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The Real Enemy is Ignorance

by Moji Agha

Hostile actions against the Taliban’s “sacred” terror are unfolding. I dedicate these words of reflection to true patriotism, to true peace.

I pray to sacredness that all hostile actions on our tiny globe bring about conditions that prevent hatred and violence in the first place. May terror and violence, in all forms, disappear.

The other day I checked my mail. One envelope was addressed to “Mo Jiagha.” Used to seeing my “foreign” name mangled, I smiled. After all, the contents of my heart are more important.

But, after Sept. 11, 2001, as a “Middle Eastern-looking” man, I will forever be suspected, in the “civilized” world, as a “carefully blended sleeper,” who at any moment may “awaken” to terrorize “civilization.”

Who cares anymore about the idea that “all men are created equal” and that everyone is “presumed innocent until proved guilty.”

With my involuntary transformation into “Mo Jiagha,” “Mo” makes me a more sinister “sleeper!”

On Sept. 11, I was doubly victimized by terror. I carry the ordinary human fear of terror and the burden of ignorant “nativist” hatred. Who is our enemy, the terrorists or ignorance?

Vicious stereotypes of Middle Easterners aside, I am both merciful and pragmatic. My full name: Mojtaba Aghamohammadi.

In America, I have integrated my native practicality with my American pragmatism.

So, like countless prior immigrants, I, too, have compromised my identity, shortening my name to Moji Agha, when I became a U.S. citizen in 1989.

You see, I had mercy on the poor souls who would encounter Mojtaba Aghamohammadi in English.

Also, my pragmatic side was tired of finding my name mangled constantly, but I had chalked it up to the world famous American “island mentality.”

But patriotism calls for asking hard questions now: Did not the horrific unjustifiable crimes of Sept. 11 afflict our country because we have long been “sleepers,” in our “invulnerable” personal islands of insularity? Who is our real enemy?

I say ignorance is our enemy. To those “patriotic” Americans who seek to “restore” their “innocence” and “invulnerability” by vengeful attempts at “isolating” the evils of the world in “Middle Eastern-looking sleepers,” I say that such blind scapegoating and projection of internal shadows will only rob yourselves of true peace.

As the Israelis under Ariel Sharon have found in the past 12 months, security cannot be built on the back of tribalistic oppression.

Real security, real justice and real liberty are deeply interwoven.

Look deeply: The Taliban-like “patriotism” that killed the Sikh man in Mesa not long ago also resulted in the tragedy of Sept. 11.

These are different forms of “patriotism” with a common essence: profound ignorance and profound suffering, two sides of the same destructive coin on our fragile globe.

There is no foundational difference between the Taliban ignorance of the likes of Osama bin Laden and the ignorance of those Americans who still cannot find Afghanistan on a map, but now consider people who look like me to be dangerous.

We humans, regardless of citizenship, need to look for our enemy no further than the dark cave in our own selfish hearts.

Our “evil, uncivilized enemy” does not live in some cave in Afghanistan.

Our enemy is here; it’s called indifferent ignorance.

Today, 2 billion to 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Our planet cannot afford to continue “living” with one-fifth of its human inhabitants rich, two-fifths in abject poverty and another two-fifths struggling hard for a tolerable life.

This is the kind of cage that inevitably breeds terrorists.

I ask my fellow “civilized” citizens to stop attacking your Middle Eastern-looking neighbor with your stares, thoughts, emotions, words, hands, guns, etc. Cherish such neighbors. They are not evil, enemy sleepers.

Overcome your ignorance, and they will provide you with opportunities to practice true American patriotism.

Show respectful interest in their experience of the American foreign policy in the past century. Be not arrogant.

When appropriate, apologize to them for neglecting, through your ignorance, to check the power that you naively entrusted to your leaders because much wrong was done in the world on your behalf. Be patriotic: caring, humble.

Stop filling your head with Jerry Springer and other trash. Consume only what you need. It is not “patriotic” to “boost your country’s economy” by consuming what you do not need.

Kill your real enemy. Pay attention to what is really important. Stop politicizing, desecrating your noble flag, wrap yourself in it not.

Educate yourself, then teach your Middle Eastern-looking neighbor the profound wisdom of the American Constitution – the blessed gift of your young civilization to humanity.

Most likely, this “sleeper” is a patriotic soul, placed in your path to awaken you from your Earth-destructive “island mentality.”

Buy a map. Thank him or her for making your civilization even more unique by bringing you the enriching gems of diversity.

Celebrate your common humanity with him or her, in the fragile bosom of your common mother, the planet. Take care of her–she is quite ill. CP

Moji Agha is an Iranian-American visiting scholar at the University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies. A teacher/practitioner of cross-cultural communication and conflict resolution, he is a member of faculty at the University of Phoenix.

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