WASHINGTON – I was one among many others who always dreamed of living in the United States.
We learned about America from its Hollywood window to the world,its social cultures,language and freedom – it was all from that little window called TV.
Everyone tried to imitate Americans at least once,but they were faced by the strongest tool of rejection,our conservative society. If a man shaved his moustache,for example,people assumed he was gay.
I was born and raised in Baghdad in an upper middle-class family. My interests in the United States increased when I graduated from the college of languages at the University of Baghdad. Improving the English I learned was one of the reasons I wanted to be here.
Finally,I got to the States four months ago. I was so excited when my plane landed at John F. Kennedy Airport,the dream that became true. In these four months I tried my best to examine the society I dreamed of and its knowledge.
Honestly,I'm shocked with what I have seen so far.
Young Americans know nothing about the world around them.
I have been involved in a lot of discussions,because I'm from the Middle East and particularly from Iraq. People rained me with questions they should have learned in school.
At Time magazine's headquarters – I worked for Time in Baghdad as an interpreter and fixer for the last two years – I met a dozen college journalism students taking a tour. The questions were stunning.
“What language do Iraqis speak?” one of them said.
Can you believe that,after 18 months of U.S. media coverage of the war,future journalists don't know what language we speak?
In Washington where I settled for an internship,my roommates,who are also journalism students,ages 19 to 22,are from different social and educational backgrounds and states. However they share two things: They are Americans,and their knowledge about the Middle East,Arabs and Muslims,is limited.
They thought that the word “Muslims” is a synonym for “Arabs,” and actually it's not. Most Arabs are Muslims,but not all Muslims are Arabs. Malaysia,for example,is a Muslim country,but Malaysians are not Arabs.
They thought Iran is an Arabic country,while Iranians are Persians. They heard about the Persian Gulf ,but they didn't know why it is called that. Iranians speak Farsi. Sometimes Iranians read Arabic because they are Muslims and the Quran was written in Arabic.
“Sudan and Somalia are Arabic countries,” I said of the two African nations,and they were shocked. They thought that Afghanistan and Pakistan are Arabic – they aren't,even though all four are Muslim.
The other crucial mistake that traps most U.S. government officials and public figures is the word “anti-Semitic.” They frequently accuse Arabs of being anti-Semitic.
Well,Arabs are Semitic,my friends,so why do you accuse the Semitic of being anti-Semitic? In addition,Arabic and Hebrew are two branches of one Semitic linguistic origin.
But you might ask,as my roommates asked,“ But Jews are white.”
Well,Judaism is a religion,it's not an ethnic group. Anyone could convert to Judaism regardless of his or her ethnic background. It just happens that most of the Jews in this country are white.
If a Hawaiian who is Christian by birth,converted to Judaism or Islam,his religion doesn't reveal his ethnic background. At the same time,you will find Arabs who are Christians or Jews.
I find it really disappointing when people don't know even about their own country,I have talked to Americans who don't know whether West Virginia is a state or a county. Maybe they were not educated enough,but at the end of the day,they are “Americans.”