When I was a little boy, I used to dream of being reborn outside the hardship of the Refugee Camp in Gaza, in some other time and place where there were no soldiers, no military occupation, no concentration camps and no daily grind – where my father fought for our very survival, and my mother toiled to balance out the humiliation of life with her enduring love.
When I grew older, and revisited my childhood fantasies, I came to quite a different conclusion: if I had to, I would do it all over again, I would not alter my past, however trying, in any way. I would embrace every moment, relive every tear, every loss, and cherish every triumph, however small.
When we are young, they often fail to tell us that we should not fear pain and dread hardship; that nothing can be as rewarding to the growth of one’s identity, sense of purpose in life and the liberation of the human spirit than the struggle against injustice. True, one should never internalize servitude or wear victimhood as if a badge; for the mere act of resisting poverty, war and injustice of any kind is the first and most essential criterion to prepare one for a more meaningful existence, and a better life.
I say this because I understand what many of you must be going through. My generation of refugee camp dwellers experienced this in the most violent manifestation you can ever imagine. These are difficult and challenging years for most of humanity, but all the more for you, young Muslims, in particular. Between the racism of American and European politicians and parties, the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping much of the world, propagated by selfish individuals with sinister agendas, playing on people fears and ignorance, and the violence and counter-violence meted out by groups that refer to themselves as ‘Muslims’, you find yourself trapped, confined in a prison of stereotypes, media hate speech and violence; targeted, labeled and, undeservedly, feared.
Most of you were born into, or grew up in, that social and political confinement and remember no particular time in your past when life was relatively normal, when you were not the convenient scapegoat to much of what has gone wrong in the world. In fact, wittingly or otherwise, your characters were shaped by this prejudiced reality, where you subsist between bouts of anger at your mistreatment, and desperate attempts at defending yourself, fending for your family, and standing up for your community, for your culture and for your religion.
Most importantly, you continue to struggle, on a daily basis, to develop a sense of belonging, citizenship in societies where you often find yourself rejected and excluded. They demand your ‘assimilation’, yet push away whenever you draw nearer. It is seemingly an impossible task, I know.