Monday, September 17, 2012

Extreme Cairo

I have always called Cairo, lovingly ‘Crazy Cairo’.
It is still crazy... but now it does seem to be crazy in some negative ways that we didn’t see before.
With the ‘embassy riots’ around the Arab world I have had quite a few people writing concerned about my safety.
Thank you. I am totally fine, and staying safe and aware.
My plea- Please, beware of media projections of the situations... Things did become violent both here and in other countries, and my heart goes out to the families of those killed. Please note that the people who were protesting are a tiny proportion of the population. Both in Egypt and also in all the countries where tempers were raised. The majority of ’normal’ people in Cairo were opposed to what was going on by the embassy, calling these people idiots and thugs.
This violent behaviour does not demonstrate the teaching of the Quran, nor does it demonstrate the religious beliefs of almost all Muslims.
What we are seeing is the behaviour of a few fanatical nutters who are spoiling things for the rest... and bored youth who have nothing to do, and are easily led who are jumping on the band wagon.
I am not turning a blind eye to problems, nor am I painting a rosy glow over what is happening. I keep myself well up to date on what is going on where, and if there are times I feel there may be risk, i.e. like downtown last Thursday, then I just avoid that area.
Most Egyptian people with any sort of education, would  not even have given an offensive film the time of day, never mind set fire to an Embassy building, let alone an American school (as happened in Libya) just because one person who happened to be in America made a film about something that offended them. Never.
This is not considered admirable or acceptable in the eyes of the VAST majority here.
 In fact, the opposite; Most Egyptians I know were embarrassed and disgusted by the behaviours of those ‘people’ who are reacting violently in recent days.
I have been saddened by the negative comments and cartoons I have seen on facebook of late directed towards Islam. Come on people. We are supposed to be intelligent, tolerant and open minded, yet we refuse to believe that the fault lies only with certain people, the extremists, not with the vast majority of people who believe in Islam.
A Muslim is not the same as an Islamist or extremist! There may well be other ways to describe the difference, but, an ‘Islamist’ (or Islamic activists or militants) follows the words in the Quran as a political guide, not just as a religious one. For instance, Islamists believe that sharia law should be the law of the land. A person who believes in the Islamic faith, i.e. a Muslim, does not necessarily believe that the country should be governed by sharia.
We have to be very careful not to tar all Muslims with the same brush. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and the vast majority of them are ‘normal’ people who just want to life their life without hurting anyone.
Do condemn the violence done- but make sure you know who it is that is guilty. Do not blame the majority for the fault of the minority. Do not exhibit the prejudice you hate when directed at you.
Why am I arguing ‘their’ side?  I am not Muslim, nor Egyptian, yet I am arguing in their defence? Yes, because I live here in Cairo and I see how it affects the people around me. I see how angry my Muslims friends when they are grouped in with the Islamists, the fundamentalist, the extremists- whatever you choose to call them. If you get punished for someone else’s misdemeanours you obviously become very defensive against those making the accusations. People who were non fanatical can become fanatical....
I have had my share of run-ins because of narrow-minded and extreme views. I recently lost my home because I am a dancer and that was deemed an unsuitable occupation for anyone living in that apartment block. However, I know that the people who hold these prejudiced views are often uneducated and easily swayed by public opinion.
 People in Egypt have lived in fear for a long time; If they speak out against the government they were/are imprisoned. If they speak out against religion, likewise (see the current case of Alber Saber )
People are frustrated and angry and they have been silenced for a long time. The revolution in Egypt January 2011, has shown people that their voices can be raised. Of course... there are a lot of people whose voices we wish would not be raised, extremists included (in my view) However- this is supposed to be democracy. So if we want everyone to have a voice, the nutters get that too, unfortunately they often have the effect of shouting their views rather than discussing... however it’s a long road to progress!
I agree there is a line that should be drawn between exercising your rights to personal expression and offending people. But where does that start and finish? One person’s morals are not that of another’s. What offends me might seem perfectly normal to you. What I do (bellydance), I see as art. Some see it as offensive to their beliefs. I avoid those people, and appreciate it when they avoid me. They don’t have to change their attitude, as long as they leave me alone. And vice versa.
Offending someone’s beliefs is NOT the same as attacking people... I never support violence, verbal nor physical!
The big argument is whether the recent unrest has been really to do with the film, or if that was the catalyst for something bigger. Certainly a lot of people object strongly to American international policy. They talk about it quite openly. Just because someone is against this policy (there are many Americans who are too) does not make them a terrorist or an Islamist. I personally believe the film was just the match which lit the fire that has been built over very many years.
The future for Cairo is unknown. I personally hope for a balance... where education and tolerance can increase and people can be allowed to believe as they want, without pressure from others. It is a bit of a pipe dream I know.
My fear, and that of all the Copts, Liberals and many moderate Muslims too, is that the extremists might get their way, since it often, unfortunately, does work that people who shout loudest get what they want. Negatively reacting to Egypt, or to ‘Muslims’ as a whole does not communicate a message of tolerance and peace. Countries that are torn politically and economically as well as religiously need time and patience, not something else to fight against.
I hope for a more peaceful Egypt... and for more love, for all, not dependant on what nationality or religion you follow. I am not optimistic it is true, but I can only hope.
... and yes.. I am watching and waiting... and keeping safe!

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