The Syrians are Gone
So, Jeremy and I are sharing this apartment, and two other students are going to move in with us in the fall. But for the summer, we had some empty rooms. We (well Jeremy really) decided to sublet them to reduce our rent. He put out an advertisement and got a response from a Syrian medical student named Ahmed. Ahmed was coming to the U of C hospital to do some kind of residency requirement.
Ahmed's English wasn't too good, but he practiced very hard and we helped him out and he improved rapidly. He was very polite, and shared his crazy Syrian food with us (it mostly consists of yummy oily things that you dip pita bread into). The first night he was here we had to look up the direction to Mecca so he could pray. And set an alarm clock for dawn so he could pray again at sunrise.
After he had been here about a week, he asked whether his friend Basil, also a Syrian medical student, could come and stay with him. Jeremy and I thought this was a little sketchy, but couldn't see any reason why not. So Ahmed and Basil were sharing a room. Basil had been in America before and had a bit of good-humored cynicism in him; Ahmed was more like a big kid: earnest, curious, constantly needing things explained.
And then after about another week, Ahmed and Basil asked whether a third Syrian medical student friend, could also come and stay with them. "How many of you guys are there?" I asked. They looked at each other, paused, and said "...twenty..." >8-O "You can't all live here!!" I said.
Another one of Ahmed's friends back in Syria -- an engineering student, not a med -- wanted to buy some electronic parts from an American company. Specifically, some USB decoders and similarly innocuous integrated-circuits. But the company website wouldn't ship them to Syria. I wanted to help, so I volunteered that we could have the circuits shipped to our house, and then Ahmed could send them back to Syria. No problem, right?
Once the parts arrived, I suddenly remembered that the US has put a trade embargo on Syria. So my innocent attempt to help a friend might very well be classified by the feds as "smuggling U.S. technology into a terrorist-supporting nation". Hmmm. At press time, Ahmed was planning on taking the chips back with him on the plane instead of shipping them. I warned him that he had better make very sure of what the law is, and should turn the chips over if they're contraband, and not try to smuggle them in his sock. I hope he'll be allright.
It was a fun experience having them around. Especially learning Arabic words from them. Al-salaamu ali-kom! But I am kind of relieved that they're gone now. It's not that their Islamitude made me uncomfortable, but...
no, wait a minute. That's exactly what it was. Their religion makes me uncomfortable. My liberal upbringing has trained me to be overly accepting of other cultures while being critical of my own, so admitting that Muslims creep me out feels like I'm admitting to some kind of moral failing. But now that I think about it more, I have exactly the same amount of respect for Islam as I have for Christianity
-- that is to say, absolutely none --
So I'm just going to go ahead and criticize. Ahmed and Basil were nice people. They were friendly, polite, helpful: close to ideal roommates. But they sincerely believe that a big invisible man in the sky with magic powers is going to punish me (me personally) with unimaginable torments after I die, forever. Because I'm not kneeling on a rug and chanting along with them five times a day. That puts a bit of a strain on any friendship.
Favorite website: Internet Infidels, which has a very active Atheist discussion forum.
I just found out, after he left, that Ahmed is a Creationist. He's studying to be a doctor, and yet he's willing to throw out all of modern biology (along with geology, history, physics, the scientific method, and logic) in favor of barbarian fairy tales. I wonder if he thinks diseases are caused by demonic posession? That's not someone I want treating me.
I was just going to avoid topics of religion, but Ahmed kept dragging me into those conversations. He wanted to tell me how he knows that the Koran is true:
1. Mohammed was illiterate, so he couldn't have written it! It must have come from God!
2. There are similarities between the Koran stories and the Jewish and Christian scriptures, so they must have all come from the same source, i.e. God, because Mohammed never had contact with any Jews or Christians that he could have heard their legends from. Nope, never.
3. (This one is best of all) The Arabic poetry in the Koran is so beautiful that it is beyond the ability of any human being ot compose, ergo must have come from God.
Well, I can't argue with that logic. I don't really know enough about Islam to combat it intelligently. I've read enough of the Bible in English to know what a monstrous piece of trash it is, but unless I learn to read Arabic the Muslims can just use the excuse of "oh you've only read the translation, you can't understand the true power, etc etc". Cuz of course the all-powerful creator of the universe only speaks Arabic.