I want to thank you for your ride to the airport this summer, even though you may not remember me. I was the girl who, after realizing she couldn’t in any way carry two ridiculously over packed suitcases down the Metro steps to the RER, ended up snagging you as an Uber driver on my way to Charles de Gaulle airport.
You arrived in about three minutes flat, helped me pack my two large bags into the trunk of your car and even opened my door while I got it! New York Uber drivers are nowhere near as professional as you. You even (in broken English and a bit of French) offered to me water bottles and mints, which were located inside my door.
We attempted to make conversation and I thank you for your attempt as I know your lack of English and my French being limited to greetings, ordering food and “merci,” made it a tad bit difficult. Still we both continued with introductions. I told you my name and that I had just finished a week in Paris and was now heading to Ireland. You asked if I enjoyed Paris and introduced yourself, but it’s what you said next that I want to apologize to you for.
“I’m from Lebanon but it’s okay, I’m Christian, it’s okay.”
I’m sure I covered it up well, but I don’t think you know how truly disgusted and heartbroken I felt, knowing that you felt a need to say that. As if, if you were of another religion, that I would flee or judge you.
But I do understand. I understand that we are living in a time where people feel a need to defend themselves or apologize to avoid potential fear or judgment because of who they are, what they believe or where they are from.
Primarily because we are also living in a time where people choose to admire “leaders” who milk stereotypes, xenophobia and fear — and who believe that there is nothing wrong with dehumanizing people by dividing them into categories, and then shunning all the groups into which they do not fall.
Paris was one of the most diverse cities I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. This is also one of the aspects of my hometown that I love so much. That being said, I’ve still unfortunately crossed paths with one too many close-minded, uninformed people, that manage to convince themselves that there fabricated reasons for choosing to despise an entire group of people is legitimate.
Recently, I came across a social media post from an acquaintance, which read, “If Hillary wins and lets all the Muslims into America, I’m moving.”
What’s more scary than someone finding nothing wrong with classifying an entire population of individuals as “the Muslims,” is the fact that this person lacks the knowledge to know that there are currently 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States and lacks the knowledge that “American” and “Muslim” aren’t isolated traits.
I’m sure there have always been those who have felt negatively about the Muslim religion, as there are about many religions, races and ethnicities, but being someone who grew up with a handful of friends who happened to be Muslim, I have a very difficult time processing this hatred.
Let me be clear, these friends were never “my Muslim friends,” but they were the friends whose houses I’d spent weekends at, whose parents would invite me to stay for dinner and who I spent countless sleepovers with exchanging secrets and jokes.
They are not the disgusting memes and fabricated stories and statistics that people choose to base an entire religion on. They are mothers, brothers, friends, teachers and doctors. They are 3.3 million Americans and 1.6 billion globally, an amount most people wouldn’t have guessed or known since they look and are just like you and just like me.
I want you to know that you never have to defend who you are to me, or to anyone you encounter. I refuse to let anyone who may have different beliefs than me, or who I may be different from, ever believe that they owe me an apology. I refuse to let people defend themselves when they have done nothing that needs defending.
And I refuse to support or admire anyone who makes other humans feel that they need to defend their race, religion, country of origin, sexual preference, or any factor that makes them who they are.
And yes, everyone has the right to his or her own opinion, regardless of how uneducated or disgusting.
Personally, I’d rather stand in solidarity with the innocent than stand idle with the ignorant.
But, thank you again. Regardless of all the traits that make up who you are, you were one of the most friendly and helpful people I met during my entire week in Paris. You even got me to the airport with time to spare, even after I spent an hour attempting to make it there on my own!
How could I thank you enough?