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Lose the shoes. Black burka. Hide the hair. Boys there, girls here. Blue eyes in a sea of brown and black. But smiling. Always smiling.
In our hooded black cloaks, we cluster for the photo. Americans from Massachusetts, Illinois and Texas alongside Iraqi, Jordanian and Egyptian Arabs, we pose in the center of King Abdullah’s Mosque, an ornate Islamic prayer center in the heart of Amman, Jordan. The royal emblem of intertwined stars spills across the blood-red carpet in a majestic tessellation. Although my nerves tingle with the strangeness of the scene, realizing my unique opportunity to admire such extravagance alongside my best friends from around the world masks my anxieties with pure wonder. Smiling readily for multiple cameras, we pray for perfect pictures to preserve this memory. This is history in the making.
Captured like an insect in amber, the moment hangs on, suspended in the frame, encapsulated by the photo. Although days and months rush past, the emotions of the moment linger. Seconds and minutes might flee in frenzy, but this image of harmony holds still in my heart.
Never in my right mind would I have dreamed of this opportunity to reunite with my Middle Eastern and American friends at a Beyond Borders conference sponsored by Seeds of Peace. In an unprecedented effort, a true human experiment, we successfully exchange cultures and discuss conflicts to help debunk stereotypes and promote understanding. Better than any I have seen, this photograph captures our pure perfection. Unlike warring Americans and Iraqis or sparring Sunnis and Shiites, we unite as a family, love each other as brothers and sisters, embrace our differences and our diversity as educational opportunities.
In this photograph, we win. We defeat hatred. We defeat intolerance. We defeat discrimination.
But then we return home to reality. Within weeks, thoughts of this frozen perfection shatter as politicians consider “the situation in Iraq” and debate strategies for moderation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the United States without jeopardizing a vital Israeli alliance. As “authorities” consider the oil motive of American foreign policy, newscasters report daily American casualties but neglect to mention any Iraqi deaths. Severely bigoted, many insult friends, supposed “little terrorists,” with crude stereotypes and harsh generalizations. For a nation built upon the “self-evident” truth “that all men are created equal,” America, often hypocritical, deviates from this ideal in its treatment of “aliens.” Unmistakably, most Americans refuse to include Arabs in their assessment of the world’s population worthy of liberty and respect. This unfortunate reality ultimately slaughters our optimism.
But this reality exists by virtue of those who chose a path of ignorance. Naturally preoccupied and self-concerned, many Americans ignore the ultimate truth: that even those Arabs on the other side of the world are as equally deserving, as equally intelligent, and as equally valuable as themselves.
This photo represents our education, our introduction to the truth of universal humanity.
In our moment of perfect amity and camaraderie, we demonstrate the peace of dissolved prejudices. Despite the global community shaking in quarrel and controversy around us, our smiles radiate beams of hope to a world searching for its Mecca: a beacon of guidance, a sign of harmony, a symbol of possible peace.
We achieve this in the photo. It is the world’s to have as well.
Inshallah - If God wills it. Perfection.
This is our proof.
Wave good-bye. Shed a tear. Arabs there, Americans here. Hope and knowledge. Bonds in turmoil. But smiling. Always smiling.