I am a father, husband, son, brother, friend and professor. I am American. But I am also a Palestinian, a Lebanese and a Muslim. These many identities have been particularly salient to me as I have watched the continuing popular uprisings in the Middle East. Our six-year-old Leila and four-year-old Rania are too young to fully grasp what is happening, despite the efforts of me and my wife, Tammy, to explain the events at their most basic level — “People in places have been treated unfairly for a very long time. They want to be treated fairly.” In the spirit of creating learning moments we add — “It takes a lot of courage for them to speak up because some people are trying to stop them by doing hurtful things. We want to give you the courage to speak up when you’re treated unfairly or in a mean way.”
[media-credit name=”Ian Sanders” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Upon reflection, it really is as simple as that. But these events have also taught me many things while reminding me of others. Although our children are too young today, they won’t be tomorrow. And with that in mind, here is what I will say about what this moment in history has shown me:
1. You can make a change. In the most destitute of situations — when it seems as though everyone and everything is working against you, when the barriers seem insurmountable and when change is far out of reach — know that change is achievable, and pursue it. Don’t wait for it to happen. It is not magical like that.
2. Resist oppression, whether it is from a friend, partner, society or stranger. Whether it is tyranny against you or against others, resist it. The longer you stand silent in its face, the more difficult it is to break its stare. It is magical like that.
3. Believe in possibility. Believe in yourself and your ability. Believe in others and their ability, even when they may not see the talents within themselves. Help them see the possibilities they bring.
4. You have it in you to empower others — millions of others. Act courageously and someone will be watching. That person will gain courage from you and will act in a similar way. Someone else will be watching that person and might move the world. That movement would have been impossible without you.
5. Strength comes from community. Build and cherish relationships within your communities. Those bonds will return emotional, personal and spiritual riches to you 100-fold, and in the most unexpected ways and times.
6. A commitment to non-violence is not weakness. In fact, it takes incredible strength. Know the difference between a commitment to non-violence and the right to self-defense.
7. Be willing to struggle for your culture and what it stands for. Approach it with your eyes open. Know the sacrifice it takes, and learn what it means to be patriotic. Resist those who say it requires silence or blind support.
8. Whatever religious position you take, never pursue it blindly. Develop and hold those beliefs with care, and release them if they encourage you to judge others. Your religious beliefs don’t make you any better (or worse) than anyone else.
9. Be proud of your Arab identity. Be proud of our innovations and passion. Be proud of our communities and our resilience. Be proud of our revolutions.
10. Throughout life, you will encounter many people who, often due to no fault of their own, are misinformed about aspects of your cultural and religious identities. Many are thirsty for knowledge. Remember, you can make change.
These reflections are simple. They are first and foremost statements of the human condition, but the ongoing popular uprisings in the Middle East, like others before them throughout the world, bring absolute clarity — Our lives are ultimately dependent on the basic foundations of what it means to be human, and we ultimately rely on the leadership of our children.