by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer
In the early 1980s, while in the military, I made the first of several short visits to Saudi Arabia.
I had been to other foreign countries before. In some of them, for example Canada and Britain, I was quite comfortable. Others, for example Korea and Japan, were alien and exotic.
Saudi Arabia, however, was in a separate category. It was not merely foreign, but more than that, I remember feeling almost as if I were on another planet. Not only the language, but the customs, the clothing, the sight of women covered head to toe—all of these were more than merely strange, they were in a way, threatening. Walking the streets of Riyadh could be a perilous undertaking, given the unpredictable propensity of the self-appointed religious police to snatch people off the street, take them to hidden locations, and treat them brutally, all without ever notifying any embassy of their whereabouts.
By contrast, I noticed that most of the Arabs I encountered seemed friendly and accommodating. Probably, few of them knew that I was an American, and I did not volunteer the information, but in general, I was well treated. Even so, I always felt ill at ease when surrounded.
I’m not the only one who felt that the people of Saudi Arabia were alien and subtly threatening. The Saudi Arabians themselves indicated that they shared that feeling about their own country. I say that, because as the airplane that took me there entered Saudi airspace, the Arab women on the plane, those who wore western style clothing, quickly donned headscarves before the plane landed. They, too, knew that they were entering a world apart from the world.
That fact was underscored for me when, going through customs, one of the books in my luggage was confiscated, simply because it had a picture of Buddha on the cover. After a lifetime in the shelter of the First Amendment, I was not prepared for the sense of outrage I felt, but fortunately, I did not express it, otherwise I might have been taken to one of those hidden locations. Decades later, the resentment of that confiscation still annoys me. If you’ve never experienced it, you won’t understand.
Here in the United States, I cannot truly say that any of my best friends are Moslems. It seems that non-Moslems hardly ever get to know Moslems on a personal level. Encounters may be cordial, but they are always beyond arms length, and confined to business transactions.
Here in the United States how does one express an honest opinion about Moslems? Ask Juan Williams, the liberal Fox News commentator, who was summarily fired from PBS for making an innocuous statement, one that expresses the discomfort that millions of Americans have felt, when boarding an airplane with people who are dressed in Arab garb, especially when they do not get the same pat-down treatment that we get.
More than most immigrant populations, Moslems tend to be self-segregating. Moreover, this self-segregation does not arise from shyness, but from hostility. We are, after all, the infidels. We eat pork. Our women dress, according to many Moslems, immodestly in public. We are the Great Satan.
We are all aware that many Moslem immigrants to the US are not Islamist radicals, but can we ever be sure whether they secretly sympathize with the violent extremists? On nine-eleven, as the twin towers collapsed killing thousands of Americans, I heard a Moslem mutter aloud, something to the effect that America was getting what it deserved. I was in a hospital waiting room. The Moslem was a doctor at the hospital.
All these many experiences, and more, my own and those of others, foment suspicion and distrust, the kind that cannot be remedied by a conference or a press release from CAIR, nor even from sensitivity indoctrination.
I would like few things better than to live in a world where there is no Islamic violence, where there are no “Moslem zones” in Dearborn Michigan, zones where non-Moslems need feel the same fear as on the streets of Riyadh.
It seems to me that Americans have been vastly more accommodating to Moslems than Moslems in America are to us. If the suspicion and distrust are ever to be remedied, that must change.