In the Disney film Pocahontas, the Native American princess falls in love with John Smith, and their love helps avert needless bloodshed between the Jamestown settlers and Pocahontas’ tribe. While the Disney version varies a bit from the real story, its message is noble nonetheless: if we take a step back and see the true nature of the “other,” we will realize that they are more like us than we originally thought.
One scene of the film was particularly telling. On the eve of a planned battle between the settlers of Jamestown and the Indian tribe, each side was calling the other “savages.” Each side’s ignorance of the other fueled the fires of rage that was leading to certain bloodshed. In fact, John Smith was captured by Pocahontas’ tribe, and he was going to be executed if it wasn’t for Pocahontas throwing herself over John Smith. This gesture not only saved Smith, but it also averted the war.
Watching the film (obviously, I have kids) made me think of America and the Muslim world. There are some in America who call Muslims “savages”; there are some in the Muslim world who call Americans “savages.” Some of my fellow Americans tell me that Islam is a wicked, violent religion. They tell me, Islam is out to dominate the world. They tell me, All we ever hear about Muslims is blood, bombs, and burkas. Never any good news.
Some of my fellow Muslims tell me America is the Great Satan. They tell me, America is at war with Islam. They tell me, America is raping Muslim men and women in Iraq. They tell me, America considers Muslim blood to be cheap. All you are doing is wrapping yourself around your flag, you wicked sell-out.
With all this heated rhetoric, it seems that Islamic and Western civilization are headed for a needless and mutually self-destructive clash. Yet, it does not have to be so. If there could only be a bridge between the two, perhaps this clash can be averted. If there could only be a “Muslim Pocahontas”, perhaps America and Islam can live together in peace.
I want to be that “Pocahontas.” As a Muslim, I understand the issues that burn in the Muslim world. I understand the frustrations on the part of many Muslims with many aspects of American foreign policy. I understand the terms used by Muslims the world over, such as jihad, and can help explain them to an American public that frequently does not understand them. I can spot when Muslims misconstrue the tenets of their faith and turn Islam into an instrument of terror.
As an American, I know that America’s war is not with Islam, but suicidal militants, cloaked in the garb of Islam, who consider every American–military and civilian, Muslim or otherwise–to be legitimate targets in their illegitimate jihad against the West. I know that we Americans are a fundamentally good people, with warm and generous hearts, and the vast majority of us do not bear ill will for Muslims and their faith. We simply do not know enough about Islam and the things for which it stands.
Given this reality, I can help explain to my fellow Americans that Islam is not at odds with Western civilization and values. I can help explain that jihad is not perpetual war with all non-Muslims. I can help point out that the Qur’an does not call on Muslims to “behead all infidels.” Yes, the Qur’an does have verses that are seemingly violent and intolerant, as does the Bible. I can help explain what these Qur’anic verses mean; I can help elucidate their proper context. Yes, there are Muslims who commit unspeakable atrocities in the name of Islam. I can help show how they defile Islam’s message and denigrate the letter and spirit of its law. The whole of Islam must never be judged by the sins of a few Muslims.
As a “Muslim Pocahontas,” I can acknowledge to my fellow Muslims that America has done many repugnant things throughout her relatively short history: from her scourge of Native Americans; to her enslavement of Africans; to her persecution of their descendants. From holding her own sons as “enemy combatants” without charge, trial, or legal counsel; to invading another country illegally, based on false pretenses; to humiliating and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners in the name of “advancing freedom in the Greater Middle East.” Yes, America has not always lived up to its ideals of freedom, justice, and democracy. America has not always behaved as the “City on the Hill.”
Yet this is not–I will tell my fellow Muslims–the America I know. This is not the truth of the country which I call home, the place I love dearly. Yes, America has done many things wrong in the past, but no country is perfect. No country has a spotless record. I know that America is capable of doing an enormous amount of good, and history has witnessed this goodness again and again. This is not “rabid patriotism”; this is not “wrapping myself with the flag.” This is what I know to be the truth, and I will show this to my Muslim brothers and sisters. The whole of America must never be judged by the sins of America’s past.
Furthermore, as a “Muslim Pocahontas,” I must strive to show America that she needs to chart a more fair and balanced, i.e., more “American,” foreign policy. America has to practice what she most eloquently preaches. I have to strive to show my fellow Muslims that our faith has no place for senseless violence against the innocent, something which they already know to be true. Despite the injustices done to our people, I must remind my Muslim brothers and sisters, our Lord does not accept the notion of “the end justifying the means.” Our Lord does not accept the
premise of “anything goes.”
The September 11 Commission Report said something that struck a very deep chord in me: “The United States can promote moderation, but cannot ensure its ascendancy. Only Muslims can do this.” I desperately want to be one of those Muslims. I want to be a bridge between America and the Muslim world; I want to be a “Muslim Pocahontas.” Yes, the gulf between America and the Muslim World is very large indeed, and it seems to be growing by the hour. Each side seemingly wants to focus only on the negative aspects of the other, and trying to bridge the two is a daunting task, but it is something I must continually strive to do. I must strive to show both that there is also good in the other. It is an enormous challenge, but it is one I must accept. It is perhaps the most important jihad for this American Muslim in the 21st Century.