Us vs. Them . . . Who Are They Again?
January 10, 2008, 8:13 am
Filed under: culture, media, politics, uncategorized

In an era where we’ve been constantly reminded that foreign nations are either with us, or they’re with the enemy, it’s important to step back and take stock of who exactly “we” are, and who “they” might be. A couple of days ago, I got to see one of our students for the first time since the holiday break. She’s from Turkey. Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple acts of violence in Turkey, which I’ve seen in the news, and have been interested in talking to her about it. So, after hearing about her travels over the holidays, and her preparations to return to Turkey soon, I asked her what’s been going on. She talked about a group called the PKK, and how they’ve been a militant disruptive group for a long time now. Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict this group has stirred up over the years.

Trying to learn more about the situation, I asked some follow-up questions that betrayed something very American about me. I asked things like, “So, are the Kurdish people trying to fight for their own state?” As I asked these questions, multiple times, my younger friend had to correct me – “No, it’s not the Kurdish people. It’s this group. The Kurdish people are normal, everyday people. We all have Kurdish friends – you can’t tell by looking at them that they’re Kurdish or Turkish. The PKK is like Al Quaeda.” I was embarrassed at how I had lumped all of the people together into one group . . . a “them” group. I have to own the fact that I’ve been suckered into the stories in the media and government messages that insist on these generalizations, without really considering the fact that there are real people, with families and friends, and want to live normal lives . . . and they’re not really a part of “them.” It’s a very subtle mind job. In this case, my own generalizations didn’t really harm anyone (except myself), but it did illustrate a weakness in me.

It seems to me that people in other parts of the world are much more careful with the way they speak and think. I recall during the run-up to the Iraq war, and all the soap opera drama between the U.S. and France, because they weren’t part of the “coalition of the willing” (or was it that we weren’t a part of the “coalition of the intelligent?”) I’d hear radio interviews with French people, who almost always said things like, “We don’t have a beef with the American people, but their government is doing something we cannot support.” They didn’t lump all Americans together. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, we were busy renaming our fried potatoes and breakfast breads.

Memo to self: Stop labeling, stop categorizing, stop judging. Listen more, care more, love more.

That’s all.


1 Comment so far
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Thanks for sharing, Steve.

Comment by Ryan Moore

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