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Defending something I'm not
Fast-track to disinformation

By Shirin Sadeghi
November 18, 2002
The Iranian

I have become a Muslim since September 11th, 2001. Not that I've converted, exactly. I've been classified as one by authorities, and strangers and passersby. And as a result of being classified a Muslim, I've taken on the sensitivities of being one in a post September 11th world where, unlike the world before, the powers that regulate and disseminate large-scale multifaceted violence of hubris no longer hide behind facades but are sittin' on the dock of the bay for all to see.

The month of Ramadan is in progress on the Islamic calendar. Muslims throughout the world abstain from physical pleasures, including the satisfaction of eating or drinking when one is hungry or thirsty, from dawn till dusk for a month. Having never been trained or raised as a Muslim (I'm merely classified as one these days because I am originally from Iran), I've never fasted during Ramadan, but I understand it is considered a healthy means of both purifying the body and mind through sacrifice.

A few days ago in a casual conversation with a friend, the subject of religion came up, as it so often does amongst people of different backgrounds who find themselves engaged in curious conversation over publicly-served coffee. He laughed -- my friend did -- as he said "What kind of sacrifice is this? Not to eat all day? Anyone can do this."

That sinking feeling that plummets from the top of my throat to the pit of my stomach (whenever I am presented with a situation that incredibly angers me) was only suppressed by my ever-growing attempts at biting my tongue till the very last possible moment in hopes that a sore tongue will be far less caustic than a quick one. "I couldn't," I said to myself. "I couldn't fast from breakfast till dusk."

Last year, during Ramadan -- an occasion I was informed of via American television news -- my mother suggested that maybe her children should try for once to experience fasting for a day. Having already eaten breakfast, it would be a shortened fast till dusk in Iowa which was around 6-ish last year at Ramadan. I wanted to be brave, more than that, I simply wanted to have self-control.

I'm not much of an eater (no snacks during the day), I just have to eat three square meals a day otherwise as the day progresses and I don't eat my meals when I need to, I get dizzy and disagreeable and don't do much good for anyone till I've eaten. Less than 5 hours later, I ate lunch and dinner at once. I couldn't fast for half a day, let alone everyday for a month, if given the choice.

So as the coffee-talk boiled within me, I was overwhelmed with recent memories of the countless other insensitive remarks I'd borne witness to since the day the world decided to talk about Muslims as if they were a concept that had heretofore been absent. The misconceptions I've heard have been endless and amazing.

A 40-something German working at an English-language radio station in Berlin informed me that the reason the Judeo-Christian ideology cannot accept Muslims is that Muslims do not believe in God. "Strange," I said, "because if there's one thing the worlds three most prominent monotheistic religions do agree on, it is that there is one God."

The politics of ignorance are too often overlooked by scholars. Amidst facts and figures, lie lack-of-facts and lack-of-knowledge, both of which contribute immensely to human endeavor and the resulting mass history-making processes. The little joke people throw at me about my "terrorist links" because I'm Iranian-born and I live in the "West", were never funny.

I played along, perhaps as much to show that the matter of identifying someone as a terrorist based solely on their ethnicity or religion or other helpless demographic -- even jokingly -- IS funny, as to show that I could laugh off the disinformation like anybody else. Apparently, your Joe-German on the street would find it immensely amusing to be called a Nazi, according to these terms. But, as all jokes contain an element of truth, I feel an inherent sadness when such remarks can so easily find their way out of someone's misconceptions and toward me.

I am not a Muslim. I don't ascribe to any religion. But I have -- as those ever-growing numbers of converts to Islam have since September 11th -- found myself increasingly defending an ideology I have battled with all of my life.

This is something perhaps all Iranians have done at some point since the 1978-1979 Islamic revolution. I feel sympathy toward marginalized Muslims throughout the world. I have become sensitive to their expressions of the need for justice, for freedom, or at least for humanity. And I think of all the people I know in Iran and all the strangers I meet when I'm there: the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick-makers. Many of them are Muslim or of Muslim backgrounds and they have no more terrorist ambitions or sympathies than my Protestant school teacher in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The first time I heard of what Muslims do during Ramadan, I found it rather silly, too. As a non-religious person, I find many of the customs of all religions to be unreasonable or symbolic in ways I find illogical. But it is not my place to laugh at the faith of others. In fact, it is when people laugh at each other, instead of with each other that tension erupts and violence ensues.

Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell me. I'll feex it.

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