While many people may try to shape the world, the world shapes all of us.
The US has been at war in the Middle East my entire adulthood. I hardly remember whatever the national sentiments were towards the region pre-9–11, and my worldview has developed entirely in the 21st century. As such, I have experienced the rising and falling waves of emotion surrounding the broad spectrum of Middle Eastern cultures, immigration, and refugees of war.
As young man I was typically liberal in my embrace of various cultures. I saw the value in the great global exchange of ideas the digital revolution has enabled, and the national value of multiculturalism — that through diversity we become a stronger, smarter, more compassionate country. Throughout my late adolescence and early adulthood I found myself disgusted at the bigotry aimed at US citizens of Middle Eastern decent, and I frequently defended their right to express their culture. I have always, and still do, view our interventions in the Middle East as a great folly, one that history will not treat kindly.
Recently, I find I do not know myself. The past 3 years have seen sea change in the region, leaving the US confused at best, and misguided at its worst. With this, my own attitudes and perceptions have been challenged. The post-Arab Spring Middle East imploded in many ways — giving rise to the greatest threat we have seen yet, ISIS, and creating one of the largest exoduses in modern history. And yet, I find my empathy escaping me.
For reasons I cannot fully trace, I have lost my faith that all cultures are of equal value. I have been taught my whole life to treat others with respect and dignity, despite whatever the differences may be, on a personal level and in the way we should view the rest of the world. With each new attack against soft targets in the West, I have become hardened to the humanity of ‘others’. And I am infuriated when I ask myself, ‘Am I now a victory for ISIS?’ This is what they want, to dehumanize, to “other”, and yet it creeps up on me.
I can no longer see the sincerity in the lip-service paid by the peaceful majority of the Middle Eastern community. Time and again, both in Western nations and in their homelands, the cultures of the Middle East demonstrate themselves to be ones of misogyny, retribution, and violence.
The most recent events on New Year’s eve in Cologne underscore this issue. Why are the migrants mostly young men? Any young man with a shred of honor and conviction would be fighting for his homeland instead of taking advantage of the German welfare state. Why did the German media pay more deference to the migrants than to the plight of German victims? It is no longer migration when the migrants overwhelm the resources of the state and show no inclination to integrate, it is a cultural coup.
The last time I can remember feeling compassion for the refugees migrating to Europe was when the photos of the dead 3-yr old syrian child on the beach circulated — I cried openly on the streets of Brooklyn as I walked home from work, I have a son about his age.
We form opinions from what we experience — and the daily evidence points to a culture that is consumed by zealotry, and is wholly incompatible with the value western society holds dear — human rights, gender equality, and cultures bringing their best to humanity. This is not to say we don’t have plenty of work to do ourselves.
Do I have the media to blame for my loss of empathy? Is it simply age that makes us cynics? Or has the nature of the battle forever changed? For ISIS and its sympathizers it is about fomenting hate as much as gathering support. They are inventing the battle in our hearts and minds, and in so many ways winning. Try as I might remain an optimist and to see the best in people, my values are being tested, and the real battle is the search for humanity in each of us.