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COLUMN: Local woman shares perspective after recent trip to Middle East

Howaida Sorour-Roberts

By Howaida Sorour-Roberts

For obvious reasons the Middle East is not at the top of most people list of place to go at the present time.  But I grew up there and have family there, so on Feb. 5, I got on a plane and flew to Cairo, Egypt.

It was an interesting trip and one that opened my eyes to a few things that can be hard to gage at a distance.   As in what is happening on the ground in Egypt, what is the mood and how do they perceive ISIS.

As it happens what I learned was very pertinent to the debate/furor unfolding south of the border with regards to President Obama’s insistence that the West is not at war with Islam but with extremists.

His critics in their ignorance choose to quibble.  But the point that Obama is making is very important and we would all do well to listen and more importantly – learn.

Right now Cairo, and Egypt as a whole are on high security alert.  The current government, led by an army general who also happens to be a devout Muslim and with what appears to be the support of the vast majority of the populations is engaged in an effort to rid the country of Muslim Brotherhood extremists.  ISIS or ISIL hasn’t reared its head inside Egypt yet but it’s certainly a concern and the barbaric beheading of Egyptian on a beach in Libya certainly brought that home.

I was as heartened to learn of Egypt’s military response as I was to see graffiti scrawled across a wall in Cairo that said, “I am not Muslim or Christian, I am Egyptian.”  Nationalistic yes, but it beats the alternatives of a murderous Brotherhood inside the country, and ISIS on all sides.

Did I just refer to ISIS? Well I was very quickly corrected in Egypt.  There and in most of the Middle East, I’m told they prefer to call them Daesh, and while that’s still a loose acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Arabic, once the letters are run together the resulting word takes on other connotations.  Rhymes, alliteration and puns are an important part of the culture and language.  Daesh sounds very similar to the Arabic word ‘Daes’ – one who steps on something crushing it underfoot, or Dahes – one who sows mayhem and discord.  It is that word that is used by most Arabs to describe what they see as a renegade gang of misfits with little or no actual knowledge or understanding of Islam.

Daesh have committed atrocities against anyone and everyone who doesn’t adhere to their bizarre and draconian ‘rules’, Muslim, Christian or Jewish.  In Islam, believe it or not, killing is not allowed and there is a saying that when you kill a fellow believer, a universe dies.  How you choose to interpret ‘believer’ is going to depend on your perception.  I choose to interpret the word ‘believer’ as anyone who adheres and lives by the values embodied in the 10 commandments regardless of religious affiliation.  Yes I appreciate that my interpretation may be broad but the more I see of the similarities in the core values of most societies and religious groups the more convinced I am that it’s the only logical interpretation.

Daesh followers do not qualify as ‘believers’ in my book.  They are simply a loosely organized gaggle of thugs with no affiliation real or imagined with Islam or any other religion.  Their use of the word is such a mockery of Islam it becomes a mockery of all religions- a travesty, in fact that has been recognised in Europe at least. In September 2014 France declared it would no longer refer to this group as Islamic State.

“This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quoted in a statement. “The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.’”

He makes an important point – to give these people the legitimacy of a religious affiliation or state is to vilify some 2 billion peaceful Muslims around the world.  How we label an entity is as important as how we label ourselves – it speaks to our understanding, beliefs and ultimately our actions and policies – a subtlety that seems to be sadly lost on too  many of our neighbours south of the border.

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COLUMN: Local woman shares perspective after recent trip to Middle East

Howaida Sorour-Roberts

By Howaida Sorour-Roberts

For obvious reasons the Middle East is not at the top of most people list of place to go at the present time.  But I grew up there and have family there, so on Feb. 5, I got on a plane and flew to Cairo, Egypt.

It was an interesting trip and one that opened my eyes to a few things that can be hard to gage at a distance.   As in what is happening on the ground in Egypt, what is the mood and how do they perceive ISIS.

As it happens what I learned was very pertinent to the debate/furor unfolding south of the border with regards to President Obama’s insistence that the West is not at war with Islam but with extremists.

His critics in their ignorance choose to quibble.  But the point that Obama is making is very important and we would all do well to listen and more importantly – learn.

Right now Cairo, and Egypt as a whole are on high security alert.  The current government, led by an army general who also happens to be a devout Muslim and with what appears to be the support of the vast majority of the populations is engaged in an effort to rid the country of Muslim Brotherhood extremists.  ISIS or ISIL hasn’t reared its head inside Egypt yet but it’s certainly a concern and the barbaric beheading of Egyptian on a beach in Libya certainly brought that home.

I was as heartened to learn of Egypt’s military response as I was to see graffiti scrawled across a wall in Cairo that said, “I am not Muslim or Christian, I am Egyptian.”  Nationalistic yes, but it beats the alternatives of a murderous Brotherhood inside the country, and ISIS on all sides.

Did I just refer to ISIS? Well I was very quickly corrected in Egypt.  There and in most of the Middle East, I’m told they prefer to call them Daesh, and while that’s still a loose acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Arabic, once the letters are run together the resulting word takes on other connotations.  Rhymes, alliteration and puns are an important part of the culture and language.  Daesh sounds very similar to the Arabic word ‘Daes’ – one who steps on something crushing it underfoot, or Dahes – one who sows mayhem and discord.  It is that word that is used by most Arabs to describe what they see as a renegade gang of misfits with little or no actual knowledge or understanding of Islam.

Daesh have committed atrocities against anyone and everyone who doesn’t adhere to their bizarre and draconian ‘rules’, Muslim, Christian or Jewish.  In Islam, believe it or not, killing is not allowed and there is a saying that when you kill a fellow believer, a universe dies.  How you choose to interpret ‘believer’ is going to depend on your perception.  I choose to interpret the word ‘believer’ as anyone who adheres and lives by the values embodied in the 10 commandments regardless of religious affiliation.  Yes I appreciate that my interpretation may be broad but the more I see of the similarities in the core values of most societies and religious groups the more convinced I am that it’s the only logical interpretation.

Daesh followers do not qualify as ‘believers’ in my book.  They are simply a loosely organized gaggle of thugs with no affiliation real or imagined with Islam or any other religion.  Their use of the word is such a mockery of Islam it becomes a mockery of all religions- a travesty, in fact that has been recognised in Europe at least. In September 2014 France declared it would no longer refer to this group as Islamic State.

“This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quoted in a statement. “The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.’”

He makes an important point – to give these people the legitimacy of a religious affiliation or state is to vilify some 2 billion peaceful Muslims around the world.  How we label an entity is as important as how we label ourselves – it speaks to our understanding, beliefs and ultimately our actions and policies – a subtlety that seems to be sadly lost on too  many of our neighbours south of the border.

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