Protected: Ceci n’est pas fraternité: The Treachery of Identity

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Bilal: The Power of Representation

“Great men are those who have the will to choose their own destiny.”

Perhaps this is a point made to certain colleagues from my undergrad, so obsessed with the minute details of cinematic artistry that they forgot how to tell a story.

Perhaps this is a response to the myriad of critics who were so quick to take a studio’s first feature film and stomp on it for not being perfectly rendered in every way.

Perhaps this is a reminder to myself that stories are made great not by those who would judge them for what they could be, but by those who tell them as they are meant to be told and by those who are so moved by them that their hearts overflow with song.

Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is not a perfect film.

Bilal does not have to be perfect.

Though the movie was made in 2015, it is only this past weekend that it has finally seen an international release. This debut film from UAE-based Barajoun Entertainment is an animated feature that tells the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, the young slave who would grow up to become not only a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad, but also Islam’s first muezzin, he who calls for prayer, he whose famous voice is echoed from the tallest spires to the smallest makeshift minarets the world over. The story presented to us takes place over the course of a lifetime, yet each vignette into which we are privileged a glimpse is intimate and individual, each spark of hope and pang of suffering made personal so we may better understand a figure who, above all else, is fueled by the hope of one day breaking his chains, those that bind his body to his masters, and those that bind his heart to the dark despair that threatens to swallow us whole.

“Bilal,” his mother asks him at the beginning of the film, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is not a story you have not already heard.

If you have ever read a book, watched a movie, played a videogame, you know the story of the underdog, spit upon by society for daring to exist, pushing onward in spite of the world telling him to stop trying, driven by hope for a brighter tomorrow. Why should you bother with one more underdog story?

This is what the critics would have you thinking. One review in particular couldn’t decide what audience made up appropriate viewers for this film, because the easy-for-kids delivery of the message contrasted with the filmmakers’ refusal to back down from the violent reality of Bilal’s painful existence: the beatings and the torture he endured for daring to believe, and the wars in which he fought as a freed man. Several critics accused the film’s animation of being imperfect, with stilted animations and expressions, because how dare a studio’s debut feature be anything less than Pixar quality.

Let me tell you what my initial reaction to this film was.

I sat in an empty theater with my mother and my three younger siblings, and I do mean the theater was empty: one other person sat a few rows in front of us. As the credits rolled, my family got up to leave, as did the gentleman in the front rows. I sat for about a minute and, as I stood up, allowed every emotion I felt to wash over me, like the infinitesimal particles of warm sand that danced upon the wind in some of the most stunning scenes in this picture.

I walked to the end of my row. I gripped the railing by the staircase. I cried.

I cried because this was the film that I hoped for at eight years old, when the figures from my father’s many stories didn’t have Claymation specials that were instead devoted to little drummer boys and wise men, or singing vegetables who told them how much Jesus loved them.

I cried because this was the film that I wanted at eleven years old, when I tasted blood and dirt and believed that I could be nobody’s friend because the world instead chose to see me as their enemy.

I cried because this, now, at twenty-six, is a film that I needed now more than ever because of the symbol Bilal ibn Rabah provides for those of us who desperately cling to what little bit of light burns so brightly in our hearts.

This is not, by any means, a perfect film. The writing is, at times, entirely unsubtle. The animation of a lot of the human characters can be stiff and unnatural. When the film isn’t absorbed in the spectacle of grand set pieces, it often loses its footing in terms of pacing and tone.

But this film does not have to be perfect, because so much of what it does is so good. Its set pieces, from nightmarish flashbacks and elegant dreams, to one grand battle in particular that bursts with style and flourish, are expertly choreographed and a delight to behold. The score is at once mysterious and familiar, a curated blend of styles that feels both right at home in Arabia and inviting to guests of the region. The performances are also wondrous: Bilal himself stands out as a triumph, his kind heart and righteous fury delivered in equal measure by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and his vile and vicious master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, seethes with venom courtesy of the brilliant Ian McShane.

The story of Bilal ibn Rabah says that you are not your station in life, you are not your heritage, you are not your class, you are not who anyone says you are. You are, from beginning to end, uniquely and powerfully you. You are the only you there has ever been, and you are the only you that ever will be, and you cannot, you should not, you must not allow yourself to be shackled by the titles others will thrust upon you.

“Bilal,” his mother asks him again at the end of the film, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

This story may be thematically similar to stories you have heard before. But, for what is perhaps the first time, a Middle Eastern studio has delivered the story of one of Islam’s most celebrated heroes in a manner that is accessible to everyone. The message of Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is universal, and it is meant especially for those children who never see themselves or their culture on the silver screen in such a positive light.

You, ultimately, are the only person who is allowed to decide who you are and who you shall be. You are your own master, and you can choose your own destiny.

You, like Bilal, are not perfect.

You, like Bilal, do not have to be.

9/10

The Face of Terror

Terror is not a person. It has no gender, it knows no race, it follows no politics, it worships no God. It does not live across the street from your happy home. It does not sell you tomatoes and cabbage at your farmer’s market. It does not pump your gas, cut your hair, shine your shoes, cook your dinner, light your bulbs.

Terror is not a person, but it lives. It lives, and it breathes, and it walks beside us, ever present, ever living, ever breathing.

Terror is a living thing; like all living things, it hungers. It yearns for sustenance, raw fuel to pump its blood and beat its heart and push its legs ever forward.

Terror hungers. The nourishment it craves is cooked at once slowly and in an instant. It prefers its steak both burned black as night, cooked for days over fires ever-kindled, and also raw, cut from the back of the steer, platter run over with crimson deep enough to stain the table for centuries.

Terror dines on meals choked with ash from a roaring pit that will not stop burning so long as man continues to fuel its fire.

Make no mistake: terror is not an animal byproduct. Blood and carnage do not a cocktail for terror make; they are garnishes, lacking the smoky, peaty Scotch that burns the back of the throat and reeks of the inferno.

Terror requires fear, and fear is a whiskey brewed by man.

Fear is the blood of terror, carnage its body. Terror has no gender, it knows no race, it follows no politics, it worships no God, yet it lives and breathes because of the fear that courses through its veins, that ekes from its pores with the stench of birch burned black, that is fed to it by the men who harvest the grain and brew it by the gallon.

Fear is the princely progeny of the most powerful man in the known free world as they arm the public with paranoia and lead.

Fear is the serial code on the bicep of a woman whose hair is as white now as the pain was that seared through her when her brand was made fresh.

Fear is the middle-aged and balding father of three in the beat-up ’97 Ford F-150 with the “Infidels for Trump” bumper sticker and the “All Rifles Matter” T-shirt.

Fear is the shattered windows, the swastikas spray-painted on garage doors, the rainbow flag torn to shreds and tied together again as a noose.

Fear is the pointed hood and the Party City tiki torch, the cries of the oppressor as they accuse the oppressed of daring to be.

Fear is the middle-aged and balding father of three in the beat-up ’97 Ford F-150 with the Mexican flag on his bumper as he is dragged kicking and screaming away from the home he paid for with forty years of farm work under the table.

Fear is the twenty-five-year-old man with jet black hair and pain in his eyes as he remembers that day sixteen years ago, when the Nineties would finally collapse in a torrent of hellfire and rubble, and his Fifth-Grade colleagues would spend years accusing him of terrorism, because a nine-year old boy is capable of such.

Fear is the oppressed accused of oppression, the poltergeist coming into the light and telling the inhabitants of the house that they were the ones doing the haunting.

Terror is the poltergeist with a blindfold and a gun.

Terror does not have a face. It is not a person, it has no gender, it knows no race, it follows no politics, it worships no God. But, it lives, and it breathes. So long as we cultivate hatred, so long as we brew fear, it will drink deeply from our well, and it will sweat out the smoky stench of a thousand raging fires, and it will pay us back by killing us all.

Of the Levant – (My 20th Post!)

To be of the Middle East is to be poetry in motion,

To be the dawn that kisses the palms, leaves dancing in the breeze,

To be the sapphire waves that lap the shores, their surging tides the caravan highways of the ancient songstress, the bright-eyed scribe.

To be of the Levant is to be of the market,

A cocktail of new and old, Kashmir and Calvin Klein, silk and emeralds, wheat and barley,

Of sandalwood and rosewater glistening on the necks of young lovers,

Their laughter dancing among the stories that swirl with tobacco smoke and distant memories, told in accents far-thrown and close to home.

To be Lebanese is to be indestructible,

The garlic roasting in the street suffocating the ash of what remains,

The cracking of bread louder than bombs could hope to be,

Dreams of tomorrow shining in the eyes of children mercifully spared yesterday.

To be Beiruti is to be young,

To dream of living dreams in a home away from home,

For while you love your mother’s cooking and your uncle’s wild stories, you know there are better things for you elsewhere.

Though you leave your home behind, the garlic and the salty sea, the rose water and sandalwood, the argileh and the laughter,

These will never leave your heart.

To be of the cedars is to be free to make the world your own,

But no matter how far you roam,

Harissa’s arms will always open to you,

Should you choose to come back home.

My Name Is Bilal

ATTN:
Mr. Donald John Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

ALTERNATIVELY:
Mr. Donald John Trump
721 Fifth Avenue, 26th Floor
New York City, NY 10022

Mr. Trump:

My name is Bilal. I am American.

I was born in the City of Williamsburg, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to a woman whose ancestry extends as far back as the settlers of that colony almost four hundred years ago. My mother’s blood is the blood of the English and the Irish, the German and the French, all of whom came to this nation when it was a disjointed mass of Colonies, who sought better days in this Land of Opportunity.

My name is Bilal. I am Muslim.

I was born to a Lebanese man who left his home as a teenager in the middle of a war that threatened his life more than once, with barely a nickel in his pocket and not a lick of English on his tongue, praying he would earn that great American dream, that he could build a family, a career, a life for himself in this nation, whose Lady Liberty beckoned him with the promise of a better life.

My name is Bilal. I am condemned in my own home.

One month before my 10th birthday, the actions of the radical few, acting by order of a man so violent that his own family cast him out of their house, and in the name of a Prophet who would condemn their actions outright, brought your hometown and my home country to its knees and painted a target on my back. From that day onward, I was marked: I was and am a terrorist, because it is absolutely reasonable to blame a nine-year old boy from small-town America for being the mastermind behind such evil. I was and am a terrorist, because it is totally sound to take an entire faith and beat them into submission for daring to call God by a different name.

My name is Bilal. I am a Millennial.

I was born in 1991 and have witnessed the miracle that was the start of the Information Age. I am the one that older anchors on your favorite newscasts refer to with daggers in their eyes and spite on their tongues. I am the one dismissed as a spoiled brat who has it too good nowadays, while my colleagues struggle to build their lives out of the nothing that has been left to them. I am the one dissatisfied with recycled sitcoms and disgusted with the status quo you call God.

My name is Bilal. Your friends do not like me.

I belong to a number of different groups who have been told that in the grander scheme of the ideal America, our lives, our issues, our problems do not matter. I am a friend to far too many people who belong to groups even more diverse, who have been told that their lives somehow matter even less than mine. At some point, the powers that be decided as a collective that the assortment of non-Caucasian, non-Evangelical, non-heterosexual, non-biologically male individuals that make up more than half of this nation’s population simply do not matter to the success of this nation, that these individuals and their issues do not contribute to the ideal American Dream.

My name is Bilal. I was named for a man renowned for his voice.

Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian man born into slavery in Mecca. He was considered a “good” slave, with a rich, resonant voice and a confidant air about him. Drawn to the preaching of the Prophet Muhammad, Bilal was one of the first individuals to convert to Islam, and his master very nearly killed him because of this. As he drew what would have been his final breaths under the weight of a massive boulder in the heat of the Arabian sun, the Prophet’s family bought Bilal’s freedom, and the Prophet Muhammad asked that Bilal use the gift that was his voice to call other Muslims to prayer. To this day, every voice that echoes from the minarets of every mosque around the world emulates the call to worship first made by Bilal.

My name is Bilal. Contrary to popular belief, it is not you I fear: it is the deranged attitude that you encourage with your venomous tongue.

I am not black. I am not a woman. I will never experience the struggles faced by Africans in America, made to build a nation they did not want, whose heads, despite the weight of the polished shoes that have stood upon their shoulders for decades, are still held high as they continue the good fight for the right to be treated like any other American; nor will I ever experience the struggles faced by women in America, who have historically been silenced by their patriarchs, who have been told to their faces that their bodies do not belong to them, who are more easily regarded by men as mere playthings than they are as living, breathing people.

My name is Bilal. I have been told to sit down and shut up.

Your supporters would like me to get over myself. I have been told that the fate of this nation and of my people has been sealed with your Presidency. I have overheard the hoots and hollers of the working white man who praises your reign as a triumphant return to good old-fashioned values, a foundation for a new America built on the bones and sealed with the blood of my family and my friends. Every day since your inauguration, it seems, I awaken to news that if my people aren’t being beaten in restaurants or detained in airports, then my friends are coming home to shattered windows and spray-painted doors, to nooses in their trees and rainbow flags burned black on their lawns. But I am the one who is told to get over myself.

My name is Bilal. I am done putting up with you.

I do not know the struggle of the black community. I do not know the struggle of the female community. I do not know the struggle of the queer community, those individuals tortured and ostracized because their love is offensive under a bastardized translation of the word of the Lord, or because their gender may not conform to the strict dichotomy that color-codes children’s toys.

But, my name is Bilal, and I know hate.

I have been hated for existing. I have been randomly selected at the terminal and pummeled into the dirt because my father’s heritage makes me an enemy of the State. I am a terrorist because at the dinner table, my family’s Grace begins with Bismillah. As I grew older, I heard the stories of my friends, whose families have barred them from their homes because their love was deemed wrong, whose great-grandfathers tilled Dixie dirt at the end of rusted chains in the antebellum sun, whose grandmothers fled across stormy gray seas with numbers burned into their skin and unspeakable horrors burned into their eyes, who to this day are made to feel less than human because of who they are.

My name is Bilal. I am calling you out.

Because I am, for all intents and purposes, a Caucasian man, I have been granted a voice to which most people in this country may actually listen. Like the Bilal who walked with the Prophet, so too will I use my voice to unite those to whom you remain deaf. For my friends who are not white, whose skin is enough of a reason for your proud champions to beat them in the streets, my voice is theirs. For my friends who are women, who have been told countless times that they have no right to their own body, who are paid peanuts when men who have done less are somehow awarded more, my voice is theirs. For my friends in the queer community: whether they have come out and have been subsequently abused for daring to be, or their identity remains secret because your advocates would deliver unto them their despicable brand of divine retribution, my voice is theirs. For my friends of all faiths, whether Muhammad is their Prophet or Jesus is their Lord and Savior, whether they observe Shabbat or worship nothing and no one at all, my voice is theirs.

My name is Bilal.

I have watched too long as my friends and family suffered at the hands of the powers that be. Your behavior over the course of your lifetime has been nothing short of vile, and the attitude that you have encouraged in this country, this attitude of contempt for anyone and anything that doesn’t fit in your delicate definition of America, is disgusting. We are a nation of immigrants, united by our collective differences. There is nothing in this world like the United States of America, which is defined by its diversity. To denounce difference, to spit in the face of that which makes America truly great, is, in a word, wrong.

My name is Bilal. I have a voice, and I refuse to get over myself.

My name is Bilal. I will not sit down.

My name is Bilal. I am American.

I will not shut up.

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Confession: I have never been into Star Wars.

The series that so many people grew up with was never something in which I took interest. I wasn’t one of the children who begged their parents to take me to see the movies that came out as I was growing up. I didn’t collect the merchandise, the shirts and jackets emblazoned with Rebel logos or Empire insignias, the replica blasters and toy ships that populated the halls of the toy stores. Luke Skywalker didn’t inspire me. I wasn’t star-struck by Han Solo. I wasn’t awed or intimidated by Darth Vader.

I never even wanted a lightsaber. That swishing beam, that glowing blade that so many children thought was the coolest thing they had ever seen, never interested me. I didn’t want to be a Jedi like the other kids. I simply didn’t care for Star Wars.

But, I was invited to see The Force Awakens. I was asked to give the series a chance. I sat down and watched the six movies that came before this one, preparing myself for…really, for what, I don’t know.

Tonight, I was excited. Maybe this movie would be what Episode IV (the first movie; it’s complicated, I’ll explain later, maybe) was to so many others. Maybe I’d finally see what so many others saw in this series.

As someone who has never been a fan of Star Wars, I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

I was thrilled.

I was captured, pulled to the edge of my seat, not just by the grandeur of it all—the sweeping vistas, the grand set pieces, the impossible ships that dominated the screen—but by characters that, so many light years away, in galaxies we may never know, reached into the audience and pulled me into their star systems.

Putting everything else aside, putting away the idea that this movie is just part one of a larger set, or part seven of an even greater series, or just one chapter in a collection of stories, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, by itself, a fantastic film.

The characters resonate with a depth unseen, at least by me, in the original trilogy. These are not the wooden performances of an uncertain troupe set to dialogue that chews more scenery than Godzilla on Broadway. These are people, living, breathing people, well aware of the history that lies behind them, and they feel real. Yes, there are characters who return from the older films, and maybe I would’ve cared more about them had I been invested in their original stories.

The new ones, however, the ones without history, the ones whose stories had yet to be told, burst through the screen with an unrelenting believability. I cared about these people, and, more importantly, I wanted to know more. This was not something I felt in the original trilogy, nor did I particularly care about the fates of anyone in the prequels. Yet these characters, with their dimensions, their conflicts their desires, made me care.

I watched, breathless, as the lone scavenger with dreams of greater things clashed relentlessly with forces far greater than she could have possibly imagined, as she refused to be rescued by anyone other than herself, as she proved to doubting masses that she could be her own hero.

I cheered for the Stormtrooper who chose to think differently, who turned away from the path that had been laid for him and bonded with a boisterous and boyish pilot and his bouncing ball droid.

I was even enthralled by the galaxy’s latest antagonist, not the stoic Lord of an era long before him, but a figure brimming with emotion, with fire and fury and fear, but also pain and torment and uncertainty and, yes, even doubt, a dark lord with dynamicity not typically reserved for figures meant to be imposing.

My heart was broken, and my mind was blown, not just by the stellar performances, but also by the remarkable writing underneath it. Even in its most serious moments, there was laughter to be found in the awkward friendship that united these brave heroes against a threat the galaxy had never known. Unlike the bland language of the original trilogy, and unlike the unbelievably corny “dialogue” of the prequels (it was so bad, it was so, so bad), I believed every word that was said on the screen.

Nothing in the movie felt unnatural or out-of-place. These were not the cheap sets and scavenged costumes of the original series, nor were these the great but gaudy and almost too clean locales from the prequels. The places and the faces in every scene, and the cinematography that was nothing short of stunning, made me feel like I had truly been transported to a galaxy far, far away, and I have nobody but J.J. Abrams to thank for bringing all of these elements together.

There are those reviewers who have said that a lot of the elements of this film were simply borrowed from the original trilogy, rehashed and enhanced for the 21st Century. I will admit, there were scenes that felt remarkably familiar, like we’ve been here before. But that is exactly what Abrams is doing: he is inviting us back to that galaxy we think we know, and he is also showing us how far that galaxy has come in the many decades since its inception. Though it may feel familiar, Abrams manages to keep the film fresh, exciting, and new.

Whatever George Lucas envisioned a long time ago, Abrams has finally managed to achieve those impossible ideals, if not surpass them entirely. I can confidently say that, as someone who had never been a fan of this series, Abrams and Disney managed to exceed my expectations.

There has been an awakening, and I have felt it. Through the tireless efforts of everyone over at Lucasfilm and Disney, this latest entry into the storied Star Wars saga has managed to inspire in me a new hope. After what will only be the rousing success of this picture, I can’t wait to see how J.J. Abrams plans to strike back. I can’t wait for the return of the Jedi.

The Season of Fear

The scent of cinnamon and gingerbread wraps me in a warm embrace as I sit at a tiny table tucked away in the corner of the café. Michael Bublé serenades me through the speakers, dreaming of a white Christmas over the bubbly babble of shoppers and the regular hiss of the espresso machine.

Though steam wafts from the tea in the china mug in front of me, my heart has been chilled to match the frost forming on the window. An hour ago, the idea that my family would never be able to come home for the holidays would never have crossed my mind.

That’s when I was splashed with the most recent batch of venom to spill out of Donald J. Trump’s gaping maw.

To anyone who has been following the meandering mess that is this maniac, his comments should come as no surprise. The ultraconservative and grossly prejudiced Republican presidential hopeful, on top of every other rampant racist remark that occupies his regular rhetoric, has, according to an article from the New York Times, called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders “can figure out what’s going on.”

“Without looking at the various polling data,” Mister Trump has said in a statement issued by his campaign, “it is obvious to anyone the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Typically, these words would not faze me. I would dismiss this comment as yet another cheap shot at Islam by a person who chooses not to understand it.

Yet these words come on the heels of a statement made only yesterday by one Mister Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, only a couple of hours from where I live. He urged his students to carry guns on their person “so we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever showed up here.” This statement was met with roars of applause and admiration, and this statement, combined with the repeated racist rhetoric of Mister Trump, continues to underline one very clear idea:

My family is not welcome here.

My father, who fled a nation decimated by repeated war and invasion in order to seek an education, who was determined to build a better life for himself, who was never handed anything but worked for everything, who would give the shirt off his back even when he had none to give, is not welcome here.

My mother, born in America to Americans, who chose to convert and learn a whole new culture, who defies every attempt made to tell her what she cannot do and refuses to let anyone step on her independence, who supports her children when nobody else will, is not welcome here.

My sisters and my brother, my beautiful siblings who possess gifts I will never have, whose time I value more than all the money in the world, who make me proud to be their big brother, are not welcome here.

I am not welcome here.

What angers me most, what makes my heart rage against my ribs, boiling my blood and stinging my eyes with fury, is the sheer irony that these comments, these hate-filled, xenophobic remarks, are being made during this, the season of Christmas.

These “good Christians,” these “holy men,” these figures who reportedly sleep with the Bible by their bed and their Lord and Savior watching over them, would make their Prophet cringe. This is the season during which the Messiah was born, the season that ushered in your holiest of holy figures. Would He approve of your words? Would He condone your behavior? Would He sit solemnly by and nod as you spat your hate at people who have done nothing to earn your misplaced ire?

This is the season for giving, for caring, for love. What love have you in your heart other than love for your own self?

Your words have corrupted this happy season. The snow that dances in the night air, glistening in the strings of cheery lights, has been stained by the noxious fumes that flow from your mouths. The joyous songs that praise the Lord and wish you a Merry Christmas have been drowned out by the hatred that you bellow from your rotten podium.

What do you know of Islam? What do you know of my people, who believe in Jesus just as much as you do, who also regard Him as the Messiah? What do you know of my father’s people, who did not celebrate on 9/11, as Mister Trump would want us to believe, but cowered in fear from 9/12 onward, knowing full well the fury that would be rained down upon them, the blame that would be laid upon them in response to the actions of the radical few, those monsters who we condemned then just as much as we now condemn the poorly-named ISIS, a group that bears more similarity to the Antichrist than it does Islam?

You have turned this most joyous of seasons into a season of fear.

For the longest time, this period of the year has always been my favorite. Whether we were on the cool beaches of Beirut with my father’s family, or gathered around the tree in Richmond with my mother’s family, this season has always been the happiest season for me. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday because, for the longest time, I believed that no matter what wars raged outside our windows, no matter what difficulties we were facing on our own, when our family gathered together, nothing could harm us. For one day out of the year, we were together. We were happy. We were safe.

When one man does not want my family in this country, and when another man threatens to end my family before they even arrive, I can comfortably say that I cannot feel safe anymore.

This is an open invitation to Misters Trump and Falwell:

I want you to tell me why you hate me.

I want to sit down with you and give you the opportunity to tell me, to my face, why you hate my family, why you hate my people.

I want you to tell me what Islam, true Islam, a religion of peace whose people gave your people charts of numbers and maps of stars, stockpiles of medicines and temples dedicated to education and the arts, did to make you hate us so.

I want you to understand that ISIS is not Islam and should not be referred to as “the Islamic State.” Their actions are as un-Islamic as your words are un-Christian. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you started referring to it as “Daesh,” which is their Arabic acronym and which loosely translates to a derogatory term in Arabic. This is also the phrase that almost every nation except the United States uses to refer to this heinous group. Maybe you two can start a trend. Maybe you can redeem yourselves.

I would love to give you that chance. I would love to have the opportunity to sit and talk with both of you, were I not convinced you would shoot me on sight.

Remember this as you kneel before the Cross on your Lord and Savior’s birthday, as you pledge your souls to the man from Nazareth who looks more like my family than he does your stained glass portraits, who died so you may stand before Him and spit your hate:

I hope, if nothing else, that you have a very Merry Christmas. As long as you ensure that my family will never be welcome in their own home, I know that I won’t.