Lost Fear of Muslim Extremism During 8 Years Living in the Middle East, Through Interfaith Dialogue

Living in Muslim countries for eight years — Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — my wife, sons and I lost the fear of Islamic extremism that most Americans internalized after 9/11. In our travels,  we almost never encountered religious extremists.

I can think of only one such incident, in 2010 in Southeast Turkey — a region that the US State Department frequently issues warnings that Americans should not go. Near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, under a 2000-year-old bridge built by the Romans, a scruffy, disheveled man uttered the name of Osama Bin Laden as I was walking past him,  gave a thumbs up and made a crude gesture of a slitting throat. Then he crawled back under the bridge where (presumably) his fellow jihadists gathered. I left quickly, returning to the safety of my group of eight Turkish and American teachers.

Otherwise, I encountered not a single act of hostility from Muslims in eight years. Most were very welcoming. So much for the clash of civilizations. Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil resonated with my experience.

We learned so much from our Muslim friends, realized we were much more ignorant of their 1500-year-old religion than they were of Christianity and the prophets of the three Abrahamic religions.

We grew to respect their faith, admired their daily discipline, rituals such as fasting during Ramadan and traditions such as Iftar celebrations. We developed strong friendships and observed that some Muslims were far more “Christian” — loving, generous, accepting, tolerant, wise — than some of the loudly proclaiming, fearful, intolerant and ignorant American Christians we have encountered.

We loved most of our time in Turkey and the UAE, learning so much, encountering such interesting people and diverse cultures, traveling and exploring widely. Despite the region’s reputation for endless violence, we never witnessed any, and almost never felt fear from radicals or jihadists. Indeed, the streets were far safer than in the US, and the crime rate far lower. For a long time, we marveled at how much more modern and enlightened these countries were compared to how they are portrayed in the American media.

Drill Deeper:


  • Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil by Mark Levine. “The author uses his own experiences traveling in the Middle East and North Africa to show readers not only that “they” don’t hate “us,” but that our concepts of “us” and “them” are invalid and skewed. This sprawling book is divided into three parts and touches on many diverse subjects that fall under its larger themes of globalization and Middle Eastern attitudes toward the West. LeVine, a professor of Middle Eastern history and a musician who has recorded with musicians as diverse as Mick Jagger and Hassan Hakmoun, clearly has an interest in music and its potential for bridge-building.”



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