9/11 was a weird day for me. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Oh God, I hope it wasn’t Arabs”, as soon as I heard that a plane had been crashed into the first tower. I’m 3/4 Palestinian and at times have a distinctly Arab cast to me. My last name is Rishmawy. Admittedly it was a selfish thought, but I just didn’t see that going well for me in high school. And I was right.
That afternoon in football practice, upon discovering that I was of Arab descent, a “Palestilian” according to one educated linguist on the team, a team-mate of mine took it upon himself to spear me in the back–twice. For those of you who’ve never played, that sort of thing hurts. Thankfully my coach caught on quickly and put an end to that. Still, for the next few years I was lovingly called “dune-coon”, “sand-nigger”, “Taliban”, “Osama”, etc. by a good chunk of my team-mates and friends. And yes, I do mean lovingly. It was wrong, and I don’t really get it, but for some reason racial slurs were a way of bonding in the locker-room. Still, it grated on me at times.
As frustrating and awkward as being an Arab high-schooler in post-9/11 America could be at times, given garden-variety prejudices, fears, and ignorance–none of those slurs frustrated me as much as what some of my well-meaning, Evangelical brothers and sisters ignorantly implied: that I and my entire ethnic heritage were an unfortunate mistake–Abraham’s mistake to be exact.
Please go read the rest of this piece at the Christ and Pop Culture blog at patheos.com.
This is a beautiful piece, Derek.
I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to be an Arab immediately after Sept 11th. You’ve opened my eyes not only to the overt racism (which I could have guessed) but also the subtler refusal to see the descendants of Ishmael as heirs to Christ’s promise if not Abraham’s.
Interestingly, I was converted out of atheism very soon after Sept 11th. That event shook Canadians as it did the rest of the world. I don’t really know how much it affected my path to Christ but it played a role for sure.
I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for a while now and funny thing, I always assumed you were Indian. Silly!
Dude, thanks. As for the Indian thing, no worries. I’ve gotten Italian, Hawaiian, Hispanic (which I am as well), and a whole host of other things.
Thank you! What a beautiful and thoughtful response. As a Palestinian Christian I am thrilled to see this kind of commentary written by a brother. My husband, an evangelical pastor, told me long ago to respond to people’s questions about my “conversion” with the simple, “Acts II” — 🙂
That’s a great answer! I’m glad that this spoke to you and blessed you. I hope it helps the church as we share and think through the Gospel.
Here, Here! I clicked through and read your piece in its entirety. Very elegant and rightly divided arguments! Thank you! Best, Jim
I appreciate that, Jim. Especially the “rightly divided” part. I always want to make sure I’m handling the text properly. Thanks for stopping by!
Derek, I just wanted to say this was a great article. I read it over on “Christ and Pop Culture,” and I loved it. You were gracious in your writing, and the theological implications for God’s Providence and God’s Purposes were spot on.
Thanks Andrew! I appreciate you stopping by to comment on the blog. I especially appreciate the thought that I was gracious. If I can’t be gracious to others then I’ve forgotten the God who was gracious to me in Christ. Blessings!
I’m guessing that kind of statement (not nearly as commonplace in my experience as the author suggests) comes from hearing in some sermon that, “See, sin messes everything up. Abraham wasn’t patient, didn’t trust God, and now we have this whole Israel-Arab mess in the Middle East.”
It’s not exactly unsound logic. And you could say the same thing about Hitler’s parents: “If only they hadn’t chosen to have children, all those Jews would still be alive, plus the countless lost in WWII.” All of the same response apply: Hitler could say “I am not my parents’ mistake” or “God is sovereign and sovereignly determined my birth and reign.”
It’s disingenuous to suggest that this is boiling an entire group of people down to nothing more than a mistake, or to suggest that it somehow counters God’s sovereignty, etc.
Thanks for your comments. I’m glad this is kind of statement or sentiment isn’t all that common in your experience as it’s been in mine. That’s good to hear.
I also hear your points. I am by no means looking to deny human responsibility for sin, or excuse sin by appealing to God’s sovereignty. I still think might have missed my point. As for my disingenuousness, I don’t know how to defend myself other than to say…? If you want to take it as a bad-faith argument, that’s your call.
Have a good one.
I just found this article today, and I wanted to thank you for writing it. I’m half Syrian (of Christian ancestry), and I was a senior in a very rural high school when 9/11 happened. I don’t think a day went by that school year in which I was not brought low by some horrible comment. Worst of all was the way the adults in my school (teachers and administrators) unfairly handled a major incident of discrimination.
It’s always disappointing to hear comments from Christian brothers and sisters that seem to echo the attitudes of my high school classmates, the underlying sentiment being, “if only those people didn’t exist.” Thank you for bringing this to light.
I’m glad you were blessed by the article. One of the cool things has been to see the way so many Christians who have read it have responded with, “I have never thought about it that way. I am so sorry.” There have been people who are genuinely repentant.
Thanks for responding! Could I just ask about the use of God’s name in the beginning? Is it meant as a prayer? I wasn’t sure because it says, “I said to myself.” I want to share the article with friends, but I found that part a little jarring.
Thanks again, and blessings to you too.