Adorned in a traditional Muslim headdress, Palestinian immigrant Raja Khatib lead a discussion on tolerance, faith, and unrest in the Middle East with Lawrence students and faculty this past Tuesday in the gender studies sponsored brown bag lunch: “A Palestinian Woman’s Experiences in Appleton” in the Barber Room.Khatib is an Appleton resident who fled her native Jerusalem several years ago after her husband’s grocery store was bombed and he was brutally beaten by Islamic militants. Fearing for the safety of her children, Khatib petitioned to live in the U.S. while struggling with the agonizing fact that unless she left the only home she had ever known, her four sons would have to live in perpetual fear.
Unfortunately, America has not proven to be the sanctuary she had once pictured. After the Sept. 11 attacks, her family received repeated death threats due to their faith, and Khatib was forced to call the police on more than one occasion. Khatib stated that this situation provides her with a unique opportunity to educate others about tolerance. Although a victim of various tragedies, she is a woman of strong faith and an advocator of non-violence.
When addressed with claims that the Sept. 11 attacks were religiously motivated, Khatib answered firmly that Islam is a peaceful religion, and that Osama bin Laden is manipulating the name of Islam to fit his purpose. When testifying about the perpetual cycles of violence and hate which exist in the Middle East and in America, Khatib had tears in her eyes and asked the question that plagues us all: “Why?” For, as she pointed out, not only are violence, hatred, and ignorance prevalent abroad, but they exist within the walls of our very nation in schools, the media, and in our homes.
When discussing ignorance as the greatest plague of our society, Khatib turned to the ever-present issue of stereotyping. Until children learn not to bias themselves towards any single group of people, she worries, messages of peace will fall upon deaf ears. That is why Khatib finished her G.E.D. in 2000, and is now attending the University of Wisconsin at Fox Valley to become a teacher. She believes that by empowering children with both knowledge and a love of culture and tolerance, the world can be changed, one person at a time.
As the session drew to a close, Khatib asked those in attendance, “How do we achieve peace? How can we promote tolerance?” The room fell silent. Each individual was left to ponder that question as they left the room quietly. Khatib’s lecture had a profound affect on those in attendance, not only because she raised the question of how to change the world, but because this extraordinary woman, in spite of her past, is living with the answer.