Below is the first in a series of posts by our Russian correspondent Russkiy about his experiences with Muslims and Arabs. He says, “The first installment provides an introduction about the evolution of my personal views towards Islam.”
The Islamic Mentality
As I was growing up in the Soviet Union during the eighties I was programmed (maybe not intentionally) by the state to dislike Islam by the continuous stream of movies and documentaries about the war in Afghanistan. Before many Westerners became familiar with Islam, I, as a little child, knew that Muslims had many wives, worshiped Muhammad and were very fanatical and aggressive.
It wasn’t long after the collapse of the Soviet Union that wars in Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and closer to home in Chechnya flared up. That was additional proof to me as a child that Islam was evil. The news stories from Israel and Palestinian territories reinforced my view of the Islamic fanaticism.
At the same time, I was taught in school, by the media, and within the family that racism is wrong. Somehow these two ideas coexisted in my mind. On one hand Islam was something bad, and by default anyone south of the border (that included Armenians and Georgians) were Islamic and therefore bad, and on the other hand a strong dislike for racism.
In the mid 1990s my family and I moved to a Western country where I came into contact with many Muslims and Arabs. When I started my university studies I befriended a number of Iraqi, Palestinian, and Egyptian students with whom I shared classes. It was nice to be within a group, as previously I had attended a country school, where I felt myself isolated, as a new immigrant, from the rest of the students.
Due to my contact with the Muslim students I became more interested in Islamic culture and felt guilty for the internal feelings of dislike I had for everything Muslim. I was surprised just how political-minded and knowledgeable those Arabs seemed to be. I later realized that those ideas they seemed to possess at that time were simply propaganda their parents were feeding them throughout their entire lives.
Under their influence I became aware of American “evils”. At that time I wasn’t thinking of converting to Islam, but my dislike for America, which existed from my Soviet upbringing, was reinforced by various arguments that were presented to me by those Arab students.
The night before 9/11 happened I was actually reading an anti-American website that was called, I think, “I hate America.com” or something like that. The following morning when I got up to go to lectures, a friend of mine told me of what happened to the Twin Towers. I skipped half of the day’s lectures and was glued to the TV watching those horrible events being shown on every channel. Despite my dislike for America at that time, I felt sick to my stomach.
I headed out to attend my afternoon lectures, where I came upon that group of Arab friends of mine who seemed very cheerful. When I asked one of my Iraqi friends what was up, he replied by saying that “America got what was coming to her,” and that he was having a party at his place and everyone was invited.
This statement shocked me and made me rethink my attitude towards America and turned me against Islam again forever. From that point on, I started to study everything I could get my hands on about Islam and its history, in order to understand the Islamic mentality better.