Monday, April 23, 2012

An Accidental Journey

I met a man two years ago, quite by accident. No, not my husband; I met him very deliberately over two decades ago! That is a story for another day.
The fellow I met in the spring of 2010 was floating around in the virtual world of Facebook. Surfing various pages one evening, I met him on a comment thread. His name, along with his profile picture, made me suspect he was an Arab, though he had a very good command of English.
As it turned out, he was Egyptian, well educated, articulate-and a Muslim. I had never met an Arab or a Muslim in my life. Now, in a post 9/11 America, it seemed possibly unwise.
"Well, it's okay", I thought to myself. "I'm liberal and tolerant. I'm sure he's just fine...probably." I sent  him a friend request and he accepted.
The next morning, I turned on my computer and went to Facebook. Almost immediately, this man popped up in my chat window, saying "Hi!"
I froze for a few seconds. My mouth dropped open, my pulse quickened and I realized I was not breathing.
"Think!" I said to myself. "Think fast!" I typed "Hi", took a gulp of coffee, lit a cigarette and waited. Just like that, he replied, "How are you?"
A voice in my head shouted, "Oh God! Oh my! An Arab Muslim wants to know how I am!" Visions of a terrorist training camp flashed through my mind. "I'm fine" was my carefully crafted response.
As we got through the initial introductions, I realized I was being very silly. Why would a terrorist want to contact a forty-something Iowa housewife? I live in a nice state but it is hardly a target rich environment.
I certainly have no inside information of any useful kind. I can't even program my TV remote!
Relaxing a bit, I sat back and enjoyed chatting with my new friend, on that day and for many afterward. In the months that followed, I learned a great deal from him. As knowledgeable as I thought I was about world affairs, I soon figured out that I was ignorant of many things.
Magdi had a very good understanding of Christianity. I, however,  knew nothing about Islam.
Magdi knew much about America and our people and culture. I knew Egypt had pyramids, and maybe camels.
Magdi told me about the happenings in Egypt, the Mubarak government and its corruption, and the stirrings of a revolution, long before the Arab Spring erupted on my TV screen.
There was one more thing Magdi told me, something that ended up profoundly changing my life. He told me about a people called the "Palestinians".
I had known of them throughout my life-Arafat and the PLO, radical terrorists, always attacking Israel. As they say in the South, "That's how I heard it."
Well, bless this patient man, Magdi. He began to connect me to credible, well respected sources of information, many of them human rights organizations. I read reports and documents. I went to alternative news sources instead of relying solely on CNN. I was being led on a journey that I had no idea I would be taking.
What I found outraged me. It was shocking, and to me, shameful.
In all my life, no one had ever told me there was a "Nakba". I did not know Israel has six hundred checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories, nor that the people of Gaza live under a militarily enforced blockade. I did not realize that Israel had killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in military actions against Gaza and in southern Lebanon. Honestly, I was floored! And I cried...and cried.
Thus began my education in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Magdi started it, others have continued it, and I am now committed to it, dedicated to trying to help the Palestinian people find peace, with justice.
No group of people has ever affected me quite like them. I have had the pleasure of getting to know many, via friendships on the internet. They are intelligent, politically engaged, resourceful, resilient and strong. I have developed a love and respect for them that two years ago would have seemed insane to me. But, that was before Magdi.

Note: In Part Two of this post, I will let you know how Magdi is doing now, since the revolution, and perhaps I will introduce you to some of my friends in Palestine. If you keep an open mind and are willing to hold my hand, I can take you on a journey that will leave you forever changed.

All my love, from America...

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