When I was seven I become accustomed to the idea that people did indefensible things in the world. Thinking about it, I came to the logical conclusion that in their minds everyone thought they were the good guy. They had their way of looking at things, and only with the benefit of hindsight could the veracity of their actions be weighed objectively.
As I’ve grown older that truth became more and more muddled. My first memories of 9/11 were of a school memorial held about the incident in 2003, in the mind of my four year old self it was just a thing that happened in the ancient past of things I didn’t personally remember. Similarly the Iraq war that began that year had never been something with a beginning in my mind. To my four year old self America was at war with Iraq, America was always at war with Iraq.
In my adolescence, despite the fact that I’d taken the academic time to go back and establish the basic facts of Al Qaeda and the illegitimacy of the toppling of Hussein, the deeper issues of the matter remained unresolved. One day when I was twelve me and my friend sat in a neighbor’s tree, holding bright yellow nerf rifles, pretending to be older than we were. We though aloud about why these Al Qaeda hated the US so. Our women we concluded, it must be, our women don’t cover themselves, ergo we were an incarnation of sin in the eyes of these Islamic Al Qaeda. It made sense, America was at war with Terrorism, America was always at war with Terrorism.
It didn’t help that when you looked around it was hard not to see a singular narrative be promoted. The people who crashed the planes into the towers were from an inherently violent region it said. It was a barbaric place where backwards people made decisions based on a religion that proselytized killing any and all non-believers. Islam was at war with the west it said, Islam was always at war with the west.
It got hard to think. On the one hand, the only way the world made sense is if you assumed everyone was working towards what they deemed as a collective good. On the other hand there was no logical explanation present for why these people who called themselves our enemies and shouted ‘Death to America’ other than the idea that they were just ‘evil.’ Somehow they were insane, en mass, and were able to commit these horrible atrocities because in their physios they could ignore the ethical and moral rules that kept us from carrying out similar atrocities. They were the bad guys and we were the good guys.
Being in that mindset that tells you that you are good and this other group is bad is a terrible place to be. It’s how we got Trump. In this mindset things stop mattering beyond striking a blow against your enemy. Long term practical concerns, morality, ethics, why should you care about them when you think your enemy doesn’t. Soon you adjust yourself to the same ethical and moral plan you’ve assumed them to be on, all that’s important is keeping up with them in a fight. Anybody on your side who suggests measured action in the face of moral or ethical concerns is a traitor, and anyone who cries for the death of your enemies, no matter how duplicitous or incompetent, is your friend.
Probably the single most effective thing to break me out of this echo chamber has been this trip to Jordan. Nothing’s changed really. The world only makes sense if you assume that everyone in it is towards what they deem as a collective good. The piece I was missing is what the Arab world thinks a collective good is. My 12 year old self had filled that part in with what could be gleaned from a child’s generalization of the middle east. Now I learned that the reasons they shout ‘Death to America’ have to do with things America has done on the secular side of things, “our women” would be the argument only fools or twelve year olds on either side would make.
America’s meddled in the region for decades, what with installing dictator kings in Iran, supporting what is seen as a nation of European invaders in what is now Israel, and destroying the infrastructure and economy of Iraq for what seem to be arbitrary and trumped up reasons. To an Arab affected by these events, it was Americans who were the barbarians, making backwards decisions. We were unreasonable, we were the crazed ones. They’d fallen victim to the same bubble Trump’s supporters were falling into.
The oxi moron of all of this was that in order to rediscover my ideological center I had to go thousands of miles from anywhere I’ve ever known. I’m still out here, in a strange place with a language I don’t speak and a culture I don’t understand, but it’s refreshing. I’m stepping outside of myself in a way I could never do at home, I’m able to look back at all my beliefs and see which ones really work and which ones have been added on later. It’s like reading a book with all the answers that I’ve written myself.
***Please note: All student journals are opinions of the students only and do not in any way represent the opinions of Drexel Study Abroad Office.***