They don’t hate our freedom

I’m not sure I will ever understand the double standard. I’m not sure that I will ever understand what makes one life more valuable than the other.  Each time something happens in the world – an attack, an earthquake, a plane crash, something that unexpectedly takes human life – we react as though we’ve witnessed the robbing of human life. Yet, somehow the same indignation doesn’t apply to all of humanity.  The devastation in Brussels or Paris has people changing their Facebook profiles and drumming up crowdfunding campaigns. It’s heartwarming to see how the masses help their fellow humankind.

But while my heart is warming, I sit here scratching my head trying to figure out why there is no indignation for all those living in tragedy day after day. Why is there no call for condemnation for the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been taken over the past 15 years in the Gulf region or the Middle East. The day of the Brussels attack, 37 Iraqi civilians died. The day after the attack, an additional 13 Iraqi civilians were killed.  I saw no one changing their Facebook profiles, I didn’t notice any politicians demanding that those responsible be held accountable for the robbing of those lives. Are those lives somehow less important? Do they not deserve the same freedom to live their lives as those in Brussels?

It seems to me we’re all the same, and the proof of that is the overreaction after each one of these attacks. After the attack in Brussels, politicians start calling for Muslim bans, surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, the return of torture interrogation techniques. That sounds terrifying for Muslims.  That’s terrifying for anyone who values constitutional rights!  There was no attack on American soil, yet every American Arab or Muslim (or any brown person for that matter) is collectively punished. Brussels is thousands of miles away, yet this is the US reaction!

It’s not that I don’t understand the anger, the sadness, or the despair. I just don’t understand why desperation is only justified when something like this occurs in the White, White, West. Yet, when it occurs in Lebanon, as it did on November 12, 2015-a day before the Paris attacks-no one in the West bats an eye.

I found it quite  offensive that a “commentator” stated that  Brussels was a “beautiful and safe city” 20 years ago.   Twenty years ago, before the US and friends invaded the Middle East and made it a military camp hotspot, it was beautiful too. For 20 years, citizens of the Middle East have watched the western militaries destroy their everyday lives.  Yet somehow, the west acts like innocent victims in the war on terror.

How is it that western society doesn’t seem to understand how it is possible for people to become so infuriated while experiencing, day after day, for 20 years, the terror that Brussels encountered in one day? This is a no-brainer, people! Scores of studies show that when one witnesses recurring violence, he has a higher propensity to become violent.  A child born 20 years ago in Iraq has seen nothing other than violence. If that’s not terrorism, I’m not sure what is. Hiring a PR firm to dress something up by calling it a “war on terrorism” doesn’t make it any less traumatic.  And yet we say, “They hate us for our freedom.” They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us because we stole theirs.


About Shirin Zarqa-Lederman 16 Articles
Shirin Zarqa-Lederman was raised in NJ by her Palestinian Muslim parents and later married her Russian Jewish husband. Together they have five interethnic children who experience the traditional customs of both cultures with their extended interethnic relatives. Shirin is also Licensed Professional Counselor, focusing on Child & Adolescent Psychology, and has written her own children’s picture book series, "The Trotters of Tweeville," which is focused on demonstrating kindness to children. The series is available wherever books are sold.


  1. Belgium didn’t invade Middle East. This argument is moot and trite. Most of Europe (except UK) was actually against the War in Middle East, and now the very same people are attacked, France , Belgium.

    The attacks do come from hatred but of another kind. Not due to meddling.

    • Stefan, thank you for your comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this further. So long as we are engaged in constructive conversations, I believe difficult conversations such as these can be discussed and we can achieve-if nothing more-an understanding of each of our perspectives. Regardless of whether or not we are in agreement, I think your position is valid and relevant. That said, please feel free to elaborate on where you believe the hatred comes from. Again, I thank you for engaging in the dialogue.

      • Western societies have implicit mechanisms that commit psychological violence to its members. In fact most societies have such mechanisms, but since the latest attacks were committed against apparently peaceful societies those mechanisms have to be stressed.

        Their effect is even greater to people who have a different culture than the one of the natives. There is a reason why distinct minorities like the Muslim one are harder to be assimilated. This lack of assimilation starts to turn people against each other; before the Muslim minority, the Jewish minorities played similar role in European history. Distrusted by many and often marginalised.

        So Muslim youth in western societies feel the full strength of said marginalization, after a few generations the stress turns into hatred. None of those are new, what is relatively new is to receive phycological violence and return physical violence of such extremity. Most marginalised peoples would react, but few as violently as some people from the Islamic minorities.

        I think it’s there where religion plays a role. Islam is probably the only religion that under current/running interpretations violence is not a form of mortal sin. But unlike many people on the right I don’t see all this as Islam’s fault. Most muslim men and women are very peaceful, I don’t see it as Western societies’ fault either, they have many problems but it’s for them to solve.

        It’s the mixture of the two, like a chemical they create a combustible mixture. *Every* time a western power meddled in Muslim lands we saw an upswel in homicidal extremism, but the opposite is true too, every time large minorities of Muslim men and women failed to integrate in the west, again there would be extreme levels of violence.

        So you only got right one part of the question right (meddling), but what we see in Belgium and France is the other part of the equation “failure to integrate”, that’s where I disagreed with you.

        While I feel that Islam and “the West” don’t have to be at odds, they certainly don’t mix well. I think a respectful distance should be kept. For example Muslim youths from the West that cannot adjust to West’s ideals (that are often at odds with Islam’s) should seriously think of emigrating in Muslim lands. Similarly Western powers should stop meddling, I think if both will happen, we shall see more peace and less violence, and above all, less hatred too.


        • Stefan, thank you for responding. I respect your perspective, and I thank you for pointing out that not all Muslims are terrorists. I do believe that the extreme violence could be somewhat attributed to the advancement in military equipment and artillery. I do question, “why does the west expect the Muslims to integrate into Western culture?” Isn’t that what freedom is about? Several cultures have pockets of “separatists.” Naturally, it would make sense to assimilate to your host culture, (when in Rome…) but for many of the migrants from Middle East (my parents for example) their original plan was to return. That said, many assimilate and end up living in the West longer than their country of origin. They no longer identify with the culture they left. At this point however, so much of the Middle East is war-torn that they have no other option but to stay. When that option is removed, they no longer have the freedom to choose the host culture. Those who chose to separate from the culture are then viewed as marginalized, so its a catch-22. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.

          Shirin :)

          • Well, I don’t disagree with either of the two points you made. I’m an immigrant too , because my country is in tatters, I feel the pain of immigration every day. Like many of my compatriots I want to return to my country of origin, but that’s very hard given its state. Thankfully it’s not a war torn state, but it’s still in a very bad (economic) state.

            I think that the violence that certain Western states have exported , it is now returning back. Unfortunately , it is often against peaceful members of the west like Belgium. I find this fundamentally unfair.

            I agree, Western states should stop meddling in Muslim lands. That will give them the time to rebuild and then become able to accept some returning Muslims that found western societies hard to live in.

            I agree that communities don’t have to integrate. But in the case of Muslim minorities that often backfires. The youth that took so many lives were feeling disenfranchised, non-integration didn’t work well for them.

            So yes, a stable Muslim world also means a better world for all of us. But as it stands, given that we are not there, we have to work on both ends. Minimizing violence in Muslim states, but also Minimizing the ill-effects of non-integration.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful article. As the above commenter exemplifies, the average American has no concept of history or global geo-politics. Belgium was a founding, and is a current, member of post-WWII NATO, which has been an integral force in the collusion with the US to control governments, peoples and nations, and probably more importantly, their resources – particularly petroleum. In addition, Belgium was once a great Empire with colonies, the most disastrous of which was that of Congo, which was pilfered for its resources (rubber, especially) and turned into a slave state for the exploitation of its native people. Although the Congolese kicked out the Belgians in 1960, it is likely that those hatreds persist.

    Belgium is no innocent bystander in world events. There are reasons for the hatred and reciprocal violence. It is vital to educate oneself as to what the Western governments have done to the Middle East and North Africa since WWII especially – coups, clandestine operations, arming of rebels (where do you think bin Laden came from?), the financing of some bad people and governments in order to use them against a common enemy which then backfires. Without a grasp of history and a fuller perspective of international interventionism, the root causes of these human tragedies cannot be understood or addressed. Americans believe what they are fed in government schools and moronic, blathering, thoughtless media outlets which are fed by political hacks who benefit from the public’s fear and division.

    There are some great books, some free e-files, that offer what the simplistic and whitewashed “history” classes will not. is a great place to start.

    Nice post, Shirin. Thank you for your intellectual energies and thoughtfulness.


  3. Thank you so much for your comments. When forums like this do their job they allow for “civil” discussion on the issues at hand. They provide us with an avenue to better understand the world from various perspectives and give us an opportunity to learn from each other. I greatly appreciate the dialogue and the sources you provided. Thank you Todd.

  4. Quite simply, people living safe lives have limits on how much pain and suffering they are willing to hear about and empathize with. When the pain is ongoing, they shrink from it and turn to denial. Also people are concrete in their empathy in that they irrationally prefer to empathize with people who seem similar to themselves, often by mere physical appearance. It’s a false sense of threat that alarms them and a false sense of safety that reassures them it will not happen to them. Voila. All nonsense of course. No excuses for ignoring others’ pain and suffering to spare ourselves emotional discomfort. We are all the same. We are all one. But we prefer not to think about things we don’t have to experience ourselves. Sad and inexcusable.

    • Dena, thank you for your comments, I appreciate you perspective. Unfortunately, you’re right, sometimes its easier to pretend that our lives are our only concern. After all, as humans its our instinctual nature to focus on our own survival. Once you’ve broken through that denial though, you can never go back. Its like trying to put shattered glass back together. It sounds like your shattered glass leaks like mine does, and that’s a good thing! I think it reminds of our humanity. Empathy reminds us of our humanity, and I thank you for yours. ;)

  5. Dear Shirin,

    I have read this article and your replies to comments, and I think you are committed to a polite discussion. The thing is, I find it hard to convince people (especially Muslims) that my own intent is the same. I strongly believe that humanity benefits from cooperation, and cooperation benefits from understanding the perspective of others, even if you disagree.

    However, we don’t come into this world unbiased. We all have our biases, and though some are cultural, many have a biological basis. Among those is an innate tendency to think of people who don’t look like yourself as the out-group. Although I believe it’s our duty to try and fight this bias with culture and education, denying its existence gets us nowhere.

    So I have to ask: Do you really not understand the lack of empathy for victims of violence in Muslim-majority countries? Are you really surprised that “no one”, as you wrote, “bats an eye”?

    I just read an article hosted in this blog, written by a Palestinian American. It was titled “Why the Arab nations are not ready for democracy”. I also read an article by this blog’s owner, in which he was trying to analyze some …disagreeable aspects of Palestinian culture. And, finally, an article by a young Palestinian feminist girl which clearly says that she won’t raise a daughter in Gaza. In all of the above, there was a common theme. They portray a society where diverging views are not tolerated at all. Don’t you think this adds a cultural distance to the phenotype distance?

    On the same note, do you think that people in the Middle East are horrified when events like the ones in Belgium and Paris happen? I don’t know about you, but although it’s been a decade and a half, I think that the images of Palestinians celebrating the attack on WTC on the streets will never be erased from my memory.

    So, we have to be realistic. You can’t expect people to feel the same amount of empathy for everyone. And, perhaps more importantly, you can’t expect “the West” to feel the same empathy for “non-Western” people without holding the other side the same standard. To do so is to expect less of the latter.

    Furthermore, it seems that the majority of peace-promoters in the Muslim community acknowledge that most of the violence in Middle East and the Gulf region is caused by the same people that will be the victims the next day, in an endless circle of revenge. How can it be anything other than expected, that many people in the West write off these events as “Muslims killing other Muslims”?

    I can’t say that I know exactly what it is to be a peace-loving Muslim in a western society, what it’s like to be treated by a large part of your neighbors with contempt and suspicion. But, as an atheist living in a Christian-majority country (one without a secular constitution) I have had quite a lot of prejudice coming my way. And, you know what? Christian fundamentalists in my country, when we protest, always give the same answer eventually: “Well, you should be thankful that we are not like those fanatical Muslims”. This may be a weak defense, but it’s true: In most Muslim-majority countries, I would not be able to criticize the dominant religion like I do now. I would be a closet atheist, fearing for my life.

    I believe that your people are sick and tired of dealing with all those who consider anyone with a legitimate criticism of Israel “a hater of Jews”. And you have every right to feel this way. The thing is, whenever there is legitimate criticism of Islam, it is, much more often than not, labeled “Islamophobia”. Given that a phobia is by definition an irrational fear, I think there is ample reason for reasonable people to fear Islam.

    Which brings us to the point I wanted to make in the first place, the “not all’ argument. The “not all Muslims are terrorists”. The “not all Muslims hate Jews”. The “not all Muslims oppress their wives”. The “not all Muslims think that homosexuality, adultery, drug use, apostasy etc. should be punished by death”. The “not all Muslims want a religious theocracy”. The “not all Muslims believe that suicide bombings are sometimes justified”. The Not All Brigade.

    Well, the “not all” argument is worthless. It adds nothing to the conversation. Not all sexual contact with an HIV-positive person will result in the other person getting infected. Not all Germans were members of the Nazi party. so what? Unless you are talking to an advocate of the extermination of all Muslims, “not all” is not an argument. When considering policy, the “not all” is irrelevant. We all agree, it’s not all. The question is: how many? The answer is, too many. The people who hold those pernicious beliefs (and many more) are too many. Even 1% is too many, and in every case the stats are nowhere near as low as 1%. The Not All Brigade, plus the mantra “Islam is the religion of peace”, goes against our collective value of intellectual honesty. No other religious group holds these beliefs in such high percentages.

    I read Amer Zahr’s article “I refuse to condemn”. I read it, and I felt his anger, his desperation, his frustration. I get it. But he’s got it wrong. You don’t need to condemn those atrocities to convince the West that you are a normal human being. You need to show those who don’t share your values, but do share your Holy Books, that they do not speak for you. As a community, you need to show them that they can’t talk in your name, that you won’t tolerate Islamism and Jihadism. You need to stand up to those in your community who call suicide bombers their brothers, and your non-Muslim neighbors the kuffar. You need to stand up to imams who preach that western girls are fair game to Muslim men because they don’t conform with your dress code. You need to stand up to them when they instruct their listeners to avoid making friends from the ranks of the unbelievers. You don’t have to condemn those for the West’s sake, but for humanity’s sake, and for your own. If you don’t, you can’t complain about the surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods. Because everyone believes that it’s a waste of resources to look for suicide bombers among the Amish, but not everybody believes it’s a waste to do so among the Muslims.

    You said that they don’t hate us for our freedoms. And, of course, no one has ever said “damn those westerners, they have too much freedom.” But, in too many occasions, too many of them have said that they hate us because “we are decadent”, because “we don’t submit to God’s law”, because “we let our women dress like whores”, because “we insult the Prophet” and countless other reasons that have nothing to do with US foreign policy (which sucks, mostly), and everything to do with our freedoms. I am not claiming that US policy has nothing to do with their hatred, it certainly has a lot to do with it. But, by saying that “they hate us because we took theirs”, it seems like you are disregarding everything else they have said, and claiming that you know their minds better than they do. I’m sorry, but you don’t. Islam (or, if you prefer, their version of Islam) is also a huge factor here, and to say that it isn’t is part of the problem. In fact, it’s driving people to the real bigots, the real Islamophobes, the far right parties all across the West, who are gaining power everywhere.

    If you made it this far, thanks for listening. I’m too tired to correct any grammar mistakes, it’s almost 3 am in Greece and I really have to go to bed. I hope everything I wrote is legible.

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