9/11 was a weird day for me. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and as soon as I heard that a plane had crashed into the first tower, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, Oh God, I hope it wasn't Arabs. I'm three-fourths Palestinian and at times have a distinctly Arab cast to me. My last name is Rishmawy. Admittedly it was a selfish thought, but I just didn't see that going well for me in high school. And I was right.
That afternoon in football practice, upon discovering that I was of Arab descent—a "Palestilian" according to one educated linguist on the team—a teammate of mine took it upon himself to spear me in the back. Twice. For those of you who've never played, that sort of thing hurts. Thankfully, my coach caught on quickly and put an end to that. Still, for the next few years I was lovingly called "dune-coon," "sand-n****r," "Taliban," "Osama," and so on by a good chunk of my teammates and friends. And yes, I do mean lovingly. It was wrong, and I don't really get it, but for some reason racial slurs were a way of bonding in the locker room. Still, it grated on me at times.
As frustrating and awkward as being an Arab high-schooler in post–9/11 America could be at times, given garden-variety prejudices, fears, and ignorance, none of those slurs frustrated me as much as what some of my well-meaning, evangelical brothers and sisters ignorantly implied: that I and my entire ethnic heritage were an unfortunate mistake—Abraham's mistake to be exact.
Anatomy of a mistake: Ishmael the Arab
The first time I was struck by that thought, I was working the front counter at a gym in college. At the time, plenty of the regulars knew I was a Christian and a number were Christians themselves, so we'd chat sometimes about faith, life, and the Bible. In one such front-counter chat, the subject of the end times and the Middle East conflict came up and my lovely, kindhearted brother said something to the effect of, "If it weren't for Abraham's mistake with Ishmael, this whole business could have been avoided." I'd like to say that was the only time I'd heard something in that vein, but it wasn't. In fact, you can hear the same thing implied at churches on Sundays, in Bible studies, and on second-rate Bible and prophecy blogs.
For those of you who don't get the "Ishmael" reference, he's mentioning Abraham's firstborn child by his concubine Hagar. Abraham and Sarah were getting impatient about God's promised child, the one through whom God would make Abraham a great nation, so they thought they'd help him out by having Abraham father a child through Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian hand-maid (Gen. 16). This caused family problems that led to Abraham, under some pressure from Sarah, sending Hagar and Ishmael away (Gen. 16–17; 21). It's another one of those wholesome, "family values" stories that makes Genesis so uplifting.
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