Rod Barbo to “Downward-Spiraling Newspaper”: “I am treated unfairly or with prejudice here in Yemen” [Archives:2001/42/Focus]

October 15 2001

Yemen Times received the following letter from Mr. Rod Barbo, an American working in Yemen, who called YT a “downward-spiraling newspaper” and based on the freedom of press and the right to reply, we publish it in text with no comments.
I got mad reading your steadily downward-spiraling newspaper and wrote an article for submission.

I read the Yemen Times article “I am as American as the next guy is!” and was struck by what this author did NOT say. As for most Arab news I have watched lately, there was no open condemnation of both the hijackings/ bombings and the calls by some Muslims for Jihad. Instead, the cruel actions and the hatred and revenge underlying them are tiptoed around and treated as understandable and tolerated. The “I am as American…” author instead railed a whole lot more against a couple unstable Americans making relatively insignificant evil acts against individuals and the country’s misguided foreign policies. Why is blame avoided on one side, but not on the other? It surely sounded to me like one side sense of injustice and anger is OK, and opposing biases held by other Americans were not. What kind of a double standard is being promoted among Arab Muslims?
The author Shaker Al-Ashwal was an American Yemeni Muslim. He thankfully can be just as American as I am, and American as can be a Chinese born Buddhist, a Hindu from India, a Pilipino Catholic, or even an Israeli born Jew. In contrast, I as a white American living in Yemen for over 8 years can never be a Yemeni. A white Christian American like myself can never be a Saudi, an Omani, or ever any other Arab or Islamic citizen. If I asked, “Is it racist and prejudicial of all these Islamic countries to not let me become a citizen?” I suspect all Arabs would all loudly call “No, it isn’t! That’s something different!” But really, how different is it?
The major reason for the WTC attacks on civilians, as many recent Yemen Times articles have implied and as heard hundreds of times from Yemenis, is America’s blind and/or unfair support of Israel. Finally the “Islamic Link” stood up against it. And this “blind support” is also why I hear most Yemenis justify or excuse the WTC attackers and support the concept of Jihad if a new war starts. A specific example of an unfair US policy which incited the WTC attacks and often noted by Yemenis this week was America’s recent refusal at an international meeting to label Israel as racist in their political policies. At first glance, the US stance appears to support only Israel. But, if America were to agree to across-the-board label Israel as “racist”, would not they have to apply the same standard to at least 20 other Islamic countries? Is it a completely bad thing to have enough foresight to refuse labeling them all? Did it strike any one else as odd that “racist” labels are only bad as well as a “Zionist Plot” when America stood up against them, but not when the same standard is held by Muslim radicals?
I am treated unfairly or with prejudice here in Yemen on a regular basis. In stark contrast to the Quran (“Wail Al-Mutaffafiin” begins the applicable Sura), I pay more for bus or airline tickets, visas, work permits and a bunch of other things than does a Yemeni. 97% of the population here is always trying to charge foreigners more on the street just because they think all white folks are rich and ignorant. Could this be a Zionist plot to make me resent Arabs and their culture? Rubbish! It is just the universal problem of selfish people with more of a desire to get for themselves, or at least for their brother, than to care for outsiders or do what is right. We all at times can feel angry at selfishness and injustice just like a Palestinian…
But as a human being, I am an individual responsible for my self and my own response. I do not blow up the Sana’a Trade Center some evenings just because tax collectors, customs officials, or government employees have repeatedly blackmailed our company. I do not kidnap neighbors or guests because several Yemeni companies ordered equipment from my company and never finished paying for it. Of course, I do not because God has clearly said that I am responsible for myself and for my own actions. When someone behaves badly towards me (and they do here in Yemen every week in a hundred small ways), I have a moral choice to not become just as evil as the original perpetrator by responding with evil. We would all say I am wrong if I bring home a problem at work and yell at my kids because of it. Even if it is understandable, it is wrong. I become a bad person if I let problems around me being my excuse for committing a similar evil act. Or, even doing a much greater evil action like the secretly-admired hijackers did to New York. Let us openly call the attacks and their perpetrators what they are – an evil hypocrisy rather than a staging ground for a Jihad. Osama and those like him, who want to start a Jihad, are nothing more than selfish and evil people just like those Jews and Americans they hate.
Although I admit that I am not always good at it, I try to not be overcome by evil and so become evil myself. Rather, I find that I can live here in Yemen a lot more peacefully and contentedly if I respond to evil with good instead. Even if it is sometimes hard, I have to remind myself constantly that there is a God who Judges and who has promised to Avenge not only all big evils, but also all of our unkind words and even unkind thoughts. I am a much nicer guy to be around when I let God be Judge and Avenger. Dozens of times recently I have heard Yemenis and the Arab press praising the US government to be wise and considerate in their threats of retaliation; to not overreact and attack citizens in Afghanistan or other Muslim countries. But many of these same people around me here rejoice that the Mujahideen did it to America. Let us call it what it really is: “Two wrongs do not make a right.” No one with a conscience should even tolerate the insane call for Jihad if US stoops attack terrorist camps in countries like Afghanistan. Rather, your paper should expose the rampant tolerance of terrorism and calls for Jihad for the hypocrisy, hate, anger, and selfishness they are.
Rod Barbo
[email protected]