We sat across the table from each other with my mother to our side and talked back and forth about all the impolite things. We talked about politics, religion, terrorists, what was true, what we knew, and what we had been told. We knew a lot about each other, but he knew quite a bit more about me. And why shouldn’t he? He is from Saudi Arabia staying here with my parents to learn our language and our culture.
It was a really fun conversation for someone like me who gets off on having conversations with someone who is fundamentally different and finding common ground. My mother is not politically or historically inclined at all. She always votes for who I vote for and can never recall whether she is registered as a Republican or Democrat. Nassar and I on the other hand moved through history by hopping from those who followed Jesus and those who didn’t. We talked about Gandhi and Mandela. We talked about Bush and President Obama, and you know what, Muslims know he’s a Christian for crying out loud. When I asked if Nassar thought that President Obama was a Muslim he said, “Of course not, he’s a Christian. His grandmother was a Muslim.” Wow, I thought this will a fun conversations for perspective sake. We talked about the reputation that the war on terror gave our country and whether or not Bush acted as the good Christian man he claimed to be. Nassar then brought up one of his culture classes. He was asked, if you could bring anyone back from the dead who would it be and why? He asked to be passed until the end of the class, being self-conscience of his answer. He told them that if he could bring anyone back from the dead, it would Osama Bin Laden. Why? The teacher asked. To which he replied, “So I could kill him again for all the problems that he caused.”
We had quite a lengthy discussion about our personal and mutual distaste for people who said they spoke for our faith and did violence in it’s name. Neither of us want our faiths to be exploitative or tainted by these radicals and both of us agreed that we were more angry with those people than with people who had wronged our country. For example, I am livid with Bush for promoting the idea that Christianity not only compatible with, but a driving feature behind his bloodlust (or actually money) lust). Nassar is livid with Osama for putting forth an image of Islam that is violent on a new scale. Bush however, does not anger Nassar very much, even the wrong that he has done in the world on our behalf, does not bother him as much as it does me. And I am less angry at Osama than Nassar though it was my countrymen his plans murdered. We are less concerned for our countrymen, than for our faith and our brothers and sisters in faith. Praise the God of Abraham for that! We are both more inclined to the kingdom of God than to the factions of this world. In fact, the only thing that concerned Nassar about his own country was that he thought everyone in the world looked at Saudi Arabia as being the ones behind the acts of terrorism. No, no, I assured him. Because of the way our media handled the situation most people don’t know where the hijackers came from. I then turned to my mom and asked what countries she thought the hijackers came from. She said what I think most people who pay average attention would say: Afghanistan and Iraq. See, I said, most don’t know. I do know though and I haven’t been without concern when my parents have Saudi Arabian exchange students stay with them. And yes, I know that’s not fair. But that’s the truth. It was an interesting discussion. My mother sat between and turned her head back forth watching us play verbal tennis. We talked and explained each other’s points and the history behind each comment to her as we went along. Unfailing my mother asked, “So which one am ?” She asked this especially during our Republican vs Democrat debate.
While we were talking about our government Nassar asked many questions, but he knew so much more. At one point my mother asked, “Who did you say puts us into debt?” Nassar answered, “The Republicans. A Democracy comes in and seems to make you all some money and then a Republican comes in and spends it all. At least that’s what I thought happened.” For me this was fascinating, such a simple distinction made by someone who doesn’t live in our culture and doesn’t hear everyday that Republicans are the fiscally conservative. It seemed pretty simple. They spend the money the ‘democracy’ makes. And where do they spend it? On war. That part is well documented. It’s amazing to me how clear things are for people who have a fresh eye. And I’m not going to lie to you, I would have thought that Saudi Arabians would be encouraged to like Republicans. After all, the Republicans are the ones who most play ball with their country as far as oil and money is concerned. It would definitely benefit their country more if a Republican were in power, well at least until they ceased to be useful.
And after our discussion on history and politics we moved onto the essentials of our faiths. After all, we had talked about what our faiths had been used for; why not talk about the way we wished they were used for. As we are both quite moderate our faiths have many intersections. We can easily navigate the way we need to treat people. The impasses that we reach have to do with God as a trinity vs God as one, and God as unknowable or essentially relational. Those are the biggest things that we could make no head way about or compromise on. All in all, another Muslim and I have had a monumentally civil talk during Ramadan. Perhaps that’s the time of year these kinds of talk are most likely to occur. I’m a fan.