Abdulrahman Zeitoun changed the way I think about Muslims

Abdrulrahman Zeitoun-Zeitoun to his family and friends-is a naturalized American citizen who emigrated to the United States from Syria.  The trials and tribulations he experienced in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are documented in Dave Eggers' book, Zeitoun.

As an American Jew, I have a natural antipathy toward the Arab world.  That may seem racist or xenophobic, but the fact remains that every Arab country in the Middle East either explicitly or implicitly advocates the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of its citizens.

After 9/11, my condemnation spread to encompass all Muslims.  After all, if they didn't stand up and condemn the perpetrators of the attack on the World Trade Center, they must condone those actions.

The fear we felt in the wake of that attack has, to a great extent faded.  Life in America has changed, though and not in a good way.  Security is an issue that affects all of our lives, from intrusive searches at the airport to digital surveillance.  We are all impacted and for that I blame Muslims.

I blamed the radical element of Islam that's twisted the religion into their own weapon of world domination and I blamed the passive Muslims who say nothing.  Like the 90% of the German population who said nothing as the Nazis exterminated millions, I deemed them silent collaborators.

On a friend's suggestion, I downloaded Zeitoun to my Kindle and spent my morning and evening commute reading about a Muslim I hadn't yet considered.  More to the point, I was reading about a man who happened to be a Muslim.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun was a Syrian whose love of the sea took him around the world, finally bringing him to America. Here, he found a wife, established a business and raised a family.  Oddly enough, Zeitoun, his wife Cathy-who was a convert to Islam-and their four children were a pretty typical American family.

When the flood waters of Katrina began swallowing their city, Cathy Zeitoun left the city with her children, unable to convince her husband to accompany them.  Determined to stay to protect their home and rental properties, Zeitoun was eventually caught up in the insanity that became post-Katrina New Orleans.

Zeitoun was arrested for looting-his own house-and lost in the system.  It could have happened to anyone, but in this case Zeitoun was a victim of his own hubris and anti-Muslim sentiment.

While Eggers paints a picture of an almost angelic man, his every thought pure, beneficent and altruistic, the fact is that he is just a good guy.  He took care of his family and he took care of his neighbors.  He even shared his food with dogs that had been left behind in the frantic evacuation.

Zeitoun could've been an advocate of peace, could've spoken out against the terrorism of radical Islam.  Like the rest of us, though he was thoroughly engaged in his own life.  Taking care of his family.  Working hard to make the American dream a reality.  Maybe that's enough.  Maybe that's what it takes.

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