and places have names; use them!
Listen. Say Something. Be Honest
There are people around us who use biased remarks. Listen to those, and do not act like they are not there; call them out. Say something, speak up; tell them that this is discrimination. Do not just accept discriminatory jokes because an adorable uncle/aunt may say and let them pass by, or accept your cool friends’ philosophical slurs based on religious biasing, or display cowardice when you hear that bigoted co-worker discriminating against another religion just because it is not yours. Defend others in their absence the way you would like to be defended. Which brings me to the next point…
We live in a country where people kill and disgrace one another because of religion. How many churches have been burnt or bombed? Do you remember the Shi’i man who was stoned to death, or the lady who was stripped naked in a small village in the countryside? How many times have you heard someone say something like, “He’s a Christian but a good doctor,” as if they’re mutually exclusive?!
To find a solution, we must talk about the problem; to take action, we must have awareness. So, please, do talk to your peers about discrimination and acknowledge it. More importantly, explain its existence to young people and how they should not practice acts of discrimination. Listen to the discriminated, not to defend but to support.
Remember when parents used to advise daughters not to talk about harassment and it shall go away? A law was not passed until it became a topic of conversation. Going around stating, “that’s not us”, “that doesn’t identify with me”, “we are a united nation”, does not solve the problem, simply because we are pushing our institutionalized discrimination under the rug. Yes, we used to be a united nation; back when you could actually be friends with a person for 10 years and not know or care what religion they are following. We did not have to talk about unity out loud because it was present.
Numbers Do Not Lie
Imagine a meeting room in a big company in Egypt. Think of the probability of all the members of the high board being Christians, and of all of them being Muslims. Perhaps a member or two could be Christian, but the idea of an all Muslim board comes to the mind far more easily and accepted than an all Christian board. That is institutional discrimination, where your underlying expectations echo society’s bigotry, because these are expectations that are deeply rooted into us that we do not realise they exist.
If you come from a majority populace, like Muslims in this country, and you are invited to a dinner somewhere, perhaps work related, and you walk in; one Christian man in the crowd is a delightful companion, but 50 is a shocker, and you start wondering whether you made it to the right dinner and why didn’t anyone give you a heads up.
That shock factor, that mindset, when it is no longer a default, then we can say we are free of discrimination.
Imagine a relationship between two people, let’s say a friendship between Adham and Bassem. Adham’s family is uptight, he has a curfew every night, but is allowed to go out on Thursday night. Bassem’s family is not so uptight, but his dad is not always present because of work, and his only day off is Thursday; which is why Bassem prefers to stay home that day to spend more time with his father. Bassem lives in 6 October, Adham in Downtown. Adham has a baby sister he has to care for and take to sports practice twice a week. Bassem has a language class to attend every Sunday. Long story short, Adham and Bassem have different lives. If they choose to understand each other’s living conditions and lifestyles, they could probably find a common time and place to meet. They will remember things, like each other’s birthdays. If both did not make that effort to know and care about the other, they probably would not have maintained their friendship/relationship.
That applies to everyone else in our society. If we want to have healthy relationships, we must educate ourselves about one another. I think it is odd when I meet someone who has no clue why people celebrate Palm Sunday for example, or is not aware when are the Christians’ fasting periods, or has no idea what Ashura is. Are you an Egyptian?! If you are, then you should have some knowledge of what is valuable and is a part of other people’s lives. If we want to be a more united society, then we would better start knowing more about one another’s beliefs.
Be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
For some reason, most parents teach their kids to avoid other religions; perhaps they fear they will cross over to the dark side [sarcastic tone intended]. In other words, they are afraid their children will be influenced by other religions or worse: convert. We have ended up with generations that are so uncomfortable around other religions that it cripples their souls to be around something different, which is kind of strange. Because if you have faith in your belief, why are you so afraid of being exposed to other beliefs?! How can you be true to what you believe in if you have not been challenged? Take Mustafa Mahmoud as an example. This man challenged himself, as he was born a Muslim, but later chose to be an atheist, but he found his way to God again and became one of the most influentially powerful Muslims of his time. He created a foundation committed to spreading the work of God’s goodness that stands tall and strong to this day.
Beside challenging yourself to strengthen your personal faith, here is why being comfortable with the uncomfortable strengthens a society. Once you get past the symbols that you find odd, scary or funny; you start to understand others and respect them. Once their different beliefs become part of your comfort zone you shall act accordingly. You will remember to call during Eid to give warm greetings and love because you now understand the importance of that to them. You will treat their books and holy items the right way. You will have reverence in your heart as you enter their holy praying site and according to their customs, because you understand, and because you want the same for your praying site.
Observe Your Environment
If you are surrounded only by people following the same religion as yours, then you have a problem. Invite diverse people into your social circle; the more you will learn, the more your heart shall grow to be a more compassionate loving human, not a dishevelled creature of hatred.
The majority are born surrounded by people like them, so they grow to believe that they are “the norm”, maybe even “the ideal”, and they do not realise that God is intentionally forming people different from one another. They stay huddled in their blessed bubble, reluctant to understand or know others, and end up in a shocked state, maybe even feel resentment, when they are forced or pushed into an alternative reality of difference.
Do not be that person! If you are surrounded by people like you. Create some curiosity to know more about others. Again, challenge yourself, learn about others. Our society had become intolerant denying intolerance, even when it stands as clear as day.
This is self-inflicted hurt in my opinion. We try to stay safe, we do not want to leave our comfort zones. It is safer with those you know, those who understand us, and usually minorities are the guiltiest of this one.
It creates an unconscious bias toward the people from a different religion and hostility towards other religions. If you are not out there mingling with others and observing others’ environments, you are living in a bubble of denial about the existence of the problem; because you are surrounding yourself with shields of cellophane that might protect you from air, but will be ripped at the first touch.
If you are not out there and just living in a bubble that gets bigger by time, you are not proving stereotypes wrong. The more segregated you are, the less people know about you as a person. If there is one thing minorities get wrong, it is this. Let people know you are a person, not just an inanimate medallion on a chain
Put Yourself in Their Shoes & Stop Being an Arrogant Asshole!
Yes, I just said that. Whichever religion you are following, you feel all giddy and proud when you see your religion’s minority communities being dignified abroad in non-majority countries, so why do you treat minorities as less here? If you think you are more righteous, you have just lost credit; if it is your pride, the devout are humble – and if you think that you have the knowledge to damn and bestow judgment upon others, congratulations! You have just appointed yourself with God’s job, your Pharaoh ancestors would be so proud, just try avoiding the sea!
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!
Wash your hands. Put on your nightgown. Look not so pale.—I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on ’s grave.
To bed, to bed. There’s knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come. Give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone.—To bed, to bed, to bed!
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1
What do you think?
How do you deal with religious discrimination? How do you believe we can change the future or our society? Join the conversation. Leave a comment with your thoughts on the matter.